I’m trying to reconcile two understandings I have about the giving of gifts and trying to figure out if they are opposites or complementary.
Giving the Best that you Have
This is the perennial Christmas teaching. I recently had the honor of playing a street woman in Tom Long’s play, “Nativity on the Square.” My own lines brought the lesson home to me again. When I see that the king of the nativity scene is reluctant to give up his gift, I admonish him, “But that’s why you brought it, isn’t it? That’s why you’re all here…to give him the very best that you have.”
Yesterday, I was again reminded that gift-giving is not supposed to be easy as a friend read an excerpt of Celestine Sibley’s Especially at Christmas, in which Mrs. Sibley related how her mother insisted on re-gifting items to those who needed them more. When the author once protested to her mother that she really wanted to keep a gift for herself, her mother “blithely” (if I remember correctly) explained how that made it a great gift—it was something difficult to give up.
I truly believe this is our model of giving. Giving sacrificially isn’t just financial. True generosity is giving something we’d rather keep for ourselves. It’s the giving of time and talent, when we feel we’re running short of both, to people who might not even appreciate it. It inspires me to give better. It makes me think of wrapping up that spoon rest that I bought for my friend Irene last Christmas but decided it looked too good in my kitchen to give up.
Giving without Even Meaning to…
On the other hand, I also believe we often give exceptionally meaningful gifts without even being aware that we’re doing it. We do it when we smile at a stranger, ask a clerk how they feel, call a friend, or pick a flower.
Example: One summer when I was in bad health, I was more than a little embarrassed by the state of my yard and garden. Dandelions ruled in the lawn, and the sum total of my gardening efforts was to shove a morning glory in the dirt by the mailbox and harass my boys into watering it. One day I was at my mailbox getting the mail (bills), when a neighbor stopped and lowered her window. I braced myself for a “helpful” recommendation of ChemLawn. Instead, the woman said, “I want you to know how much I love your morning glories. Seeing them each morning as I leave the sub gives me such joy.” She didn’t know me, didn’t know I was sick. She, whatever her name is, was probably just being herself but to me she is a gift-giver extraordinaire.
This, too, inspires me. It makes me more aware of the strangers I walk among, aware that small kindnesses can truly brighten a day.
How do these two types of giving mesh? Well, both are giving a gift of ourselves. Both stem God’s gift of a Savior—the ultimate gift.
Can it be that generosity has evolved from a discipline, to a habit, to a joy?
© Laura Hedgecock 2012