Giving and Receiving Grace-fully
Are you thinking about gifts and giving this morning? Perhaps even about receiving a gift or two? Whichever one it is, I’m sure you have lots of company. The thing I’ve found about gifting is that the older I get, the more relaxed I am about it, and as a result, the whole process becomes simpler. If gift-giving occasions make you feel stressed or depressed, perhaps our gifting story will help.
Donald and I recently celebrated our 29th anniversary with a nice weekend away together, and an interesting gift for each of us. The key was that we got to pick out our own gifts, so we got to enjoy browsing antique and thrift shops together and finding that magical momento of the occasion. At least that’s what my gift, a vintage Kenneth J. Lane 3-strand pearl necklace (think Jackie Kennedy or Barbara Bush), was for me.
Donald’s gift, on the other hand was a splendidly powerful Stihl chain saw. His favorite downtime hobby is cutting firewood, and he spends many weekends a year cutting and splitting. This is his third Stihl, and I know he’ll get hours of delight from it.
Now I’ll admit, I didn’t start life with a burning desire to choose my own gifts, or have other people choose theirs. I enjoy the process of choosing a special gift for someone I know well, and I absolutely love the fun and excitement of opening presents. However, like many of us, I learned a few things after I got married.
Among Donald’s many talents there’s a gap. He was born without what I call a “floofy” gene. In other words, he’s practical. He doesn’t see the point in spending time alone shopping and buying something, using our joint checking account, without knowing it’s something I’d need or want. Not only did we not have extra money to spend on non-essentials, he didn’t feel it was good time management to take time away from home and family to shop. He’s not even the type of guy who would come home with a vacuum cleaner or fancy cooking item. He believes that if I need anything like that, I can find and buy it much more efficiently than he can.
So. . . I spent the first couple of special occasions after we were married hoping that a miraculous transplant of the floofy gene had occurred since the last occasion, and being sadly disappointed when it hadn’t. Eventually, I realized that I’d either have to adjust, or spend the rest of our marriage regarding special occasions as time for mourning.
Since I loathe whining, adapting was the only viable choice. I had to accept that gifts, like grace, are by definition unearned and unmerited. No one owes us any kind of gift at any time. If something is not freely and joyously given in love, it’s a token of duty rather than a gift, and that’s not something any of us needs. On the other hand, if something is given in love, even if it’s small, used, ill-fitting, or otherwise unsuitable, it needs to be received in love, with a graceful expression of gratitude for the loving thought that inspired it.
In addition, I think we must always assume that there’s a loving thought behind a gift, and respond accordingly, because love thinks no evil (I Corinthians 13). Making negative assumptions as to a giver’s motive is one good way to way to lose your joy and spoil relationships. If someone gives you a garment that’s too large, it’s probably not because they think you’re fat–they’re just not great at guessing sizes. If they give you a new ostrich feather duster, it’s probably not because they think you’re slothful– it’s because an ostrich feather duster can make dusting fun. Making false assumptions isn’t wise or scriptural, and it’s a fast track to unhappiness.
The funny thing is, after 29 years, I’ve come around to Donald’s way of thinking, and thoroughly enjoy being able to give him the thing he wants most. When we shop together for my gift, it reminds us of the early days of our marriage when we enjoyed browsing antique and thrift stores, art and craft shows and flea markets. Once we had children and my grandparents living with us, those times almost vanished, so it’s fun to revisit them. Some years, we don’t have anything we specifically want or need, or don’t have money in the budget for anything extra. We can usually squeeze in a little time together, though, and that’s fun.
For our children, we followed traditional gift-giving customs until they reached the teen years. At that point, they could request a special item or cash to buy something on their own. For many years, our oldest son chose music and history courses from The Teaching Company, while the others usually opted for a shopping trip in which they could choose gifts up to a specified dollar amount. In some ways, we transferred the anticipation from receiving an object to the experience of doing something fun and special together. It’s worked well, and sometimes we still do it even though they’re grown.
I tell you all that to remind you that there are many ways to give and receive, but above all, whatever you do needs to be done in love, grace, and gratitude. If you have married into a family with different gifting traditions from your own, remember that it’s possible to adapt and create new traditions that you’ll grow to enjoy as much as the ones you grew up with.
There’s never any room in true giving for unloving attitudes and behavior, so if something is causing difficulty, remember that you are the only person whose heart you can change. You can’t squash another person (especially your husband) into your mold, even if you are always right and have “better” traditions;-).
Children will have a hard time learning contentment and gratitude if they don’t see it practiced in love. It’s important that they learn to express thanks for whatever they receive, even if it’s not something they’d ever want. They can still be grateful for the love that inspired the gift, and bless the giver with gratitude. A gift they don’t love may be just what someone else wants or needs.
Special occasions and holidays can be times of joy if you approach them in gratitude for whatever comes. Choosing to harbor disappointment or resentment, or trying desperately to manipulate someone else into behaving as you wish they would is a recipe for unhappiness and clouded memories. It’s freeing to know that you have the option to adjust your thoughts and be grateful, no matter what.
Interestingly, this summer Donald found himself at an art and craft fair alone, and he surprised me with a lovely gift. Because I wasn’t expecting it, it was doubly special, and I’ll always wear it with the happy knowledge that he took the time to think of me and find something beautiful.
Create traditions that work within your family, greet gifts with love and gratitude, and whatever you give, give in a spirit of love and grace, releasing the recipient from any assumed obligation for a specific type of response or reciprocation. True gifts come without strings!
Looking for a special gift for a reader? Be sure to check out The Peleg Chronicles by Matthew Christian Harding. They are delightful adventures, replete with dragons and giants, but with no magic, evolution, or humanism.
Foundlings and Paladins, the first two books in the Chronicles, are currently available, and I’m watching closely for the next one in the series, as Mr. Harding is a master of the cliff-hanger ending.
You can read more and purchase the books at www.matthewchristianharding.com. I plan to post a full review soon, but I just wanted to let you know about these.