I can’t lie, I really love presents! I love giving them and I am afraid I also love getting them! I honestly love everything there is to love about a gift giving. My husband on the other hand is the exact opposite. Gifts are not a big deal for him and it would not bother him in the slightest if on his birthday I didn’t give him anything (which is very gracious and humble of course). However! This does mean that he sadly has the same attitude about giving gifts to others which can be somewhat distressing for a gift lover like myself!
So with that in mind, my birthday is coming up pretty soon and me and my family all have Amazon wish lists to make giving that bit easier and so I thought (with excitement!) that I had better update my list. This is a process that normally gives me hours of fun and happiness! I love researching whats out there and what the best deal is, and I love reading reviews and finding out if my choice is a good one. However, this year it didn’t take the same amount of time as usual to make this much sought after list, it in fact took a lot, lot longer. I got myself in a complete mess about which pair of slippers to put down. Honestly! Do I get the pair from Ugg which is massively overpriced but oh so soft, or the cheaper more reasonably priced pair that might not offer the same comfort factor? Normally I am a pretty decisive gal. I have a look, weigh up the options and pick. I don’t procrastinate, I don’t deliberate, I just go with my gut instinct. Yet this year there was no gut instinct, there was just angst and uncertainty. We were not long back from South Africa and so I started to really stress at myself. I felt like a bad person for caring so much about presents and for taking so much time over the whole thing and focusing so much on possessions. How could I care so much??? Thankfully, joyfully, that was when I realised something. I didn’t care. I honestly just didn’t care and that was why the decision making process was so hard, my brain said one thing but my heart said another. Ultimately I don’t mind if I have a nice pair of slippers or not and the reason I got myself so stuck in this mess was because normally I WOULD mind and my brain just hadn’t caught up with my heart on this matter. Thankfully my brain is now onboard with the changes my heart has made!
I came back from Africa knowing that things would be different but I didn’t realise just how different. How can a person who has loved receiving gifts for almost 35 years suddenly stop minding? It wasn’t a side to our trip that I saw coming at all but I can now step back and recognise that I am so more changed than I ever thought possible and rather than trying to squish myself back into my old mould, I need to allow these new thoughts and emotions to appear and enjoy seeing what they look like. My own gift when I was in South Africa may have been partially monetary (flights to get out there etc) but I think the greatest gift I gave was my time and also my heart and in return I came home with a changed heart and I think a bigger one. This is in fact my birthday gift this year and I am more happy about that than anything else!
However, what I am pleased to say is that my love of giving gifts has not died out. For me what giving a gift is all about is how that person feels when you give it to them. For me the wrapping and packaging is always is just as important as what is inside because that’s the bit that tells them they are special. There is a scene in Love Actually when Alan Rickman, although a married man, goes to buy the lady he fancies a Christmas gift. Rowan Atkinson, the gift seller, turns the art of gift wrapping into some kind of present triathlon and takes absolutely forever over the job. Alan Rickman’s character find this entire process annoying and exasperating. He has limited time (he barely even looks at the gift he is buying) and just wants the process to be over. If this gift had been wrapped up by himself it would probably have been popped in a Tesco’s bag pulled out of all the other plastic bags that are squirrelled away under the stairs! You can see that the gift is not truly being given with love or affection because he doesn’t care about the gift in anyway. On the other hand, the present that he gives his wife, the cheap and inexpensive gift of a CD by her favourite singer Joni Mitchell, has been understatedly hand wrapped by himself. This gift has more much meaning because he has thought about what she wants yet unbeknown to him his wife has found the beautifully hand gift wrapped present in his pocket and assumes it is for her. When she receives the CD she is heart broken, but why? She couldn’t see what was in the gift wrapped package, only the beauty of the packaging. When she sees that gift what she is yearning for is the thought and effort that has gone into that beautiful present, not what is inside it. She is filled with excitement that her husband could possibly have gone to all the effort for her. If she had received that gift wrapped present on Christmas day and found inside the Joni Mitchell CD I believe she would have been just as delighted as if she found the necklace in there because of the love and effort that went into the giving of it.
So where am I going with all this you may well ask?!
God asks us to give. He asks us to give to the poor and the needy and it isn’t something that just gets mentioned once or twice. It is continually brought up throughout the whole bible, from Old Testament to New Testament, and it is particularly clear about the importance of giving to orphans, widows and immigrants:
“At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow shall come and eat and be filled” Deuteronomy 14 v 28-29
Not only that but the bible even states clearly a percentage of what we have that we should be giving away. Now all this might sound a bit much. Maybe you don’t know much about the bible and Jesus and this just sounds like something added onto a long “to-do” list that Christians have to follow. Not at all! For me, I think fulfilling many of God’s laws comes from a place of relationship. Once you know God and have learned about His love and how it can change your life forever, then the commandments can be looked at in a new light and they make more sense. Being a Christian isn’t about obeying, it’s about being in a relationship. So whilst the bible is clear about gift giving, it doesn’t just expect that this gift be our money. When I think about giving I am often reminded of the Christmas Carol “In The Bleak Mid Winter” and one of the verses which says:
It pleases and honours God just as much when we just give what we have and if that is a loving heart then that is more than enough for Him. True gift giving comes from the heart and from a desire to help where help is needed and if your bank balance doesn’t allow for a financial outlay then why not ask ourselves, “What can I give him poor as I am?” The fact is we all have a heart that we can give because the heart never runs out of love, it is what it was created for. The more friends you make, the more babies born into your family, the more love you have to give them. And know that God wants to honour and bless us for our giving, even more than we can bless anyone else because His heart is the biggest heart of all!
God says that in return for our giving He will pour out His blessings back upon us. He will be so delighted at our obedience and our willingness to share with others (whatever that gift may be) that He will heap more blessings on us than those we give away to others.
Even more than this, in the liturgy that many churches read from in their Sunday services, one of the lines says:
All good things come from You and of Your own do we give You
This line is based on a verse taken from 1 Chronicles 29 v 14. One of the reasons why the bible says we should give is because they come from God in the first place. Anything that is good comes from God and so when we share that goodness with others we are in fact sharing Gods very own goodness. When you think about it like that it seems a very humble thing that God asks us to do. He doesn’t ask us to go and dig deep in the earth for a present for Him, He doesn’t ask us to pour sweat and tears into earning enough money to worship Him with. He provides us with things (whether they be financial, emotional or both) that we can then pass onto others and this act of giving to someone else is just like giving to God Himself. Giving is part of the circle of life God has created for us and it starts with the heart.
When charities ask for a donation to their cause have you noticed that they always call it a “gift”? The money they are seeking is to them quite literally a present and as we have already seen true present buying and giving comes from a place of the heart. It comes from love and passion, from relationship and thought. So when a charity asks for your monetary support they really do want you to take the time to think about what you are giving to and care about their cause. Once you sign up to monthly giving you will then receive news and updates about the progress your chosen cause is making. Now you could think about this cynically and say they are just looking for a little bit extra from you, but I personally think they are trying to build relationships because good things come and grow from relationships. If you build a good relationship with a charity you support then you are likely to speak to friends about it and recommend this giving to others, thus spreading the gift giving. The same thing applies to forming and nurturing a relationship with God. One gift of giving can turn itself into a gift that keeps on giving.
Today I had a magazine come through the post from an organisation called Stewardship which helps people give to Christian organisations throughout the UK. One of the articles in this magazine is how they have set up a new programme so that young people between the ages of 18 and 25 years old can start giving to charitable causes as they step out into their independent lives because their belief is that generosity and giving is something that is best learned in childhood and if this is done well then it is a value that will stay with you for the rest of your life. In the same way we have recently started giving our children pocket money. Now I’ve had a lot of chats with other parents about the benefits and pit falls of pocket money but one of the reasons we started giving them pocket money is on the basis that they give 10% of their money to their savings (Piggy bank 1!) and another 10% to charitable donations (Piggy bank 2!). They are beginning to learn that we share what we have with others and that just because we have something doesn’t mean that we should keep it just for ourselves or feel lost if we need to go without it. What has fed into this practice really well is that our Sunday School at church supports some children through an organisation called Compassion and once a month the children are asked to bring in some money to give to this child. So for the last three months when this has happened our two kids have taken in the money that they have saved up in Piggy Bank 2.
So gift giving has a number of different dimensions to it but I think the most important to remember is that God really is the God that keeps on giving and the heart really is the gift that keeps on giving.