Giving gifts is an art. Some of us whip out masterpieces every holiday.
And some of us . . . are still finger-painting.
We can all conjure up mental images of gifts gone wrong—or right. The Perfect Gift. The Ugliest Gift. The Unintentional White Elephant Gift. The Generic Gift. The Are-You-Sure-the Nametags-Aren’t-Switched Gift.
What is it about gift-giving that some people seem to do so well, while others of us (raising my hand here) struggle to figure it out?
Here are some lessons I’m learning about the art of gift-giving.
The Gift on a Bungee Cord
I once received a gift that was snatched back out of my hands.
Well, not right away. It just didn’t take long for me to realize that the gift wasn’t really mine. A generous person I knew gave me a piece of furniture early in my adult life. But I had hardly expressed my thanks before the giver said, “And if you ever don’t need it anymore, I’ll take it to [a favorite furniture store] and have them sell it.”
So the gift was only mine temporarily. Its ultimate destiny remained in the giver’s hands.
That day I learned that a good gift-giver lets go of their gift.
The Gift with Strings Attached
In a similar way, gifts may come loaded with expectations.
- The gift will be displayed. In a prominent location. Year round. With spot-lighting.
- The gift will replace your older item. No matter that the older one is your favorite.
- The gift will be treasured forever. In fact, it will be buried with you.
- The gift will elicit profuse expressions of gratitude. You must guess how profusely and for how long your gratitude must be expressed. (Hint: You will guess low.)
- The gift will prompt a gift in return. Keep your score book handy.
Givers of these gifts may not even realize they’re trying to control the recipients. Yet they’re using gifts to force attachment, to create obligation, to buy love. To the receivers, such “gifts” feel more like prison terms than love.
Break the chains. Give gifts expecting nothing back.
The Gift that Fits the Giver
Yes, I’ll admit it. I am likely to assume my friends like pistachio almond fudge ice cream. After all, I love it—why wouldn’t they? Surely an insulated container of that delectable treat delivered to my friend’s doorstep would equal the epitome of thoughtfulness, right? Unless she hates the stuff.
Maybe I’d better ask her.
A master gift-giver spends enough time with people to know their interests, their needs, and what’s going on in their lives. That kind of personal knowledge guides them to the perfect gift.
So I could stalk my friend’s Amazon wish list, or read her recent Facebook posts, or ask her neighbor what she might like. But there’s no substitute for knowing my friend.
Gifts that spring from relationships are more likely to fit just right.
The Gift That’s Just What I Always Wanted
Once in a while we choose exactly the right gift. And we give it with exactly the right motivation. I don’t know anyone who bats 1.000 on this, but isn’t it great when it happens? Maybe you even get to watch your recipient’s eyes light up and hear their happy squeals when they open your gift.
I would guess that’s what most of us gift-givers are aiming for—especially with those people we care about deeply. We really want to see the ones we love delighted, and to know that we were a part of that.
Don’t you suppose that’s a tiny taste of what God had in mind when He gave us His best gift? He gave us His only Son, in the flesh, to bring us what we could never buy for ourselves: forgiveness, restoration, new life to be enjoyed forever with Him.
Jesus was placed in our hands, a gift never revoked. The only way we could lose Him would be to never accept Him.
Jesus was given freely—a love so unbounded that we could never hope to return the favor. But what a delight it is to love God back!
Jesus was precisely what we needed. The spotless Lamb of God who alone could take away the sin that kills our souls. Immanuel, God with us, so we would never have to be alone again. The Word made flesh so we could hear God say “I love you” in our own language. The Prince of peace, so our hearts could at last find rest.
The Master Gift-Giver has modeled for us the art of giving. At Christmas and all year long.
My Christmas prayer for you is that you will find in God’s gift of His only Son the grace and peace you’ve always wanted. He will be eternally glad you liked His present.