Giving > Getting
It’s Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season is now officially underway. If you are like the majority of the US population, sometime in the next 72 hours you will participate in some form of Christmas shopping . And, if you are like me, sometime during that shopping, you will be tempted to ask yourself ‘Why do I want to buy all this stuff for all of these people?’. It’s a simple question, but it begs a difficult answer. What is the driving force to buy gifts for others at Christmas? In the purest moments, it comes from the spot that we believe Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians elders that “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In its most insidious form though, our purchasing comes from the place that we would rather be liked for our gift than to be thoughtful in our giving.
Somehow at Christmas our culture has convinced us that we need to go beyond buying gifts for those with whom we have real relationship. We feel compelled to buy for those who are on the fringes. We begin to substitute gift-giving for the relationship. Not just at Christmas but all year long. The truth is though, giving is best done in relationship. I find myself having to fight the desire to buy that next gift for that next second-cousin just because they bought something for me last year. Worse yet, there are numerous times that I have to pull-up short of buying that next gift because I recognize that deep down I just want the intended recipient to think more highly of me. The broken piece of me is that I would rather be liked because of gift than to put any effort into the relationship.
Compulsory vs. Cheerful Giving
Whether it’s about being thought better of or trying to “buy” relationship, both are broken views of giving. Giving devoid of relationship can be defined as “compulsory”. It’s that sense of “I have to” that steals the joy from giving and makes it difficult to believe Paul’s words in Acts 20. Giving in relationship, however, is a joy-filled activity. Our joy is deepened partly because it is a shared experience (where the giver and the receiver participate in deepening an already rich relationship) and partly because a thoughtful gift is appreciated more deeply than a compulsory one. Paul warns us in 2 Corinthians that we should never give to the Church out of compulsion. I think we can take that admonition and apply it to our personal gift-giving. Ultimately, giving out of compulsion steals the joy from the giving (and, I would argue, the getting).
Better Givers & Better “Getters”
In our culture of compulsory giving, we’ve also lost the ability to be good “getters”. Gone are the days of being able to humbly receive a thoughtful gift with a simple “thank you”. Our entire culture has (like Andy Bernard from The Office), bought the lie that we must repay the giver – that we can never be indebted to someone. And because of it, we’re terrible at receiving gifts. Now, even the receiving of gifts is filled with the inner turmoil of how to repay (or one-up) the giver.
We’ve written extensively this week about alternative ways to approach gift-giving this Christmas. As we close out our series, all of those alternatives can be summarized by the phrase “thoughtful generosity”. This Christmas, in place of mindless, frenzied purchasing, take some time to intentionally (and prayerfully) consider how you might be able to give good gifts. Whether those gifts are existing items that you are able to share or if they are new traditions that you are able to start within your family, our hope is that we’ve given you some ideas to re-think the Christmas season.
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