Giving and Receiving

The time leading up to and through the holidays is perfect for family discussions and impromptu conversations about giving and receiving.

By Amy Sparkman

Categories: Christmas, Love

Who hasn't felt a floodtide of joy when your gift has touched someone's heart? The spirit of such giving emanates from the connection between God and the giver as well as the receiver: It's a link of inspired love expressed in pure selflessness. In every gift exchange there lies a moment of ineffable grace. It's a moment we might truly call "Emmanuel" or "God with us." 

The time leading up to and through the holidays is perfect for family discussions and impromptu conversations about giving and receiving. What kind of gifts do you want to give this year? Will you make gifts or purchase them? Will you give to an organization that your family values? How much will you spend this year? These are the practical questions that a family might discuss. But there's an entirely different set of questions that gets beneath the surface of giving and receiving. For instance, you might consider these:

  • Why do we give and receive gifts at Christmas?
  • What gifts have the greatest impact and last the longest?
  • Which gifts are priceless and affordable? 
  • How can we give the same gifts in a new way?

The answers aren't clear-cut or right and wrong, nor are they pie-in-the-sky abstractions, like promises to be kinder, neater, or wiser. In fact, the answers will vary with each of us as givers and with each person for whom we intend a gift. What matters when thinking about these questions is the quality of our listening for answers. 

  • Are we thinking of ourselves or the other person when we come up with gift ideas? 
  • Are we thinking about the other person with love and delight in his or her character – or are we wrestling with emotions that distort our clear perceptions and pure feelings? 
  • Do we buy impulsively, out of whimsy and just to get the job done? Or do we take the time to hear what spiritual intuition is saying about each purchase and its recipient? 
  • Are we willing to think creatively – to try a completely different approach to gift giving and receiving?

There are so many different ways to give a gift of remarkable and lasting value. And there are just as many different ways to test our motives, fine-tune our ideas, and adjust our thinking about the nature and quality of any gift we give or receive. 

One year, my husband and I drove across the country with our 18-month old son – from California to Connecticut – over Christmas and New Year's. We were headed to a new home, which was exciting, but we had to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day in a hotel room in Grand Junction, Colorado – and that was dismaying. Family members called and lamented over how far away we were, and how much we were missed. The feeling was heart-wrenchingly mutual…until we went down to the hotel's restaurant for Christmas Eve dinner.

The wait-staff welcomed us with genuine joy; as we waited for our meal to come, they spontaneously began singing carols to the few guests who were there; a roaring fire crackled in a huge stone fireplace nearby; the room was lit entirely by the warm glow of candles. Our son was entranced with childlike wonder over the flickering lights and the singing – he had no sense of the unusual Christmas Eve setting. The whole atmosphere captured the spirit of this special evening and lifted our thoughts completely out of self-pity. My husband and I realized how blinded by tradition and commercialism we'd become – to think that Christmas was only CHRISTMAS in a particular place or celebrated in a certain way. 

We opened ourselves to the moment, and our hearts filled with a peace and rightness with divine Love that we've never forgotten in the more than twenty years since. Later, we fell asleep in a cozy room on a snowy night in the middle of nowhere among perfect strangers feeling a totally new spirit of Christmas – truly the best gift of all. 

The next morning, we received an unexpected call from friends who lived a couple hours away, imploring us to join them for the day. We hesitated to accept their invitation because we had no gifts and it was clear that we'd be there for their exchange of gifts. They persisted: Your presence is your gift to us! 

It was a glorious day! The best part was the originality of gifts shared among us all. Before we sat down for a bountiful meal, we were all invited to think of a verse or story from the Bible or a poem or statement from any inspired writer, or to craft our own poem or story, and present it as a gift to the group after dinner. Inspiration poured forth freely and touched each of us uniquely and deeply. The exchange of these gifts was a long moment of grace – of Emmanuel! It was a quintessential Christmas.