Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why I'm still in favor of exchanging gifts

I don’t need to tell you it’s almost Christmas time again. All the advertisements warn us well in advance of December 25 that Christmas is on its way. They want us to know, it’s time for the buying and sharing of gifts. For all of the times that you and I need to hear that we’ve made this season too commercial, that we’ve mistakenly bought into the fact that things will make us happy, we also need to hear that the impulse to give gifts to the ones we love is not an evil impulse. In fact, it is an impulse born straight from the heart of God. After all, this season is the season in which we celebrate God’s greatest gift to us, his own son.

When we love someone, we want to give them good gifts. In fact, few things give me more pleasure than giving good gifts to my children or to my wife. I think I have more fun on Christmas morning as a dad than I did as a child. This creates two issues that push me in the direction of over-consumption. One, the joy I get from giving my kids presents at Christmas or on their birthdays is so rich that I find myself tempted to give them more than I should. Two, I love my children so much, that I feel as if what I give them is never enough. Like I said, those emotions push me towards buying too many gifts that have too little meaning. The answer to this problem involves not less gift giving (although it may involve fewer gifts), but rather, involves the giving of better gifts.

In regards to the first temptation, I need to realize that it isn’t actually a gift to my children to spoil them. It’s a detriment to their souls. It is good to teach them how to receive presents with gratitude. It is also good to teach them how to appreciate good gifts. After all, all of life is in one way or another an exercise in learning to appreciate the good gifts God gives each one of us. On this front, simple, meaningful gifts probably go further in symbolizing our love for one another than in a multitude of thoughtless gifts hastily purchased. This is an instance where less may really be more. One of my favorite possessions is a small, simple pocket knife given to me by my grandfather before I was even old enough to handle such a tool. As such, it was a gift I would have to grow into in the best sort of way. As a child, this was a gift that displays his trust that I would indeed one day grow up. That was meaningful to me as a child. As such, it’s been a gift I’ve appreciated across the decades, even as many other gifts have come and gone.

The second temptation, which was to give my kids too many gifts as an attempt at expressing my love, can be combatted by realizing that I simply can’t give them enough things to accurately reflect my love for them. That’s not how love works. Giving a multitude of material gifts is no replacement for learning how to give them true spiritual ones. How can we give good spiritual gifts? Richard Foster writes, “If we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them, and this will lead us to prayer.” What’s one of the best spiritual gifts I can give my children this year? One has to include the taking their needs and their souls before the Lord on a regular basis. His hands, after all, are bigger than mine; his gifts, far better.

The advertisers are correct. It is the season of gift giving. I pray that the gifts we give be the absolute best they can be.

Every good and perfect gift comes from above – James 1:17

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