the tension of gift-giving

In my circle of online blogging friends, there is a distinct trend calling for a change in how we do Christmas.  Ariah consistently makes me ponder my spending, and Sam lets me know that Christmas is not my birthday.  But… I like giving presents.  And I like receiving presents.  For me, it’s not selfish thing or a materialist thing… it’s the way I express love and receive love best.Before Ashley moved out here, part of her “required reading” was the 5 Love Languages.  I have purchased, given and recommended this book than any other.  For me it is one of the foundational books that we should read to better understand our fellow humans.  The book describes five ways we give and receive love:

  • Gift Giving
  • Physical Touch
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Affirmation

Of these, my top two are gift giving and physical touch.  So, for me, giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time is an overload of fun, excitement and love spread throughout a series of chances to say in little (and big) ways… I love you.

Now, Sam encourages people to give better gifts.  What he means by this is give someone a gift that truly helps them or helps someone else.  My wife has embraced this and did a decent portion of her shopping this Christmas at the The Hunger Site.  For everything she purchased there it benefitted the actual people who made the scarves or ornaments, as well as giving food to various people groups through her purchase.

But… I struggle with giving those kinds of gifts.  I honestly do.

I wish I could be noble in that way.  I wish I could buy a water buffalo or some life-changing thing like that.  Instead, I take my time and seek out a gift that shows the person: “Hey, I get you.  I know your likes, your dislikes, and what it is you want.”  Can’t I let my gifts this one day be about what they want instead of some practical thing that they need?I love tension.  It creates opportunities for conversation and expansion of thought.  And, for some people, buying food to help a family in Africa is exactly the gift that they would want, and I would be happy to give that to them.  But that’s the key… I want to give me friends and chosen family gifts that they want, and that I want them to have.

Last week we had a Christmas gathering for our small group.  I was so excited to be able to find little gifts for everyone to show them I cared.  Because Ashley and I are more financially stable than we’ve ever been in life, I was able to splurge and spend more on my family that I ever have in the past… looking under the tree at the gifts we had gotten my dad, sister and their spouses lit up my own eyes with excitement.  I couldn’t wait for them to open what we had gotten them.

And this Christmas… oh how excited I am.  For the past few months (since August) I have been buying my wife little gifts here and there.  I’ve abstained from buying myself toys or video games or what not so I could spend extra on her.  As she opens each present, my memories will come to life at the joy I had in buying her this thing or that thing, thinking to myself, “she’ll love this!” or “i wonder if she’d like that” or “this gift…  she’ll open this present with that present…” or “i can wrap this that way”.  For months I’ve had these secret moments of joy that I got to hide from my wife and on Christmas she will open an outpouring of months of love, thought and sacrifice.

Of course, being a gift-giver, that’s how I see it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a movie or a book or some random gag gift just to get a reaction… it’s a neatly wrapped message that says “I love you.”I would love to give gifts that were “better” gifts like Sam says.  But to me… we should be doing stuff like that on a regular, sacrificial basis.  For Christmas I want the gifts I give to be about that person.  From me to them, for them.  I know, I know… they won’t always think of me when they play a certain game, eat from a certain bowl or use some random gardening tool.  But when I see it lying around their house I’ll know what it meant.  I’ll know that, in my language, I said “I love you” the best way I could. 

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