“To Truly Give, we must first Receive”
As we approach the Christmas season with thoughts about gift giving, I would like to share a couple of stories from Christmases past and the lessons I learned from them.
Christmas Story #1
One took place many years ago at a traditional family gathering where gifts were exchanged and opened. We have a particular family member who is one of those hard to buy for folks – you all know them. I had spent a great deal of time thinking about what to give this person, and even more time shopping and agonizing over what to choose. I finally selected what I thought was a simple but good gift. On Christmas day, I gave this nicely wrapped package to this person. He unwrapped and opened it. After taking a look, he placed it back inside the box, then handed it to another family member saying, “I opened this by mistake, this is for you.”
All this was right in front of me. My feelings would not have been hurt if this person had taken this gift back to the store and exchanged it for something else, or even if he had taken it home and then re-gifted it on another occasion. What hurt my feelings was that this gift was never acknowledged.
The real gift was not the object – the real gift was the thought, the intent, the effort put into the giving.
“For what doth is profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:33)
Christmas Story #2
The other story also took place years ago when I was working as a Social Worker. Our agency was approached by groups wanting to do a “Sub for Santa” and I was asked to select a family from my caseload who could use such an effort. I was then working with a young family – father, mother and two young children. The father had been out of work for some time. They were trying to earn some money doing cleaning jobs and he shoveling snow, which was not plentiful at that time. I hoped that donations might help them provide a good Christmas for their children. The group involved came through with some wonderful and thoughtful gifts.
On the day I delivered the gifts, the father had taken the children somewhere, so I found this young mother at home alone. When I arrived, I was greeted by wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. This mother was bedecked with flour and busily baking. She explained that she was baking things to give to family and friends. As I looked around the kitchen I noticed the Deseret brand on the baking supplies and I realized that her ability to make anything to give others was only possible because she had received food from the Bishop’s Storehouse. When I presented the gifts from this group, this mother cried. Her gratitude really touched me. We both realized that her ability to give was dependent upon first receiving from others.
“To Truly Give, we must first Receive”
This may seem obvious when looking at material things – we must have something material (or money to acquire) to give something material to others. However receiving money or material things does not necessarily result in more generous giving. Often it comes with attitudes of selfishness and pride.
Receiving is different than just getting or accumulating things. If we recognize that true gifts are not things, then receiving with appreciation the sincere efforts of others to give to us, as well as the accompanying non-material gifts – love, acceptance, attention – encourages more giving on our part. Most of us are more likely to receive with gratitude the simple efforts of children – a flower picked for us or a drawing – even though the gift is nothing spectacular or wonderful or even needed, but because we see in the giving some qualities that we hope to encourage.
True gifts are given from our abundance, not our need. If we give with the hope of getting something in return, the focus is on one’s self. This for some people includes feelings of obligation, keeping score, withholding unless there is a guarantee of getting in return, or even manipulation to get what one wants by giving something first to another. Such givers often get burned out when expected reciprocation does not occur and then withhold future gifts.
Some Yoga postures include “a gesture of receiving, with open arms or hands” symbolizing an openness to receive good things. If the heart is the receptacle into which we want to receive good things, then gestures such as arms across the chest, folding inward, or a back turned toward another are seen as defensive – symbolic walls blocking the reception of anything. Thoughts and attitudes and fear can block as well. Being open to receive can put us in a vulnerable position. Not all things we might receive are good – some might hurt us.
The Choice to Receive
Receiving is a conscious act. It is not passive. It requires a choice on our part. Trust is vital to receiving, not just in trusting those from whom we might receive, but also in being selective about what things we receive into our hearts. The Apostle Paul had good counsel:
“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
All good gifts come from the one source of all that is good, light and true. He stands at the door waiting for us to knock, ask and seek. He freely offers His gifts to us, but it still requires our choice to receive them. After receiving and with our needs met through the gifts – whether those be physical, emotional or spiritual needs – we can then give with a focus on the needs and desires of others. We can be a vessel to give good gifts to all.“We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 )
So this Christmas Season, before we begin to receive and give gifts, may we rejoice as we open our hearts to receive the best gifts first:
“Joy to the World, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room.”