The perfect gift is overrated

By Gerry Lewis | Published Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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What are you getting for Christmas? What are you giving? Which of those most excites you?

As children, that was a no-brainer. Obviously, the most important thing was getting that most coveted item that would make life absolutely perfect. We had plans of how we would enjoy it forever.

And if we didn’t get it, we were pretty sure that we were unloved and we would probably end up alone, homeless and destitute.

Somehow we survived the disappointments of Christmases past and are not living as homeless hermits foraging for berries in the woods. And those perfect gifts that we actually received? The ones that would make our lives complete? Where did they end up? And didn’t we shift our attention to some other perfect gift the next year?

When we grew up, we found a new pressure: giving the perfect gift to those we love. After all, “Every kiss begins with Kay.” And nobody wants to get a new dust mop or package of underwear for Christmas.

Can I tell you a secret? It’s not about the gifts. Seriously, it’s not. It’s about how you give and receive.

This is a transition post. It’s the last one in a series of the most important lessons I have learned over the past 40 years of “church work,” and it looks forward to some Christmas and New Year thoughts to finish up 2017 and jump into 2018.

I’ve already mentioned Christmas, so here’s the life lesson: We need to be consistently developing our competence as both givers and receivers.

Some people are terrible receivers. Projecting a sense of entitlement, they can’t manage a sincere “thank you” and act as if they either deserve the gift or it is beneath their standards.

Others are terrible receivers because they treat a gift as a transaction. They may actually see the gift as an obligation to “return the favor” or “pay back” the giver in some way. They can’t enjoy someone else’s generosity, and they rob the giver of the joy of giving.

Some people are terrible givers. They see every gift as an investment, expecting something in return. They are offended when the receivers don’t write a thank you note. They may even make the receivers’ response a test of whether they will ever give again.

Others are terrible givers because they give to get rid of stuff with no consideration for the circumstances of the receivers.

I didn’t give any real examples of these because they all have something in common: a focus on the gift rather than on the act of generous giving and gracious receiving.

I will, however, share a couple of examples by way of personal confession. I tend to be very generous with my money but not so much with my time. That’s an area of giving competence that I need to be developing.

A friend told me over three decades ago that I didn’t know how to take a compliment. My receiving competence has progressed since then, but I still struggle with it. A simple, “Thank you. That means a lot.” is usually the best response, but I tend to complicate things with self-deprecating humor or trying to find a return compliment.

Our lives matter to God. We demonstrate that we have embraced that reality in how we give and receive more than in what we give and receive. The perfect gift is seriously over-rated.

Right now, I give you my sincere thanks for the gift of your readership. It means a lot.

Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association in Decatur.

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