December 2018: The Gift of Giving

Christmas is a time for family and friends and gift-giving. It’s a time when we focus on that moment when the human and divine connected, and because of it, the world was changed forever. And yet, somehow in the daily routines of the year we lose the wonder and excitement of that moment. The holidays provide us with a time to pause, to reflect, to enjoy the company of those whom we love and to reach out to others with gifts of material things and, perhaps more importantly, with gifts of our time, compassion, forgiveness, humility, and kindness.
 
In a December 7, 2017 article online, “The Psychology of Gift Giving and Happiness,” Judy Sanigar, LSCW, clinical social worker in California, cited psychologist Karen Pine, who wrote, “Gift giving is a social, cultural and economic experience; a material and social communication exchange that is inherent across human societies and instrumental in maintaining social relationships and expressing feelings” (Psychology of Gift Exchange Mayet, & Pine). She further quotes researcher Elizabeth Dunn’s article, “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness,” (Science 319, 2008), “how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make. . . spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself.”
 
I suspect that most of us have been taught the lesson from the Act of the Apostles: “. . . keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). There is currently a Christmas commercial on TV for ACE Hardware stores that shows a little boy who wants to buy something for his daddy that “he’ll really, really, really love.” He is so excited to give it to his dad that he blurts out what it is as his father tears away the wrapping paper. That little boy was definitely more excited about giving than receiving, and it was easy to do because of the love he had for his father. But what about the people who are hard to love, even the people we don’t know who need to know love? 
 
One of my favorite stories about the Raskob family, who built and lived in the Patio, was about Christmas morning. Obviously, the Raskobs were wealthy and could afford to give their 13 children whatever they wanted. However, one of the children shared with me a story about a Christmas morning tradition that her mother, Mrs. Raskob, instituted. She said that after the children opened all of their presents left under the tree, they were asked to select one present to give away to some child who may not have received as much as they did. Mrs. Raskob’s daughter remarked how that small act of sacrifice left a lasting impression on her, reminding her of the obligation that comes with being blessed with so much that one has to find a way to share the blessings with others.
 
Small gifts – small acts of kindness – can have tremendous impact on another person. It seems to me that when these actions take place, something more happens beyond the human connection; it becomes a sacred moment in a sense, when God’s presence is felt as joy in the giver and receiver of the gift. As we give our gifts, whatever they may be this Christmas, my hope and prayer is that you will pause to savor the experience of giving and receiving, recognizing the presence of the divine in the moment, much like that moment when earth and heaven shared the gift of our Savior. Merry Christmas! 
 
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