By Mark A. Taylor
I have a friend who works for a well-known benevolent organization not affiliated with any church, but providing a much-needed service to families in crisis. And at Christmastime, she sees the gifts pour in.
People drive up every day in December with carloads of clothes, games, and food. But one donor stood out in my friend’s memory.
The woman approached the front desk holding her daughter’s hand and carrying an armload of goodies. “We would like to meet the family who will receive our gifts,” she told the receptionist. “I want my little girl to experience the joy of helping someone at Christmas.”
The receptionist explained, much to the donor’s disappointment, that this just wasn’t possible for a variety of reasons. I forget how the story ended, but I’m assuming the woman left her gifts anyway.
Although her request may not seem unreasonable at first, it prompts me to ask why I give—at Christmastime or anytime—and what I hope to get in return. Experience has taught us the truth of what Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but is it possible that I structure my giving to receive a payoff for myself?
I’m reflecting on the $59.4 billion spent at U.S. stores last weekend, starting Thanksgiving night, (up 13 percent over last year’s number) and the $1.46 billion more in online sales this week on Cyber Monday (a new daily record in U.S. e-commerce history).
We might feel gratified that Americans are spending so much on items they’ll presumably give away. But don’t you wonder how many of these gifts will be given only in exchange for gifts received? How many will be given grudgingly because relatives or coworkers expect them? How many will be given in an effort to assuage guilt or pave the way for some favor in return?
I don’t mean to be cynical or negative. To be sure, thousands of churches across the land are busy right now collecting gifts for the underprivileged, the homeless, the children of prisoners, and those who have lost their jobs. Of course, all this is good. When we give anonymously, we at least take a step toward giving selflessly.
But I’m prompted to ask, “How much am I giving to someone who cannot or will not give back to me? When do I give without anyone else knowing I’ve given? What do I give up so I can give to someone else?”
And sometimes they need much more than what we can wrap with ribbons. Time, attention, a listening ear, a word of affirmation—gifts like these cannot be found at any Black Friday sale.