December 23, 2013

Holy Gift-Giving

Gary Thomas — 
photo: srhbth, Creative Commons

photo: srhbth, Creative Commons

When renting a car with my wife one time I discovered that few things make a forty-something wife happier than warm car seats on a cold winter morning, so when it came time to get a new family vehicle, seat-warmers became a non-negotiable.

As I tried to figure out what we could afford, my evangelical guilt about spending the money to buy a new vehicle kept pounding me, but as I prayed through all this, I got the distinct sense that God liked the fact that I wanted to look after my wife—his daughter—and bring her joy.

I’m often out of town, and if an old car breaks down, Lisa’s on her own.

That adds an element of uncertainty to her daily life. When I remembered Lisa is God’s daughter, and that God is really into His daughters, buying that car turned into a time of worship—I was serving God by taking care of his daughter.

It’s becoming increasingly popular for Christians to “de-commercialize” Christmas, and for some good reasons. Crass materialism needs to be confronted, but let’s not forget that giving gifts to each other can be a way for us to become servants of the Giver of all—God giving to our family through us.

Thoughtful gifts can even create lifetime family memories.  There’s nothing wrong when a parent wants to give a daughter a doll she’ll treasure for the rest of her life, or a husband wants to thank his wife for standing by his side and sacrifices to place something very special under the Christmas tree.

We can, and should, reach out to the poor all year long.

We don’t have to sacrifice Christmas to do that, however. I’m sure you’ll read all about Christian families who are giving goats to a village in India this year in lieu of giving gifts to one another. Or maybe they’re building a well someplace in Africa. I love people sending goats and wells to communities that need them and the last thing I want to do is attack such a practice—but can I at least ask, are Christmas gifts the only (or even best) budget item we can cut to do that?

It’s my belief that families begin to break down when they stop enjoying each other; when the husband gives no thought to his wife’s pleasure and the wife no thought to the husband’s; when parents see kids only as projects to be improved rather than real people to be enjoyed; when kids see their parents primarily as providers; when family life offers little laughter but much criticism, plentiful stress but almost no play, a pressure-cooker of activities and obligations but no pleasure. Few families will thrive in such an oppressive atmosphere.

When a dad gives a daughter a gift that shows he really knows her; when a mom presents her son with a present that shows him she honors his personality; when a spouse puts a little extra thought into thanking their partner for being with them all year long—gifts can be creative expressions of intimacy, not just crass commercial materialism. I’m not suggesting we simply load our kids down with plastic stuff that they’ll play with once and never look at again. But I am suggesting that the notion of giving gifts is a divine one and can be used by God to build our families up.

For the guilt-ridden “super sacrificers,” be careful:

it’s possible to become so focused on your individual “obedience” that you shortchange your family’s joy. That can be selfish, not godly. It’s possible to become more concerned about being frugal and simple than being generous to those we love.

Let’s keep Christmas special.  Let’s even be willing to spoil each other a little, spend some extra time together, and excel, without guilt, in the holy art of gift-giving. We need stronger families, people, and the gift-giving aspect of Christmas can serve that end. It’s not that I think we shouldn’t be sacrificially generous to God’s work. Of course not! I’m just not sure Christmas is the best place to cut our budget, and I’m tired of families feeling guilty and shamed for simply wanting to demonstrate their love for each other.

Gift-giving can be a good, holy and God-directed thing. It’s certainly possible that God might call some families to do without it—let’s just please not assume that’s the only choice for those who want to be radically obedient.

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