Well sorry folks, but I’m not so sure. If you ask me (er – and even if you don’t), the whole present business is a dangerous affair – on both sides of the equation.
So what is it about gifting that I find so hard to accept?
Christmas (and birthdays) are stressful for many different reasons. Impending bankruptcy, family dynamics and a general surfeit of everything from mince pies to Cliff Richard. Nothing makes me more miserable than The Expectation of Extreme Enjoyment, (see also New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and Wedding Anniversaries). But presents (and what they do to me) are a big part of the pressure.
I blame the parents. As a family, our ‘love language’ is not just words (No, ‘I love you’ would be far too simple). It’s also giving. Whether we want to say, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘Well done’ or ‘I’ve borrowed your top without asking and spilt coffee down it don’t kill me’, our default setting is to give a present. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does freight the gifting with a certain pressure.
To be honest though, I suspect it’s a bigger issue than genetics. A present can say lots of things.It can say ‘I love you’ – but it can also say ‘I don’t like you as you are’ or ‘I don’t understand you’. Perhaps it’s just me, but it’s hard to respond with grace to enormous granny-pants or another set of spoons.
Then there’s excessive giving. This can be a way of exercising control or proving our superiority. Of placing someone in your debt or showing how well you’re doing. Of covering over issues in the relationship that are too scary to face. Had an affair? Tiffany diamond..
Consider the emotional transaction that takes place whether you give or receive. That’s not just a novelty mug you’re handing over – it’s your bloodied and still-beating heart. With one careless comment, the recipient wanders into a minefield.
‘Whaddya mean YOU’VE ALREADY GOT ONE? That’s my ego you just pulped, you ungrateful Philistine..’.
And off I puff, filled with self-righteous ire. Except of course, I don’t actually say any of this. I just think it. What I SAY (behind a rictus grin), is ‘No problem. Here, take the receipt. More milk?’ Murder in the heart, but mercy on the lips.
If only it were just the giving. But receiving too is fraught with danger. For a normal human it might be pleasurable – but not to me. A simple pressie can evoke all sorts of nasty feelings – from debt and duty to unworthiness. I don’t deserve it. I can’t repay it. How should I reciprocate? It’s a way of communicating, but I don’t speak the language.
But of course, I’m deceiving myself if I think I can stand on my own two feet, either as giver or recipient. In reality, I’m dependent for every aspect of life from a God who not only created me once, but then buys me back – and asks nothing in return. Here’s the real Giver – Jesus. He not only takes my sin, but pours out forgiveness, grace and more blessing than I can ever deal with. Which maybe frees me up to share a little with others too.