What do I want for Christmas? What should I get my family? Which store carries what I’m looking for?
This is the time of year when many of us ask those and many other similar questions. From the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve each year, people spend so much time and energy looking for that perfect gift, fighting crowds and traffic to find “the one present they’ll never forget.” But I bet if you ask enough people, they’ve forgotten more gifts than they can remember, especially if they’ve lived long enough. Sure, a gift here or there might stand out in memory, but think back five or ten years. Do you even remember who gave you what or what you gave to other people for Christmas?
Every December, people get so caught up in the madness of the season, but how many people ever stop to ask themselves WHY? Why do we give gifts? What is the purpose of this annual tradition that puts so many people into debt and causes so much stress? We spend so much time hunting, buying, wrapping, giving, opening, and then quickly forgetting the presents, and in that there’s a hollow emptiness. You can go through the same ritual year after year, but you’ll always find yourself with things that eventually break, disappear, gather dust, or just leave you feeling empty when you finish. In the gift-giving process, it’s so easy to lose sight of what’s important, or rather whom.
When gifts are given, they should point us to something greater; they should remind us of the relationships we have, rather than being an end in themselves. It’s a far greater gift to have meaningful relationships you can’t buy than to receive the most expensive things someone else can. We can give gifts to people we love and care about, but then as recipients, we might get so caught up in the gift itself, we quit thinking about the person who gave us that gift and quickly become ungrateful. Just go online and you’ll see people making big stinks about the gifts they didn’t get. They’re even willing to take out their rage on the people who didn’t give them the gift they wanted or supposedly deserved, all to the amusement of others, instead of being grateful for the gifts they did get or recognizing that someone else loved them enough to want to get them something at all, perhaps at great expense, just for a trinket the recipient won’t remember in a few months. And that’s a great sadness.
But it’s not just the world who does this. How often do we who are Christians forget the ultimate Gift Giver, while seeking to enjoy the gifts we’ve received? We can get so focused on the gifts themselves, instead of remembering the relationship with the One who gave us those gifts. When we get some gift we didn’t ask for or want, or when we don’t get what we want, we throw a fit and get angry at God or other people in our lives. Or we get the gift we want, but then we lose focus on the One who gave us that gift, and we turn the gift into an idol that eventually leaves us feeling empty.
So this holiday season, as you spend time trying to find gifts for other people or trying to figure out what you want yourself, take some time out of the seasonal chaos to remember giving gifts should not be about the gifts themselves but about the relationships you have. Whatever you get someone else or someone else gets you, those gifts will likely be forgotten or go unused in a few years or months time. Instead, remember it’s about the people you have in your life; besides, sometimes the best gift you can give someone else is time.