Every year, Christmas presents us with the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the spirit of gift giving. At the same time, it poses a threat to this very same spirit, turning what should be a joyful act into a long list of stressful busyness.

Of course, we control more of the stress then we care to admit, and this is usually because we are worrying about how our gifts are going to reflect us instead of how they are going to serve the receiver.

For instance, we may spend excessive amounts of money so as to not appear stingy. We may stress about finding or making the perfect gift so that everyone will think we are “the best.” We may even create expectations or rules about what makes an acceptable gift (ex: I only give homemade gifts, because mass-produced items are cheap and unnatural; I only give tangible gifts, because gift cards and charity donations aren’t exciting; etc).

When these issues infiltrate the gift-giving process, they can supplant our joy with more negative emotions. For example, I recently had a rather traumatic present faux pas that involved a sweatshirt and some textile paint. The climax involved me bursting into tears and frantically rubbing the stain until it bled even more and then snapping at my husband for watching the whole ordeal in shock. “Are you just going to sit there in silence?” As if he could have actually done anything about it. Mistakes happen. Gifts aren’t always going to turn out perfect. But when we get to a place where achieving the perfect gift becomes more important to us than maintaining love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc., something has gone awry, and we may need to re-prioritize our reasons for gift giving.

1) Gift Giving Should Be Responsible:

One of most common grey areas of gift giving is the amount of money that we choose to spend. Although we may want the individual we are buying for to know that our love knows no bounds, we may lose perspective of where the line is between generosity and poor stewardship.

One risk of overspending is the mistake of wasting the resources that God has provided for us and called us to use responsibly. For example, we should never have to dip into our tithe money or the money that we normally give to charity for the sake of holiday spending. Furthermore, we should not put ourselves in a bad position financially just so we can fulfill every want (as opposed to need) that someone we love has. (And by “bad position” I mean forgoing groceries or burying oneself in a tangle of debt).

But, perhaps on a more familiar level, when we spend frivolously, we often devalue the amount of joy that each present produces. To understand how this works, all you have to do is picture a desensitized child opening one gift after another and tossing them into a mountain of gifts. When I was that child, stopping to read the card before tearing into “the next one” always slipped my mind. I remember constantly being asked, “Amy, did you see who gave that to you?”, at which point, I would scrummage through the rubble of wrapping paper and shout “Gram and Gramps R.” or some other name before resuming the form of a cute, but frighteningly ravenous gift-opening monster. When I had finished consuming the lot in front of me, a wave of sadness would fall over me, as if I expected the thrill to continue indefinitely.

And we don’t change much as adults. Oftentimes, as the Christmas gifts increase, so does the amount of post-seasonal depression that awaits us when we try to shift back into a lifestyle of “normalcy.” Suddenly January feels like a boring month.

2) Gift Giving Should Be Receptive:

Unfortunately, the response of many people is to then bolt in the opposite direction, declaring complete anti-consumerist notions and refusing to partake in any gift giving or receiving (“I don’t need anything this year!” “Let’s not do presents this year.”) Yet, at this extreme, we may end up sacrificing the spirit of the season altogether. This is sort of a baby/bathwater thing.

For, even though a good deal of Americans aren’t in need of material goods, all human beings are created to experience joy and celebration. Thus, to refuse to participate in these things is to refuse to accept one’s God-given nature (the intended and eternal human nature, as opposed to the  sinful, post-fall human nature).

For instance, even if it was my wish that money be donated to a charity on my behalf, it would not be my place to scorn a thoughtful, personalized gift. For what we might pigeonhole as a “waste of money,” may in fact be an outpouring of joy and generosity that shouldn’t be crushed, such as Mary’s use of oil on Jesus’ feet. Thus, in the same way that responsibility helps reign in poor stewardship, receptiveness and openness to celebration should help prevent us from becoming Pharisaical with our principles.

2) Gift Giving Should Be Relational:

Although it seems like it should go without saying, our focus when giving gifts should be on the person we are giving to. For instance, even if we personally find gift cards unsatisfying, if we are shopping for a practical individual, a gift card may be exactly what this person would appreciate. Or, even if we aspire to make all of our gifts by hand, it may be more loving to buy a fitted dress than to try and make one from scratch.

Ultimately, the gift-giving process is perfected when the giver is totally focused on the receiver in an embodiment of generosity and joy, and the receiver is totally focused on the giver in an embodiment of thankfulness and joy.

When this happens, it is no longer about the gift, and we no longer worry about if our gift was “the best” or “the one being played with.” We no longer even care if our gift gets returned for cash or re-gifted. For when we give and receive simply to reflect Christ and who we were created to be in Him, the act of giving becomes much more important than the gift.

Sources: Photo taken from Microsoft Clip Art