I gave a terrible present this week. It was the wrong gift for a wonderful person, and though she politely thanked me, I knew before she opened it that it was a poor choice. The truth is this: I had forgotten to buy her a gift, ran out of time to shop, panicked, and wrapped a new item I had at home. Frankly, I hadn’t wanted it either. And her quick thanks and perfunctory facial expression told me what I had feared: she was disappointed.
Why is it so awful when our presents fall short? Because it reveals a lack of understanding of the other person, a lack of generosity, or a lack of attention. (Sometimes all of these.) It reveals something missing in us instead of spreading a spark of joy to someone else. And while friends generally overlook and forgive such slights, relationships won’t flourish with these messages.
Over-extravagant gifts can be injurious too. This mom’s confession about excessive Christmas gifts for her children reminds us that love doesn’t try to buy others' love. Love is not manipulative. It does not dishonor others. Instead, it communicates affection and understanding of the individual and the relationship.
We can grasp a lot about ourselves by the gifts that we give. I tend to give generously, but I often give gifts that I would want. (It’s hard to imagine others not wanting what we ourselves desire.) The items I’ve purchased for my preschool children this Christmas are items I want them to have for their own good and development--such as magnetic blocks--but nothing they’ve hungered for in earnest, such as princess-inspired clothing. Obviously, parents shouldn’t surrender to every impassioned request from their children. But I'm realizing that I ought to give more consideration to the longings of my children’s hearts, even if those longings are for items for which I have little esteem.
As for the friend I slighted this week, I owe her an apology, however simple. And the next time I find myself short of a fitting gift, I’ll sheepishly admit my lack of foresight and offer to treat her to coffee or lunch. Besides getting to enjoy time with my friend, I'll probably come away with a better understanding of what she really loves. After all, love and delight ought to be at the heart of every gift.