I love giving gifts. And I love giving unexpected gifts. Not just the kind tied up with a bow at Christmastime, but small and large generosities of time, talent or money throughout the year. This is one reason why I give away prints of my podcast art each week. Generosity is life-giving to the soul. But, it can also feel stressful and full of pressure.
Gifting can be stressful for a whole bunch of reasons. There are an awful lot of you out there in the very midst of a frenzy of gift-getting in order to create the magic of Christmas morning. If you've ever agonized for weeks over the perfect gift to give someone, ever worried how someone will receive a gift, ever blown your budget or bought gifts you couldn't afford you've dealt with gift-giving stress. Most of us have been there at some point. And right now across our country, it's rampant. So, let's talk about a healthy gifting strategy, one that brings you peace.
Instead of talking about things you already know, like "Choose a budget you can afford and then stick to it." I want to talk about two things that I rarely hear discussed. Your motivations and responsibilities when giving and receiving a gift and alternative gifting.
We give gifts to show love, affection and appreciation. Well, that's why we're supposed to be giving gifts. But, we can let an awful lot of other motivations sneak into that action. We can get competitive about it. We can get selfish about it. And we can get prideful about it. Have you ever been concerned with your gift being the best, the most expensive, the favorite or the most impressive? If so, then you've turned that giving into something about yourself. There's pride, self-centeredness and ego all wrapped up inside that gift. Have you ever bought a gift to impress someone? To manipulate someone? For example, "If I buy her skiing lessons, she'll let us take that skiing trip to Vail I've been trying to talk her into for years." You can see how manipulation could creep into gift giving?
When we give a gift, we need to be really careful that our motivations are simple and uncomplicated. And we need to keep the gifting responsibilities in the right corners. Your responsibility as a gifter is to choose a gift to show your appreciation or love. A thoughtful gift. A gift appropriate in the context in which it's given. So, a gift to a spouse should be more personal and intimate than a gift exchange at the office.
Keep your ego, pride and self-centeredness out of it. Your job is to give a gift. This is the part you can control. You can't control whether the recipient will like it, love it, treasure it...or hate it or be indifferent about it. As the giver, your responsibility ends with the giving. If you've given with thought and appreciation and appropriate context, your role has been fulfilled. Of course, having someone be delighted with your gift is fabulous and you should obviously choose something you think they will like (that's the thoughtful part), but your responsibility is in the giving.
If you're receiving a gift, it's your responsibility to accept it with graciousness and appreciation of the thought and the act on the part of the giver. Seriously, they went to some degree of effort, you need to acknowledge that even if you aren't fond of the gift. So, let's talk about that for a moment. A gift should be given with no strings attached. It's a gift. It's not a contract. If I give a gift and it's not right for the recipient. they have every right to do with it what they want. When I give a gift, I release it to them freely. It's now theirs to do with as they will. So, if you've received a gift that you can't use, don't like or doesn't fit you...you do not have to keep that jacket in the wrong color and style in your closet for the rest of your days.
Quick rules of thumb? Remember: You're only responsible for your own actions and attitudes on either side of the gift giving equation. And kindness, thoughtfulness and appreciation go a long way.
True in gifting and in life.
Holiday gifts don't always have to be under the tree. They don't always have to be given to people you know and they don't always need to be traditional. Buying experiences instead of things for family and friends is one way to experience alternative gifting, but that's not what I want to talk about today. Here are two projects we do each year that help our family focus on giving rather than receiving.
First, we do a project that we call the Giving Jar in honor of the woman who originated the idea - at least the one who started us down this path years ago [Find Jamie Schultz's blog here and search for "giving jar" posts] . It's an advent project that involves a daily giving task. Sometimes we give money, sometimes it's time, sometimes it's attention. We've sent Christmas cards to servicemen and women, cleaned up trash at local parks, held doors for people, left money for strangers to find, done chores for family members, delivered cookies to school staff members, made phone calls to distant loved ones, provided Kiva loans and donated spare change. Countless random acts of kindness and generosity later and our holidays have been transformed from getting to giving. It's a beautiful process.
This year, we're getting a late start. Usually, we do it for the whole month of December. This year, we'll get in two weeks. But, it's the process and not the perfection that counts! It's how it affects my heart and that of my son. It's how the season is given meaning in small moments in each day. Next year I need to put it on my calendar to organize it in October, because it does take some work.
On the practical end, I've done it several different ways. Rolled paper in a jar with the daily task. Simple stacked, numbered cards with the tasks written on them. And my current favorite that probably won't get used this year: sewn paper mittens strung on a string with daily tasks in each mitten.
My other favorite alternative gifts are the ones we choose from Heifer International. If you aren't familiar with Heifer, they're an organization that has projects around the world with the purpose of ending hunger and poverty. They provide training, economic change and income in areas of need by providing livestock and farming practices. They also require recipients of their gifts to pass along offspring to others, furthering the reach of your gift. Here's what we do: we choose an animal or portion of an animal to gift each year. This is normal for people donating to Heifer.
But, then, we also purchase a stuffed version of that animal to live under our tree with our own gifts each year as a visible reminder to us of how fortunate we are and how our own gifts are not the point of Christmas. We started when my son was born and have 10 animals of various sizes and types that make their home under my tree each year. Actually, the bag where the animals are stored has come up missing this year and I'm trying not to panic since it's one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
The art this week is a gift. Not a lot of interpretation needed here, but know that giving should be a beautiful thing both for the giver and the receiver, regardless of what the gift actually is. I wish you many blessings of giving this season and hope that you think through your gifting in new ways after listening today.
What if your gift-giving was full of peace?
If you'd like to see our two week schedule of Giving Jar tasks this year, I'll attach that to this week's coffee talk emails in a printable form, so hop on the Coffee Talk email list to receive that. You'll also receive a few questions each morning about the podcast topic and a version of the week's art in a phone lock screen.
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