Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Gifts of love

'Tis the season of gifting, and if you believe what you see on all the media, then the bigger the can you show you care if you don't get everyone everything their heart desires.  But that's the rub isn't it...we often want things because they are shiny or new or we see someone else have them.  Want is often driven by greed, by envy, by emptiness...or any other number of emotions that aren't our truest heart desires.

I am very guilty of a lot of these.  I struggle with a feeling of emptiness, and I want to fill that void.  I desire things, and I see other people getting things and that makes me want them too.  I find myself looking more towards things I 'want' than things I have.  And I struggle with both wanting to have all the things, and wanting to be able to 'prove' I care about people by getting them more things, and bigger and better things.

But we all also know that some gifts are precious beyond words.  When a child gives you this special rock they found, and their heart is in their eyes, and they are just so excited and they want YOU to have it...and you look down and it's an ordinary pebble, but you take it anyways, and they are so giddy with joy that you just have to tell them how amazing it is and how it's perfect.  And something happens because you look at that rock differently.  If you had seen it on the street, you wouldn't have even noticed it, but now it carries all those emotions, that pure joy and love and selfless caring.

And really, that is what gift giving is all about.  It's about taking what's in your heart and giving that to someone else.  How that love is wrapped, what shape it takes, that is all less important than the emotions that are driving you.  And that is the best way to receive gifts as well.  When we stop focusing so much on the packaging and instead we tune into the message...that is when we share true gifts.

I really identify with the concept of love languages.  It is a book I was exposed to in high school, and it makes SO much sense in my brain.  It was something I struggled with a TON as a child, because my mother's love language isn't gifts, it's service.  To mom, nothing is a better gift than doing something for her (and as her daughter, sometimes that meant doing something to improve my life).  Her Christmas list would always include things like, "A clean house" or "A straight A report card." 

When I was younger, that used to frustrate me no end.  I wanted something I could buy or make and wrap and put under the tree.  The gifts she wanted didn't feel like gifts to me (let's be honest...they felt like work lol).  But looking back, I can see now how those things would be a demonstration of my love for my mother, of the ways in which I was thinking of her and doing things (that admittedly were work, and not always pleasant), because I knew they would make her happy.

We all probably know people who we think are hard to buy gifts for, and sometimes that's because they don't speak the love language of gifts.  They may want service, like my mother did, or they may want quality time, or conversation, or touch, or words.  If you spend a little time thinking about the person you want to give a gift to, you can normally figure out what their love language thinking about the times you have seen them really light up.

And people don't only speak one love language!  Sometimes people like gifts but they also like quality time.  Or they want words of love and service.  I love gifts, but I also love quality time...I like conversation and service.

I think we also all probably can list of a handful of people who give us things we may not like (often physical gifts).  I think every family has that one aunt/uncle who picks really strange gifts, or someone who gives really practical (but often un-fun gifts).  When we just focus on the items we are receiving, it can be a struggle, but when we think about why that person might have picked that gift, it becomes easier to be grateful and to really enjoy what we get.

Another factor that I think often gets people in trouble is expectations.  We see all these stories online or in the news, about these amazing gifts or things that people are doing for the holidays.  And often we can't help but be a bit envious.  It would absolutely be nice to be able to get that expensive thing or have the time to go on that incredible vacation, or have the kind of relationship with our family where we could spend all day with them and be happy about it.

It can be especially hard if you are struggling, and for many people the holidays are especially hard.  We put so much emphasis on our blood relations, who can be really horrible sometimes.  Many people have families that are so different from them, and so intolerant and flat out hateful that they don't feel safe with them. 

This is where I think that it is really important for everyone to have their own support system.  We all have unique needs, and finding people (and things, and activities) that build us up when we are struggling, that is a true gift on it's own.  We often look to the bright and shiny times when we think of gifts, but the ones that really matter the most are the ones that stick with us when times are not so good.  When we are in the darkest, hardest, most painful place, the smallest act of support can be the biggest gift.  These are the things we cling to, our life line, when everything else is lost to us.

I find that sometimes, the best gifts are ones that aren't fully understood.  It is easy to gift someone when you get them, when you are into all the stuff they are into, when you both love the same things.  It is harder to gift someone that you don't quite get.  When you have a friend, who you know loves this one thing...and you think it's a little silly, or a bit strange, or just confusing.  But it doesn't really matter how you feel about the thing, it's how they feel.  And trust me, if you gift someone something that they know you don't feel the same way means that much more, because they know you did it just for them.  This is extra true when it involves your offering to watch their favorite movie with them, or taking them to that new restaurant that they know terrifies you.

Sometimes, we have obligatory gifts to give, ones that we feel social pressure to give, even thought we may personally not care for the person at all.  Maybe you have that work guy you feel obligated to get a gift towards, but he has been super annoying to you all year.  Tap into the connection you have, working at the same place, and remember that maybe the two of you just don't mesh personality wise.  Perhaps you have to get gifts for family members who have been hurtful to you in the past, and you choose to gift them in honor of the rest of your family, who want you to find a way to get along.

I'm not saying that you have to go above and beyond for every single person you gift to...but remember gifts go both ways, and if you give someone something from a spiteful place in your heart, that is what you will be feeling.  If you can find that small bit of love, somewhere, even if it's just "I am so glad that I only have to see you at work/holidays!" if you gift them something with an honest desire to give them a bit of joy, you will walk away knowing you did a good thing. 

So, as we make our way through this gifting season, remember that every gift you give should be an expression of your heart, of the love you feel towards the person you are gifting.  I'm not talking about romantic love (thought it could be that), or familial love (though it could also be that), but more that deeper love that we feel towards other beings.  Give the gift you feel the person receiving it wants, and receive with an open heart.  Accept the joy of the gifting, without letting price tags or envy sour your experiences.

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