December 8, 2006

Be Our Guest / Patti Lamb

Simple gifts to give this Christmas season

This year, as I sat down to prepare my Christmas budget, I realized it’s much tighter than it has been in past years.

I racked my brain trying to come up with a way to take care of everyone on my list with a humble budget. I considered baking homemade cookies or crafting handmade ornaments. But with all the ingredients and supplies and packaging necessary, I was still exceeding my budget.

As I was crunching numbers on the calculator and growing more and more frustrated, a thought came to me. Maybe I could give some simple gifts that don’t “cost” anything. Real gifts. They may be gifts people don’t see—but they are true gifts nonetheless. So I started my list:

Forgiveness—There are some people I need to forgive, and I’ve been needing to for a long time. Forgiveness won’t cost me anything, and in several cases it’s an overdue gift anyway.

How do I expect to be forgiven if I don’t forgive others? I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m sure there are people who need to forgive me, too.

So I reflected and I dropped some grudges—not without serious effort. But I forgave them in my heart, and I asked God to bless them and take care of them. And I asked God to help those who need to forgive me, too. I asked him to help us all do better. It made me feel lighter—like a weight had been lifted.

I thought of more gifts I could give that would truly benefit others—gifts without a price tag or fancy packaging. But these gifts would go beyond monetary value, and maybe that’s what I needed to keep in mind this Christmas season: the spirit in which gifts are given.

I continued my list:

Time—These days, it seems like everyone has a calendar, clock or mental “to-do” list by which to live. Adults have work and errands and commitments. Children and young adults have ball practice, Scouts and music lessons. Even toddlers have play dates to keep.

So time itself is becoming a more and more treasured gift. I think as we grow wiser, we realize the value of time.

This year, I thought of how I can use my time in more meaningful ways. And there was really no limit to what I could think of: I could go watch my nephew’s team play. I could volunteer on a church committee needing help.

Time could be used to help my sister paint her kitchen or visit someone feeling lonely or even play a board game with my family. I could also use my time to help others who don’t have time for themselves—by baby-sitting or making a meal for them.

As I thought about the gift of time, I realized it takes more effort to use time well than it does to buy a cordless hand vacuum for someone on my gift list. But years down the road, what will stand out in their minds? Will they remember the hand vacuum or the time I carved out a whole weekend to attend their out-of-town graduation ceremony?

Prayers—Another gift I can give without cost, but with a commitment of time and effort, is the gift of prayer. There are people all around us in need of prayer. Whether it’s for a job, a relationship, a health issue or any situation they’re struggling with, we can pray for them.

Each day, we can make an effort to pray to God on their behalf. We can pray for restored health, the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in the situation they struggle with and for God’s peace and happiness. Even better, we can pray together as a family.

Gratitude—There are some people to whom I owe a “thank you.” Maybe I owe them a thank-you note or a phone call. And beyond that, I can pay it forward.

Sometimes you can’t pay others back for all that they’ve done for you. (Sometimes you don’t even know who the people were that helped you.) So we can pay it forward in a multitude of ways.

I recalled a passage in the Bible in which Jesus said, “When you have a dinner or a feast, don’t invite your friends, your relatives, your brothers or your rich neighbors; they can invite you to their feasts and thus pay you back. No, but go invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and you will be blessed, for they cannot pay you back and you will be rewarded in the resurrection of the righteous for your generosity” (Lk 14:12:14).

Support (and stewardship)—When thinking of gratitude and ways to serve others, I asked myself, “How can I use my gifts to do good?”

God has given special blessings and gifts to us all. If I’m good at organizing and planning, maybe I could chair a committee for a cause in which I believe.

Or if I’m good at math, maybe I could tutor a child who could use some help with numbers. Or if my friend’s son is sick, I can ask, “What can I do to help you carry the burden?”

Years ago, when my uncle was very sick but just before he passed away, he said of his best friend, “He has been my Simon [of Cyrene].” Be someone’s Simon. Help them to carry their cross.

After pondering these simple gifts, my contentment turned to a bit of panic: Wait! What would I tell people on Christmas? What if I don’t show up with glitzy gifts and jingle bells? Then I began to recall that it’s the spirit in which the gift is given that matters.

I may not arrive at the Christmas gathering with a big bag full of costly gifts. But I’d know in my heart—and I’d know that God is aware—that these simple gifts are ones which outweigh my original punch list of gifts to pick up at the mall.

And that brought me to the thought of one last gift:

Reflection—Maybe as a gift to Jesus, I could just reflect—away from all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

I could sit in a quiet room for 30 minutes and reflect on the Christmas story and the past year’s blessings, and just sit quietly and humbly with my God. We give God time by going to church and acting as his ambassadors to others, but sometimes it’s nice just to sit alone with him and reflect. And listen.

That could be your gift to God: Time. I’m sure he’d love to spend some time with you.

(Patti Lamb is a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield.) †

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