I’m at a birthday party – one of hundreds I’ll attend in my lifetime – watching the birthday boy open a lumpy, brightly wrapped present. It’s from his grandmother, who has picked out the gift especially for him, and who is beaming at him now as he tears away the wrapping. She can’t wait to see his face when he sees what’s inside.
As the torn paper reveals what’s inside, he stops unwrapping suddenly. The smile melts away from his face. In the unbridled honesty of childhood, he states, “I don’t like this.” In a flash of hope that maybe he can get something else, he asks, “How much did this cost?”
I look over at his grandmother. She is devastated. Her hurt is in her eyes and in her posture. But, bless her heart, she can’t stop being a grandma. She smiles weakly and answers her grandson so he doesn’t feel at fault, despite her broken heart.
The scene above isn’t unusual. It happens all the time — on all sorts of occasions. You may have done it yourself when you were a child.
It made me think. What is the purpose of a gift?
A gift is a token to send thanks.
“Thank you for being in my life…” “Thank you for being YOU…” “Thank you for helping me feel special…”
A gift is a tangible way to show appreciation.
“I appreciate who you are…” “I appreciate what you do…”
It is a display of love. It lets us show our unconditional love – a love that knows no limits. A gift can symbolize love that only the two of you share.
It is an expression of respect. A gift shows the respect you have for a person. It shows respect for who they have been in the past, who they are now, and who they will be in the future.
A gift communicates the four qualities above. Some gifts are objects that endure and remind the recipient of the message, such as a promise ring. The best gifts are not material.
The most valuable gift may be a hug. Imagine a friend is suffering or simply needs you. For them, a material object cannot take the place of a heartfelt hug. You can look your friend in the eye and communicate warmth and sincerity with your embrace. A gift-wrapped trinket can feel cold, even if it is given with the best intentions.
Sometimes, a smile can be the best gift, for others and for yourself. You can brighten up any room. Show those teeth! Your smile tells people, “Everything is okay.” It’s a message you can share with a hundred people in a day.
A compliment is a gift you can give to perfect strangers. It’s an instant pick-me-up that can put a skip in someone’s step. The most thoughtful compliments can give someone a new outlook.
A kind gesture is a beautiful way to give a piece of yourself to someone. Bringing dinner to a sick friend… Picking up the phone to say hello… It can be anything that is intangible but meaningful, such as withholding judgement or taking an extra breath before getting angry with someone. Be kind. Be comforting. Be grateful. These are the kind of gifts that make you stronger for giving them.
As I was leaving the birthday party, I thought to myself, I don’t want my children to think gifts are something expensive or only of material value. I especially don’t want them to feel they are entitled to them.
I want them to think of gifts as something that,
When they receive gifts, I want them to respond with hugs. Smiles. Compliments. Heartfelt appreciation. These are the best gifts in return.