We quietly re-gift things that we will never use, hoping that no one will ever know, but I believe this is something we should stop feeling guilty about. Gifts should have no strings attached.
If you came to visit us when I was a child, it was dangerous to tell my mother how much you loved something that sat on a shelf or in a bookcase. She’d hand it to you and tell you that it was yours. Sharing the things we loved was as much fun as receiving them.
My mother grew up with plenty. She never wanted for anything; there was always more than enough. Once she married Dad, the whole ‘plenty’ thing went away and she learned to stretch dollars in incredible ways, but still – if she believed you might enjoy something as much as she did, it was yours.
Now, on the other side of that, I know plenty of people who hoard every thing they own – especially if an item was given to them. I know one woman who can’t throw away something as simple as a magazine because her daughter gave it to her – no matter that it was on a stand in the aisle at the grocery store. And the car that is falling apart and needs to be replaced? She still owns it because her husband bought it for her. Well, uhhh … he’s bought several vehicles. The house is filled with items that were given to them over the years, so much so that they are constantly putting things into storage. This poor woman created her own strings and attached them to the gifts she was given.
That old story about bringing out all of the things that an aunt or a mother-in-law or grandmother gave you when they come to visit … or wearing a horrible sweater that was knitted for you … or using an awful butter dish that showed up as a wedding gift is more real than any of us like to admit. We are made to feel guilty if we don’t love a gift that was given to us – no matter that the giver took no time to find out what our tastes might be or what we might enjoy.
I’ve lived in that reality too and it is no fun. Gifts with strings attached are not truly gifts, but points of manipulation.
Last fall I gave something to my sister and … terrible me … I asked her about it. She gasped and told me that she’d given it to a young woman who really needed it and then apologized. OH NO! No apology needed. I was absolutely thrilled that it had found a home where it would be treasured. That was all that was important.
Because I love giving gifts, the joy for me is not seeing that gift in someone’s hands, it’s about the moment that I am able to share with them. The best thing? That’s when I discover that the gift moved on to someone else because my friend was comfortable enough to share it forward. I want all my friends to know that I understand their home might only be a temporary stop for that gift. They don’t have to treasure it simply because I purchased it, thought of them and gave it away. I will think of them again when I see other things.
My relationship with my friends isn’t about the things I’ve given them, it’s about the moments we share. It’s important to me that they are able to share moments with others and if they look at a shelf and see something another friend would enjoy, that’s where it should end up. I consider it an honor that a friend believes something I made or purchased for them is special enough to share with someone else.
It’s hard to convince people of this – we place a lot of importance on material possessions and attribute to them greater worth than they should have.
In the last few years, friends of my mother have begun returning gifts to us that she gave to them. Art that she painted, ceramic pots that she threw on her potter’s wheel, books that she signed to them. The giving of those gifts represented a moment in time – a moment that was important between Mom and the recipient. That time has passed and I can’t begin to tell you how special it has been to receive these items back into our family.
Maybe it’s about generosity and never allowing it to stop, but sharing so that it grows.
Some gifts are given and are not intended for just a single moment in time. I think of the gift of God’s Son. Sharing that gift with others, branching beyond the small country where the disciples and those who knew Jesus lived was as important as the original gift. They couldn’t be stingy and hoard it among themselves; they had to share. It was in those moments of sharing that the greatest change the world had ever seen occurred.
Give gifts and know … hope … pray that they will bring joy to not only one person, but to many.