This year I won’t give in to the stress and pressure of the season.
Have you made a promise like this one yet?
We all start the Christmas season with such high hopes. But then distraction, anxiety, and obligation begin to shadow the season of light. Our to-do lists make us forget what Christmas truly celebrates. When we become distracted by our preparations, we miss the joy of giving and receiving. We tend to obsess about the physical gifts we place under the tree. Acts of love and kindness also take center stage this time of year. But, if we’re not careful, it’s easy to believe our Christmas will only have meaning if we out-give everyone else.
How did it come to this?
Let’s start with a little ice-breaker…now tell the truth—
When you host a dinner party, if someone asks, “Can I help?” — how do you respond?
Do you brush strands of hair off your sweaty forehead as you froth the words, “I’m fine! Just relax and enjoy yourself!”
Or do you gratefully ask them to remove a flaming pan from the stove as you reset the blaring fire alarms?
If your gut response is to always handle the crisis alone, your receiver might be broken. When we continually look for ways to meet everyone else’s needs, it becomes easy to think of others more and ourselves less. We feel comfortable in our role of helper as we prefer quietly taking care of others. We don’t want to expose our own vulnerability by allowing anyone to see our own needs. Our relationships begin to feel a little lopsided.
So, how do we step away from our high-pressured lists and recognize what we really want from our giving?
We know that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians). And Jesus taught it is better to give than receive (Acts 20:35), but these Scriptures shouldn’t burden us with the pressure to provide or handle things on our own. Being able to receive is a natural part of a healthy, humble spirit. A rhythm of giving and receiving keeps us balanced and nourished. God created this cadence. We are spiritually in step when we follow that God gave His Son, Jesus gave his life, and we were made to receive. Giving is so beautifully played out in the Christmas story it’s easy to miss the finer details about our roles. How we respond is a very personal reaction that is as unique as our fingerprints. We are created to make meaningful connections through both giving and receiving. How do we learn to be better receivers?
We look to the manger.
Here we see God’s model for giving and receiving based on three themes woven through the nativity. At the birth of Jesus, God gave intimately, unexpectedly, and unconditionally. Let’s look at each way and how it influences our roles as givers and receivers. When we understand this interaction is an exchange, celebrating the joy of connection, we become sacred receivers.
- God gave intimately. He saw our need for a savior, and he responded by giving Himself.
True giving is an act of love. What matters when we give is the emotion and our affection that passes on to the receiver.
The best example I can give you is the way my husband selects gifts. Because of our business, he travels to unique areas of the world. When he comes home, he usually brings me something from the outside— a gift from nature. He rarely goes into the stores and buys something. But he constantly threads a piece of his trip through the gift.
He just came back from Alaska. Mike knows how much I love sea glass. And so he went down to the beach, spending hours searching for pieces that washed ashore from Russia. His gift said, “I remember what’s meaningful to you. I remember how your face lights up when you find it and it makes me happy, too.”
Because I understood the sentiment in the gift, I focused on the love reflected in broken glass pieces.
When we accept a gift given in love, we see the parts of the giver threaded throughout the gift, and it becomes personal.
- God gave unexpectedly. The Israelites were looking for the Messiah, but no one predicted a baby. What a beautiful reminder that God doesn’t engage in obligation. He encourages us to trust by doing things divinely, not our way.
I never know how what Mike’s going to put in his suitcase. He never brings something home because he must. It’s always a treasure—something that he values. It’s his way of reminding me he took me with him in his mind.
My response to him is gratitude for making me a part of who he is and what’s important to him.
Many times, meaningful gifts take the receiver by surprise.
When we accept that the gift isn’t one of obligation, we can treasure it in our hearts with a sense of wonder.
- God gave unconditionally. God doesn’t attach requirements to grace. He alone earned our eternal life with Him — because we couldn’t do it alone. The ultimate gift of Jesus came to us not because we deserved it but rather God desired it.
When Mike came home with a handful of sea glass, he pulled me aside from our busy day. He didn’t hand me a list with the understanding that once the tasks were complete, I would be worthy. Instead, he set me apart. It became a moment we would never get back.
I responded by being present. I didn’t answer a ringing phone, check my email, or rescue the burning Christmas cookies in the oven. I savored our exchange.
True gifts never have an underlying motive.
When we accept a gift given unconditionally, we experience shared joy between the giver and the receiver.
Perhaps the secret to more meaningful relationships this season isn’t about how much we can give. It’s remembering the second element of meaningful exchanges…sacred receiving. A practice that deepens our relationships turning our focus back to the giver. Our gratitude overflows. And then… we can give with the heart God intended as we kneel at the foot of the manger.