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Are All Gifts Good?

About a year ago, I wanted to write a blog about how to give good gifts. It was going to explain how gift giving takes time and consideration. It probably would've been true, but the heart behind it was not right. The heart behind it was resentment at others for not giving me exactly what I wanted.

I was convinced that gift giving was about considering the other person, namely, me! 

I don't agree with myself anymore. Gift giving, just like communicating with words, spoken or written, is a two part interaction. There's the speaker and the listener. There's the writer and the reader. There's the giver and the receiver. Giving is equally about both parties.

The giver gives to communicate delight in some form. People might give to bring another person delight. People might give because they're delighted in the abundance that they have. They might delight in the sheer act of giving or in a particular item. I've felt this way after reading a great book. I just have to give it to someone else!

A receiver communicates acceptance of some kind: acceptance of a person, acceptance of help, acceptance of the giver's delight, or acceptance of the item itself. 

I think both giving and receiving are good. They are godlike because God gives and receives. Our giving is a smaller version of what God does. God gives us good gifts, not just beautiful sunsets and freshly baked bread but wisdom and love and peace. And God accepts our attempts to give back to him, as feeble and small as they are.

All this means that it is good for my daughter to give me a recycled bottle with googly eyes glued to it even if I secretly throw it away later. The gift communicated her delight in her art or her fondness for me or her attempts to make amends for an offense. Likewise, even the Trojan horse had that godlike goodness to it, albeit the Greek's motives to delight the Trojans were to a destructive end.

This naturally leads to a discussion on motives. Do ulterior motives take all the goodness out of a gift? I don't think so for the same reason that doing art when we ought to be doing chores doesn't make the art bad. Nor is bringing children into the world to fulfill our lust for affection make children bad. The children are still good. The art is still good. The gift giving is still good. The Trojan Horse was probably a great work of art. It's the hearts of the people that have gone wrong. 

Because we were born out of a relationship with God, we each feel the lack of his presence in a particular way. This particular way shapes us so that we all walk with a limp, so to speak. And it is with that limp that we try to navigate life, raise our families, work at a job, do art, and give gifts. 

Here are some limps people walk with in regards to giving and receiving gifts. I've categorized these according to Enneagram number. Surprise!

Disclaimer: each number doesn't always give or receive for these reasons. We are far more complex than that. These are just exaggerated unhealthy examples.

One: the Reformer (Feels the most lack of God's righteousness in them and the world)

I give because if I don't, I'll feel guilty and someone might judge me. 

I judge the goodness of others' gifts based on how appropriate they are.

Two: the Helper (Feels the most insecure about God's love in their lives)

I give because I know what others need more than they do, and I sure wish someone would do the same for me.

People's gifts are never as good as mine.

Three: the Achiever (Feels the most lack of God's acceptance)

I give to gain appreciation and recognition.

And I will accept gifts as a sign that someone likes me.

Four: the Individualist (Feels the most need for God's beauty and understanding)

I give to show how deeply and uniquely I know others.

This is also how I judge others' gifts, as a sign of how well someone knows me.

Five: the Observer (Feels the most empty without God's wisdom)

I don't give because I don't have enough time, money, or brain power to think of others. 

And I would rather you didn't foist your gifts upon me either.

Six: the Loyalist (Feels the most need to trust someone about the future)

I give because that is how I prove I am loyal to you and that you are within my ring of trust. 

Others' gifts to me are a sign of loyalty and trustworthiness back.

Seven: the Enthusiast (Feels the most need for God's comfort in joyless activities)

I give because it makes life less boring.

I'll accept anything from anyone because gifts are so fun!

Eight: the Challenger (Feels the most distrustful of God's omnipotence)

I give because I want you to do something specific with this item.

I'm a bit suspicious that you may be trying to manipulate me with your gifts.

Nine: the Peacemaker (Feels the most unnecessary to God's plans)

I give because it's important that I keep things between us peaceful.

I don't judge the gifts that are given to me. I'm just surprised that you noticed me.

When we are disappointed in a gift someone gives us, it's usually because we think another person's particular limp in life is no excuse for their pathetic gift. Or we think our particular limp in life is a sufficient excuse for the poor way we received another's gift.  

It is the age-old problem of allowing ourselves more slack than we allow others, loving ourselves more than we love others. We expected more out of others. We excused ourselves.

But giving involves two parties. So even if a gift is given with impure motives, it can be received in the right spirit. The gifts we give can be received in the wrong spirit too. But the bottom line is it doesn't matter if the opposite party has a wrong spirit. We, as Christ-followers, have been called to have Christ's Spirit regardless of what others do. 

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:32-36 NIV)

The gifts we give and receive from each other are like an echo down a tunnel or a black and white photograph of a flower garden. They are good. They express delight and acceptance. But they are not where we will find everlasting delight and acceptance. Only God can make us feel completely accepted. Only a relationship with God can fill us with deep-spirited delight. And only God can empower us to give to others what he himself has given to us.


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