What are you hoping to get for Christmas?
A lot of the conversation, especially for those of us who are younger, is about what we’re going to get for Christmas. But as many of us get older, we realize that many years we have the same experience. The Christmas presents have been opened, we’ve generated an obnoxious amount of trash, the weeks or months of build up is done – and now what? Christmas is still a few weeks away but we should prepare for that moment.
Having sat in that moment as a child and an adult, I learned a very important lesson. The greatest joy is not found in what we get; it’s found in what we give.
I was listening to a podcast interview recently. The guest on the podcast wasn’t a pastor or someone who was anti-consumerism. The host asked the guest if they could buy a billboard anywhere, “where would you buy it and what would it say?” Their answer was compelling. The guest said, “I would buy a billboard near a major shopping center, with simple white words on a black background. The billboard would say, “it will not make you happy.”
It Will Not Make You Happy
Isn’t that the experience so many of us have? The “it” varies from person to person, but the experience is the same – not happy.
This reminds me of my favorite movie scenes ever. The scene comes from the movie, “Cool Runnings”. I’ve written about this scene previously. In this scene, one of the bobsledders named Derese asks his coach, Irv Blitzer, why Irv cheated in the Olympics (even after he had already won gold medals). Irv tells Derese, who is seeking a gold medal himself, “if you’re not enough without a gold medal, you’ll never be enough with it.”
This is why generosity is far better than greed. There is no item we can get (from the fanciest phone to the newest car, to the coolest house), which will satisfy us in the way that giving of ourselves will. The Apostle Paul was right when he said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”
At the heart of the Christmas story is a gift. It’s not the gifts of the Magi, nor the gifts we give one another. It’s actually the gift God gave to us in Jesus. We celebrate the love God gave the world. Which is why it’s so odd when we turn a day like this into something about greed rather than generosity.
As I was thinking about all of this, I began to think this week about what I can give and where I can be generous. (This isn’t to say that I’m not personally looking forward to getting certain things at Christmas.) But I want this year to be one where I’m thinking more about what I’m giving than what I’m getting.
Five Ways to Be Generous at Christmas
But, at the end of the day, we have a wide variety of ways we can be generous. Our thoughts sometimes only go to giving away our money. While investing our resources in the lives of other people can be tremendously rewarding and massively helpful, generosity is far bigger than altruistic giving.
This Christmas, I thought of five ways we can be generous.
1. We can share the things we know.
Each of us has a unique mix of insight, experience, and knowledge. We can give that perspective away to other people. In his book, Love is the Killer App, Tim Sanders talks about the way to succeed in business. His philosophy also applies to life. Sanders encourages his readers to liberally and generously give away their love, network, and knowledge. Instead of hoarding them or demanding steep payment for access to them, Sanders encourages generosity.
Last week, I was talking with a friend of mine who’s also on this blogging journey. We were comparing notes and encouraging each other. This writer was trying to figure out some ways to solve a problem. They have more traffic on their site than I do on mine and I look up to this person in many ways. However, in the area where this person was stuck, I knew something that they didn’t. As a result, I was able to help a fellow writer see a new solution. The sense of gratification I felt in giving something to this friend was overwhelming. I gave this person a new perspective, which I believe will help them succeed on a new level.
The sense of gratification I felt was on a level a pair of headphones, a new hat or a new hoodie will never touch. (FYI if any of you are looking to buy me those things, I’d still take them off your hands!)
2. We can give encouragement and affirmation.
Many people consider quitting their jobs in this season or looking for new lines of work. During the downtime this season provides, people discover how disengaged they are in their work.
I believe one of the main reasons that people quit their jobs (both paid and volunteer work) is they feel unappreciated and unnoticed. Many of us know this feeling. We say to ourselves, “no one cares about the sacrifices we are making.” We think no one on the receiving end of our work is any different. So, we say, “Why not give up?”.
Another reason we think about quitting is we feel like our work doesn’t matter. We think it has no purpose or lasting value. When we feel like our work doesn’t matter, when it’s not significant and without purpose, we fall into a sense of futility.
We have a huge opportunity to encourage others each and every day. I’ve never met a single person who was over-encouraged. The current number of avenues for encouragement are astounding.
-A phone call
-A text message
-A Facebook message
-A hand-written thank you note
-A personal conversation over a meal
-Surprising them with their favorite drink from Starbucks
We have abundant opportunities and a ridiculous number of options to use in encouraging other people. Five minutes of our time can empower someone else to feel like they are affirmed and appreciated.
3. We can be generous by including people.
While many of us may be overwhelmed with the family commitments and party invitations, others of us have a very different experience. For some, this is not the most wonderful time of year; it’s the most lonely time of year! I’ve been surprised at how many people don’t get all of the party invitations. They who don’t look forward to this time of year because they end up being alone.
I discovered a quote recently, from an unknown author. The quote reads, “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.” Our increased blessings provide an opportunity for increased generosity.
I’ll never forget the Christmas dinner as a child where we invited a South Korean family in our church to celebrate with us. They had no family in America and were just beginning to build friendships in our church.
The Cooper family came over for Christmas dinner and they brought a seaweed-based dish with them. As a picky eater, I was doing all I could to avoid this but my mom made me have a “no thank you” portion. (For those of you whose mother didn’t employ this tactic, this portion is just enough to save face, yet more than enough for a small child to be disgusted and annoyed.)
As I protested, my mom told me that I put seaweed in my mouth daily, as there was seaweed in my toothpaste. I was shocked. (I really wrestled with the idea of never brushing my teeth again.=)
Around the dinner table, I learned about a new culture and saw life from a different perspective. Those were gifts I carry with me today. It’s a reminder to all of us – we can generously express love by including people who have different experiences.
4. We can share our connections.
One of the greatest opportunities we have is to expose and introduce people to others. For me, this happens a lot online as I’m able to introduce people to new voices and perspectives, while others do the same for me. I love helping friends feel not so weird and alone. Many of us think we’re “the only one who wonders about or struggles” with something and we’re not.
Having recently moved to a new city, it’s been fun to be the recipient of introductions. It’s a gift for all of us when someone says, “I think you would really get along with him/her.” Maybe it’s a bigger deal for me because I am an extrovert, but I believe making new friends is a blessing and privilege. Even though my wife is different from me (she is an introvert), she has enjoyed meeting new people in our town. She has appreciated the efforts of a couple people in specific here who intentionally got to know her, then introduced her to people that she thought my wife would enjoy.
Life is best when shared. The highest moments are higher when we get to celebrate them with other people. The lowest moments are more easily endured when we have people to walk with us. So, I hope you were both on the giving and receiving the end of new relationships this year.
5. Be present.
I saved this one for last because frankly, I’d like to avoid talking about it. Because it is the thing I may struggle with the most. As someone who thoroughly enjoys my life online and having been blessed by friendships which began online, I’m so grateful for the opportunities our phones and social media bring us.
Yet, all of these gifts and opportunities can become distractions when they keep us from being present with the people around us. It is tempting for us to be present with people online and not be present with our family and friends. It is tempting to be present and connected to somebody via technology who we want to hang out with, while we’re physically present with someone we don’t.
I believe each of us can give our presence as a gift. Many of us think of this season in terms of giving “presents.” (You know, the kind that we wrap up in fancy wrapping paper – or bags if you are like me and don’t know how to wrap a present to save your life.) The best kinds of “presents”, though, the ones we remember most are the experiences we have with people.
While I do believe these technologies are incredible tools and amazing blessings, they have a dark side to them. They can get in the way of the things that matter most. At the end of my life, I do not want my kids at my funeral to talk about how much I was on my phone. I want them to talk about how much I loved them, how much I believed in them, and how proud I was of them. All of these require presence.
Back to Reality
Maybe this is a little bit heavy (amidst an otherwise lighter and encouraging post) but life is tremendously short. Life is fragile. We all are one phone call away from our lives changing forever. During this season, many of us will have people that we long for and miss because they are no longer with us. They’ve died and passed away. We would give anything to spend just a few more moments with them this year. (If this is your story, please read my friend Monna’s newest piece on grieving during the holidays.)
If we can remember them and the fragility of this life, if we can recognize life is a precious gift and it’s not guaranteed, then we can realize and remember one of the areas where we can be most generous. We can be generous with “presence”.
So, please finish reading this blog. Leave a comment if you like. Make some notes about how you can apply what you’ve read here. Brainstorm some ways you can be generous.
But then, put down your phone or walk away from your computer. Resist the urge to check Facebook one more time. Instead, engage the people you’re physically present with. Give them your love, your encouragement, your knowledge, your network of friends and your presence.
At the end of the day, those are the Christmas gifts that will last much longer and mean much more than any fancy-wrapped boxes ever will.