Have you ever given someone a gift knowing they probably weren’t going to keep it? You had no idea what to give them, so you gave them something — a sweater, let’s say, even though you knew they had more than enough sweaters — along with the receipt so they could return your gift for something else.
That’s kind of how God gives, isn’t it? No, no, not the sweater part. The part about giving and then letting the other choose what they’ll do with the gift.
Isn’t that how God gives to us?
And if we’re to be like God, shouldn’t we be giving the same way?
This is a challenging question, but one that’s relevant at this season of giving. Do we give with no strings attached? Or do we give with conditions? Do we give only to those we deem worthy?
Let’s start with the gift.
A true gift is given with no expectation or requirement. If some requirement is attached, then it’s no longer a gift. It becomes a business deal or a reward or a manipulation.
A gift is given knowing that it might be wasted, but it’s given anyway. And even when the gift is wasted, it’s given again.
Giving is an attitude, a spirit. It’s about sharing simply for the joy of it. It’s certainly not limited to money or things. It involves giving our time, our companionship, our care, our concern, our love, our involvement. There’s never any judgment about who is worthy and who is not.
This is how God gives to us.
So, how do we give?
Often, it’s with preconditions. You get a gift so long as I’m confident you will respond to it the way I would like. The gift becomes not-a-gift when it‘s wrapped in expectations.
Which brings us to Santa Claus.
As one legend has it, St. Nick recognized three young women in need and gave to them anonymously. He didn’t seek attention or gratitude. He didn’t tell them how to use the gift. He saw that they were in need and gave. That’s all.
Look at what we’ve done with the St. Nick tradition.
Our Santa closely watches us to see whether we’re meeting his standards about naughty and nice. If we measure up, we get something we want as a reward. If we don’t, we get punished with a lump of coal, something that burns long and hot. The old man with the long white beard is watching us and judging us, ready to either punish or reward.
(You could say we’ve twisted our view of God along those same lines, which is a very interesting thought and a whole other conversation.)
And that brings us back around to grace.
Grace is about the giving, not about the gift or how it is received. It’s rooted in a recognition that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from someone who loves unconditionally and gives unconditionally. Someone who asks that we try our best to do the same.
In this very moment, we receive so many gifts. Our next heartbeat. Our next breath. Our new day. Our many possibilities for love and life and joy and healing and growth.
And even when we waste our gifts — and who doesn‘t? — we receive more freely given gifts, along with the opportunity to learn to appreciate them and to use them better.
Do we give the same way?