We had a big Christmas gift-giving adventure yesterday! It was truly an odyssey in its own right, as our family of five, Daniel, myself and our daughter with two grandchildren, got off our regular, “beaten path,” and drove the side streets, making our way through various neighborhoods, some deemed “poor,” others considered “better areas,” meaning, as the children put it, “they feel safer.”
We were slowly making our way to North Chattanooga where we planned to meet-up with the rest of our Gift Giving Brigade on the Walnut Street Bridge for a gift-giving spree designed to last as long as there were gifts to give away.
We had each, children included, gone through our things, and chosen gently used items that we thought others might appreciate and wrapped them in decorative paper for this special night. All told, we had fifty or more gifts to give away between us, and the excitement only grew as the children turned their initial reservations about gifting strangers into the total exuberance that comes from the intoxicating joy of giving.
We learned a lot about giving that afternoon – all different kind of things, like, that giving, when done from a pure heart, feels as good, maybe even better, than receiving! Did you know that there are different styles, or kinds, of giving? And that sometimes giving, when not done from love, does not leave us feeling joyful at all! That lesson was illustrated as well.
The purest kind of giving, and the style of giving that was our goal and stated mission was, as I explained to the children, to observe what the experience of giving gifts, free, without an agenda, and with no expectation of a gift in return.
My grandchildren and I discussed the many different reasons we give … and I pointed out that when we give hoping to get something in return, then our gift giving becomes suspect. Whenever we give from expectation, pity, fear, guilt, or obligation we rob ourselves of the joy the experience of pure giving allows. Tainted giving quickly turns to bribery, seduction, and control over others – and then, of course, we have to question whether or not our “giving” is really giving at all!
On our gift giving adventure we discovered how fear blocks our ability to give. My grandchildren (ages 10 and 7) noticed that the way people dressed, their facial expression and posture, the company they kept, as well as just the kind of neighborhood we encountered them in, prompted them to think really negative or even scary thoughts about those people. Their scary stories about the people they encountered interfered with their desire to give a gift to that person. They were afraid to give to “those people.” We talked about how the heart closes when we judge and fear others, and we wondered what might be different if we were to encounter them without our scary stories about them.
A few minutes later, my 10 year old grandson pointed out two mexican boys, about his age, walking along the sidewalk in a “bad neighborhood.” My grandson asked us to stop and he and I got out, walked up to them, and offered them a gift. The uplifting change in the two boys was immediately apparent!
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, my grandson replayed the way the eyes of the two boys lit up when they realized we had a gift for them. What I don't think he noticed, was the new light in HIS own eyes – all from the gift we get from giving! 😉
The family and I even shared an encounter with a man who was sleeping under a bridge. The children watched as I carried one of our gifts, (one with a blanket and coffee mug full of candy) up the steep concrete bank to the narrow ledge where several old mattresses were lined up end to end and tucked up under the bridge. The old man sat up and received our gift with brief thanks before he tore into the bag to see what it was.
Afterwards, driving along, we saw another homeless man, his backpack and faithful dog beside him, resting prone on a blanket in front of a store. My grandson offered him a coffee mug with candy in it, but the fella rifled through the package, quickly rebuffing the offer, saying it was not something he could use, or easily carry. and therefore did not want.
These encounters held lessons for us too, we realized. We saw how it is possible for us to become callous receivers. Again, we talked about how giving can have not so joyful affects. We talked further about how ‘tainted giving' might even create unhealthy dependencies on us; others becoming expectant, and needy of our gifts – even giving up their own independence in their need to get us to give them what they need. Again we discussed how when we give because we feel sorry for somebody, or because we feel guilty because we have more than they do, or we think we are supposed to carry others – this motivations for giving brings less joy , more dependency, resentment, and fear. We realized we want to be CONSCIOUSLY giving!
And that is what we were really out there for that afternoon – for the pure, unadulterated-by-any-ulterior-motive-whatsoever, and simple joy of giving … which grew exponentially for our family when we arrived at the Walnut Street Bridge where we met up with our friends.
The walk we took together across the pedestrian bridge was the absolute highlight of the whole gift-giving afternoon!
The infectious enthusiasm of children delighting in each other’s company, mixed with the surprise and delight of the recipients, who, beamed with joy, and hugged our children warmly, in response to receiving one of the beautiful gifts wrapped “just for them.”
There were no strings attached to the giving, no guilt or duty-bound giving evidenced, no giving from a place of pity – only the pure joy and spontaneity of giving for the sake of giving, and the joyful gratitude exhibited by recipients who truly appreciated the blessing offered by a gift freely given.
By the time we got to the other side of the bridge, I dare say there was not a child left behind us on that bridge, nor many adults for that matter, who did not have one of our cheerful presents tucked in their arms. The bridge was aglitter from one end to the other with the sparkle of gaily wrapped bundles of love, carried gently by those who took them home with them as a reminder of exactly how loved they truly are.
Our mission was accomplished last night. We indeed learned much about what true giving is, and the joy it brings. But another, in my opinion higher, mission was also accomplished that night. Every single child, and adult, that was involved in our gift-giving brigade was changed by our odyssey that spanned only a bridge’s length. Everyone of us arrived on the other side having truly experienced the pure joy of unadulterated giving … and we all, down to the last one of us, decided we wanted more of THAT in our lives.
Merry Christmas 2012!