During this time of year I am always reminded that it is better to give then to receive. Not because it’s what we’re supposed to do, but because I feel good when I give and I have a hard time receiving. For years my family and friends have thought my giving/receiving theory was neurotic, but now science has proven me right.
A recent study from Harvard University found that when one gives a gift to another, the brain releases dopamine, (the same response your body has to eating a piece of chocolate cake or being intimate), eliciting a feeling of satisfaction that would not be felt if you were the one receiving the gift. But beyond the physical response, though I am grateful science is now on my side, there is the spiritual side to giving and receiving that our lives testify to.
There is no worse feeling in the world than to be left empty handed. Have you ever received a Christmas gift from someone and not had one to give in return? Our reaction, typically, is to lie. ‘Oh, I accidentally left yours at home!’ ‘The manufacturer is late in shipping it.’ Then you hurry out and buy something for them, or you recycle a gift that someone else has given you.
At this point in your life you are prepared for most of these encounters. So, you spend your time Christmas shopping buying gifts for others who are going to get you something, not because you want to get them something, but because you don’t want to be left empty handed. You don’t want to simply be the receiver. There is no worse feeling in the world than to receive without the ability to give back; to be able to reciprocate.
If this is the case for you (as it has been for many, myself included), no longer can the thing given be called a gift, but an attempt to ‘keep things even.’
Many spend their lives keeping things even. When you go out to lunch with a friend and you pick up the check, after a lot of tug of war, there is an unwritten rule in our hearts that says, ‘They pick up the next one.’ The next lunch rolls around and the tug of war over the check ensues. Except somehow, you end up with the check again. In your mind you think, ‘Ugh, I picked it up last time,’ while you cheerfully put your credit card down to pay.
If in receiving we feel that we need to give and in giving we feel that we are entitled to receive, then there is no such thing as a ‘gift.’ In our society, there is no understanding, practically speaking, of ‘something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned’ (www.dictionary.com). This is what makes Christmas feel like an obligation to some and Christianity too much to handle for many.
Most of us can make up the occasional lunch to our friends and can go out and get the gift (that is not really a gift at all) for the neighbor who gave you a garden gnome, but when it comes to God, we are incapable of giving anything to him in return for the gift he has given us in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate gift that is without equal.
It requires a great deal of humility to receive a gift and my prayer this Christmas is that we would receive into our hearts the greatest gift of all, salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. And thereby, enable our hearts to give without expecting anything in return, and receive gifts for what they are, undeserved.