It (should be) better to receive

Apparently Christmas is coming soon (and by soon, I mean less than three months away), so our thoughts turn towards gifts, trees, decorations, food, and family.  There are lessons to be learned from trees certainly, decorations possibly, food undoubtedly and family regularly, but it’s the gifts and giving that I want to talk about here.

It’s common knowledge it’s better to give than to receive.  Maybe you heard it as a child in Sunday school.  Maybe your grandma told you when you didn’t want to share chocolate with your brother.  Or maybe you’ve had some experience of giving and of receiving and you know it to be true.

How? Why?  It’s quite simple really.  Because the giver is in control.  The giver gets to choose what to give and to whom.  The giver has the moral high ground.  The giver pulls the strings.  The giver does not have to deal with the guilt of gifts which are overwhelming, or manipulative, or encourage dependence, or are unwanted, or awkward.  No, the giver gets the blessing.  Clearly there are gifts which do indeed bring joy to their recipient, but just as clearly, it’s better to be the giver.

The internet agrees.  Celebrities agree.   It must be true.

Charitable donations with razamataz and publicity and celebration … for the giver.  Big name celebrities who don’t want the world to be saved but they want to save it.  People who think the sole purpose of the gift-recipient is to qualify the giver as such.  Elon Musk and the Thai cave rescue.  The brilliant Helen Fielding (later of Bridget Jones fame) and her novel Cause Celeb.  Multi-millionaires running telethons when their own tax avoidance would easily eclipse the donations of the public.  But let’s not forget this post is about Christmas, so let’s step back to the small, personal level.

I used to live in Oxford where there’s a large population of homeless people.  One night walking through Cornmarket I was stopped by a man asking for money.  I offered to buy him some food instead, but he explained that he needed cash so he could get into the hostel that night, and another person had given him dinner already.  What happens next?  Do I, as the (potential) giver and in control, insist on giving something unneeded, just so I can retain my moral badge of giver-ship?  Do I recognise a desire to bless the recipient in this transaction and adjust my gift so as to be most fitting?  Do I retreat in a huff that my generous condescension was unappreciated – that the recipient has tarnished my giver-ship badge with their ingratitude?

Why waste time bothering to say it at all if we all agree it’s true?  Most of these little sayings are there to remind us of something, to keep us on track, to surprise us by showing the world from a different point of view.  (I could go into loads of detailed analysis of the chapter in the book of Acts where this is mentioned, the context it was mentioned in, the people to whom it was written etc, but none of that would actually contribute to my point.)  Apropos of which, what is my point?

I think it’s time to reverse it.  I think it’s time to make gift giving more about the recipient than about the giver.  I think it’s time to think about other people – the people we love, care for, and presumably want good things for – before we think of ourselves.  To check our motivations in the preparation of presents.  To be sure that we intend to bless – and not  manipulate, or dazzle, or shame, or any other icky little thing – the people whom we care for most.  The world has changed and it’s time our proverbs changed with it.

Tell your friends.  Tell your family.  Teach your children.

Let’s make it more blessed to receive.


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