The offerings under the tree: Life lessons from While You Were Sleeping

Have you noticed the multitude of articles and mommy blog posts dedicated to advising us poor parents on how to deal with those gifts we receive that don’t meet up to our standards in some way? “But I clearly said only organic, wooden toys.” The parents cringe as their children open something that most certainly does not fit that description. 

I have wrestled with this a lot because, like nearly everyone, I have my own set of standards I like to meet when it comes to the things we bring into our home. I can understand and agree that it’s nice when outsiders try to respect those standards. It’s a huge blessing, in fact. But what I don’t like is when we dictate what gifts we will and will not receive, as if our standards grant us the right to become miffed (even if in secret) by the gifts that people give us. A gift should be something that brings people together in a tighter relationship, not something that creates division.

Gift/noun

1. a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present. “a Christmas gift” 2. synonyms: present, handout, donation, offering, bestowal, bonus, award,endowment;


A gift is something extra, a bonus, a donation. I particularly like replacing the word gift with the word offering. Have you ever received something from someone that was unexpected? Or maybe you knew they were bringing you a gift, but it turned out to be wrapped in a way that surprised you in its detail, or there was somethinge extra tucked in? That offering has a way of binding people together. It may be that it was not just an offering of material things, but an offering of friendship, of time, of thought and care. Our offerings are a way of showing who fills our mind and concerns, and has a way of tightening the knot and creating deeper connections. The thing we forget is that it’s not about the what of the gift, but more about the why and the who. Of course, all the better if you can gift something that shows you know your friend well. My point is more that I don’t think we need to jump to the conclusion that the opportunity for gifting was wasted when Great Grandma Jean purchased something you cringed at the sight of.

One of my favorite Christmas scenes is from the movie While You Were Sleeping. Sandra Bullock’s character, Lucy, has just been invited into the home of complete strangers (who think she’s part of the family), and what unfolds is this perfect 1990s family Christmas. The Egg Nog should be praised, but not actually consumed, the mother screams in high-pitched delight when she opens the gold watch she was hoping for, and the teenage daughter waves around a new pair of gloves that she receives with good humor. Saul is making guesses at what is in his package, and Ox sits with an already opened hot glue gun on his lap. It is a complete cheese-fest Christmas, but to Lucy, it unfolds like a dream. She is so enraptured that she is surprised when she receives a gift from these strangers; she clutches it, unopened, staring in delight at the scene unfolding before here.

It simply doesn’t matter, you see.

I have been on this journey for nearly three decades and I’m still getting there. My prayer and deepest hope for you and myself this Christmas as we unwrap the offerings of others is that we can receive with grace and thankfulness. Give with thoughtfulness, and receive with thoughtlessness. It just may be that instead of seeing a flashy, siren blaring chew toy for your child, or a tacky sweater in your least favorite color, you may see the heart of the person who put it under the tree in the first place.

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