The Gift

Gift-giving is at the heart of Christmas. A gift is a token, an expression of our love. We do not give gifts to people we do not care about. Gifts are a way of saying, ‘I am glad you are a part of my life. I appreciate you. I recognise how you make my life richer, fuller, more expansive.’

Despite our best intentions, gifts do not always achieve what we hope. It can be painful to have your gift received without any acknowledgement or to have it put aside unopened. It can be deflating to miss the mark, to know your gift is not appreciated. Gift-giving ceases to have meaning when there is no recognition or gratitude.

Sometimes we have lofty expectations for our gifts, believing they may be the means of restoring a relationship, mending a rift, or putting right a wrong.

There are also times in our life when we do not have the means to give gifts of any consequence. It can be awkward, and embarrassing, receiving a generous gift when we have so little to give in return.

There are people who use gifts for selfish purposes. They regard gift-giving as a way of affirming their privilege and status, of winning favour, of demonstrating their benevolence. Try as we might, we will never understand what motivates people.

Gifts fall into distinct categories. There are gifts that add to our waistline while others improve our wellbeing. There are gifts that encourage leisure activities while others aid us in our work. There are gifts that make an obvious statement while others conceal their intent. And there are gifts that are meant to make us smile while others make no sense at all.

At best, gifts make our life better, helping us cultivate our interests, maintain our independence, enhance our physical and mental health, and affirm our uniqueness.

I wonder, ‘What was the most memorable gift you ever received?’ Sometimes a gift might be memorable for all the wrong reasons, those that embarrass, or disappoint, or are notable for their cringe-worthiness.

My most memorable gift was a Malvern Star bicycle. My parents gave it to me the Christmas before I commenced high school. It was memorable for the following reasons. Firstly, I had never received such an expensive present before. I was impressed. It was mauve and had a rear carrier rack. Secondly, and more importantly, it represented mobility and independence. I would need the bicycle to ride to high school the following year, but it would also allow me to explore my neighbourhood and get to places I wanted to go.

The Christmas Story is about ‘The Gift.’ It is the story of God the Creator, coming to earth. It is the story of a baby, born in a stable. It is the story of love, God’s love for his creation and his desire for relationship, for family. God gave his son to show us the way, to declare the truth, to live the life.

The Christmas Story is a story of inclusion. It is God’s desire that we all might know him. God’s love is for all. It is not about race, or gender, or age. It is about how God sees us and what he wants for us.

The Christmas Story is a story of hope. It reminds us that the destiny of the world is in God’s hands, not the political leaders, not the environmental activists, not the scientific researchers, nor the medical experts. God alone writes the ending.

The Christmas Story tells us that Jesus is ‘The Gift’ to all humanity. It is a commitment to be present in our lives. It is what the world desperately needs to hear. As Frederick Buechner says,

‘What we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-to-day lives.’

God’s presence in our life is transformative, empowering us to be the gift to our friends, and neighbours, and family, even casual acquaintances. We are the gift.

The world does not need more stuff. It needs more people who are loving, thoughtful, courageous, and compassionate. People who speak the truth. People who are mindful of their neighbour. People who respect life, who value life, who live life.

Authors who share their life experience honestly and courageously, are a gift to all who take the time to read their story. I am particularly interested in stories of people who have survived trauma, people who have not allowed the tragic circumstances of their life to silence them. They have triumphed over adversity, becoming a voice for good, encouraging respect and dignity for everyone, regardless of race or creed.

Eddie Jaku and Edith Eger are two such people, and I have been privileged to read their stories this year.

Eddie Jaku:

Eddie Jaku’s memoir, ‘The Happiest Man on Earth,’ published in 2020, became an award-winning international best seller. Earlier this year I wrote a blog post, ‘In Search of Happiness,’ based on Eddie’s account of his life.

Eddie Jaku died on the 12th October this year. He was 101 years old. Family and invited friends and dignitaries attended the State Memorial Service held in his honour. His son Michael described his father as a charismatic individual with an unfailingly positive outlook. Despite his beloved parents being executed in the gas chambers, Eddie resolved to reject hate. He said,

‘Hate is a disease. It destroys your enemies, but it also destroys you.

Eddie Jaku dedicated his life to educating others about the dangers of intolerance and the importance of hope.

Eddie’s words continue to inspire. He said,

“Every breath is a gift. Life is beautiful if you let it be. Happiness is in your hands.”

Edith Eger:

Dr. Edith Eger is a sought-after clinical psychologist and lecturer. She has appeared on various television programs including CNN and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

When she was just a teenager, she experienced one of the worst evils ever perpetrated. As a Jew living in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, she and her family were arrested, and transported to Auschwitz. Her parents went to the gas chambers, but Edith’s bravery kept her and her sister alive.

In her latest book ‘The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life,’ Dr Eger provides a practical guide that encourages us to change the thoughts and behaviours that may be keeping us imprisoned to the past.

Dr Eger explains that the worst prison she experienced is not the prison that Nazis put her in but the one she created for herself, the prison within her own mind. She says,

‘Life – even with its inevitable trauma, pain, grief, misery, and death – is a gift. A gift we sabotage when we imprison ourselves in our fears of punishment, failure, and abandonment; in our need for approval; in shame and blame; in superiority and inferiority; in our need for power and control. To celebrate the gift of life is to find the gift in everything that happens, even the parts that are difficult, that we are not sure we can survive. To celebrate life, period. To live with joy, love, and passion.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the way we live. People have felt isolated, unable to meet with friends or family. The separation has been painful. We are social beings, and we need each other.

This Christmas we need to be aware that it is not the gift of presents but the gift of presence that is most needed.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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