The Dark Side of Gift Giving

by Mike McKinniss

Image thanks to DIY Krafty Kids

Image thanks to DIY Krafty Kids

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you (Colossians 1:3, HCSB).

Every kid loves Christmas and birthdays. And why not? Twice a year (unless your birthday lands, as my niece’s does, on December 25) you get to relish in the best of all possible worlds.

In my own family, Christmas was always spent with the closest family. Birthdays were enjoyed with your best friends.

Both occasions warranted the best culinary fare. Few things compare to the roasted turkey at Christmas (though I’m eager to try goose). Tradition held that the birthday boy selects his own dinner. I oscillated between barbecue chicken (I’m a June baby) and chicken parmesian. And don’t forget the Christmas cookies or the birthday cake.

But who are we kidding? The best part about Christmas and birthdays, at least as a kid, was receiving presents. And hopefully lots of them. I would make myself sick in the run up to Christmas each year, deciding which toys I wanted and imagining what I might do if I had them. It was pure torture knowing precisely where the presents would be hidden pre-wrap and attempting to circumvent the temptation to peer under my parents’ bed. Who doesn’t love a good present?

Nobody, that’s who. Until, that is, the ten-year-old child is reminded, on December 26th, that he must remember to thank his grandparents and his aunt and uncle, who were so thoughtful to send a gift from Ohio.

To my childhood self, this was the dark side to Christmas, the catch. The anticipation and lure of presents blinded me to the horrors of showing gratitude. Oh how I dreaded the thank you note and the 15 minutes it would take to write them! Fifteen minutes that could have been spent enjoying the toys!

It’s only taken a couple decades, but more recently, I’ve actually been looking forward to writing to say “Thank you.” Indeed, I even find myself being thankful for some of the most unusual things. Chief among these is a growing gratitude for others’ good fortune.

The circumstance may have little to do with me, but I’m discovering that I’m increasingly joyful when others experience a breakthrough in their hopes and dreams. I’m excited when someone else receive a long awaited promise from the Lord. In particular, I’m especially happy when someone else gets what I’ve been waiting for myself.

Several years ago, I was waiting to see the fulfillment of a certain promise I believed God had given to me for my own life. It was precious to me. But I wasn’t seeing it. I had been waiting for years and hadn’t seen a glimpse yet. And then a close friend of mine, who was walking a similar path to my own, received exactly what I had been waiting and praying for. His came in months; I’d been waiting years.

If I’m completely honest, I was surprised at how grateful I was for his success. And I’ll admit I was tempted to become bitter or despondent. But I genuinely wanted to thank God for the experience my buddy was having. I knew what it meant for him and I knew what it would mean to me. I loved being thankful for him.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I still love getting things for myself. I still eagerly anticipate my birthday and Christmas. But I’m growing more eager to write those thank you notes too. And I’m grateful for that.