As a teacher, at this time of year I lead a privileged life of receiving Christmas season gifts from kind students. So far this season, I have been taken to lunch by some of my class, received cards, been given homemade fruit bread and kombucha, also chocolates and panettone.
Naturally, I am honoured and grateful for the thought, but I also sometimes stop for a moment and think about the decision surrounding what it is, to give a gift. With no obligation to do so, the giver has chosen to give. I may have received a gift as someone’s teacher and perhaps there is a recognition of my striving to give in that role through the year, but regardless, when I get a gift, I believe that the giver intended that I receive it as a recognition of my value to them or as a valuing of the relationship that has been formed. And I do feel valued as a person and I do feel the relationship recognised and strengthened.
If chocolates make me feel valued and recognised then what of everything else I have received? If I begin counting the gifts I have received since birth I have to recognise that I was born into gift. My limbs alone would count as an invaluable gift.
How much is a limb worth? I think most would agree that it is worth far more than all their possessions. Almost all of us are born with limbs and many other equally valuable physical assets. So, whilst some of us are born into wealth and some aren’t, our physical bodies alone are immensely more valuable than our material wealth, and that is not to mention every other attribute we have such as our mind and our consciousness.
We are born into gift.
When we were in the womb, we did not knit together any of our limbs.
We did not even choose the circumstances of our birth.
We did not earn what we have received because it does not originate from us.
We did not earn what we have received because it does not originate from us. Even the greatest of us with incredible achievements do not make themselves or their circumstances. They orientate themselves towards a possibility and are therefore able to receive. A runner did not make their legs, rather, they use their legs. In a way, they fully receive their legs. The more they use them, the more they fully receive their legs. If we extend this metaphor, it can get very uncomfortable for us, because the moment we see everything as gift we have to begin to question our response. And locked in with response, is responsibility.
This is all without mentioning the natural world and the contribution to that world of those who went before us. Somewhere along the line, somebody risked something to improve their own lives and the lives of their children and we are those children. All gift.
We might complain about the circumstances of our birth, about our height or the colour of our hair but if you think about it, it was all gift, a few perceived shortcomings here or there but all gift. Of the bad bits, some have even said that in hindsight it was those experiences that helped form who they were to become, and that they are grateful for that. So arguably, even the perceived shortcomings are gift.
Yes, we groan and there probably are many who at least part of the time, ‘lead lives of quiet desperation,’ but even desperation does mean we do not live in gift. A prisoner still groans for and desires freedom as the fullness of their existence. A prisoner still values what they have and seeks its fullness.
The danger of gift is that we do not recognise that it is gift. Rather we begin to see it as an entitlement. Imagine that if I as a teacher received many gifts and walked away saying to myself something like, “I earned the gift through my hard work. The gift is a reward for my hard work.”
Something has broken down in this hypothetical scenario. The intended honouring of a person and relationship has been subtly manipulated into a transaction. What was given in kindness has been received with pride. The act of giving was for the other, but this form of receiving has been for the self. The only way the receiving can be equally for the other is that it recognises the gift as a gift, not as a transaction based on entitlement.
A gift is unconditional and therefore founded in love. As with love, what is intended as an affirming of the receiver and an affirming of the relationship can be lost and even worse manipulated by an inability to recognise gift. A gift elevates and affirms while bringing together persons, but when a gift is not properly received, the gift is destroyed or used by the receiver to empower themselves, destroying the original relationship.
I think it is appropriate that we have a season where we celebrate with the giving of gifts and the birth of an obscure child in an obscure stable, a child born to be king. The obscure child reminds us of the nature of love and the nature of gift, given in the humility of a stable. The stable does not coerce us with glitz or glamour, rather it leaves us free to choose to receive.
The gifts I have recently received challenge me to recognise the many more gifts I have received through the year, many of them being people I have met. Have I recognised these gifts?
Have a wonderful Christmas break.