The Re-Gift

December 22nd, 2011

Merry Christmas. The gift exchange is at the heart of many of our Christmas celebrations. Among close friends we are often surprised by sentimental and carefully chosen presents. Among immediate family we often give and receive gifts that have been requested specifically; and if we happen to get clothes that don’t fit, we don’t hesitate to ask for the receipt.

Nice for Somebody

Gift exchanges with other groups—distant relatives and acquaintances at work, school, or church—take us into the wonderland of presents that we don’t necessarily need or want. Suppose you’re a well-documented golf enthusiast; there’s no simpler gift than a dozen balls, a gift about the size of the package you’ve just been handed by your Secret Santa. Oh goodie, it’s three miniature LED flashlights. Yes, I see how they have tripod legs. Fantastic.

When people don’t know one another well, they aren’t likely to choose meaningful gifts. They aren’t likely to know one another’s music and reading preferences or clothing style. Enter the re-gift. Instead of forcing themselves to find a use for those LED flashlights, they take them home, rewrap them, and give them away at the next Christmas party.

It’s the Thought That Counts

Re-gifting makes a certain amount of sense, but it can lead to hurt feelings. Ever been at a Christmas party when a re-gift surfaces in front of the person who originally gave it? Awkward. “But I bought that for you . . .”

Of course, none of us have to participate in gift exchanges. And if we find ourselves with a bad attitude toward swapping presents with peers, maybe we should opt out. Or, instead of passing along the gift to another acquaintance in another gift exchange, we could make an effort to find someone who would truly appreciate it and use it. Somebody surely must like scarves with plush reindeer heads on each end. Otherwise no company would make millions of them.

Sometimes we bring our attitude toward gifts that we think missed the mark into our spiritual lives. God gave all of us talents, abilities, and resources that we can use to glorify God and serve others. But we focus so much on ourselves that we pass up opportunities to do God’s work: “Somebody will help that family in need; it doesn’t have to be me.” “I’d love to help, but I’m busy right now. There will be other times.” And so we hand off these opportunities to someone else. When we do so, are we re-gifting what God has given us?

Give by Receiving

If we find ourselves choosing whether to seize an opportunity God has given us or to pass it along to someone else, we’ve probably adopted some bad habits. Christian discipleship is not about picking and choosing when and where we’ll plug in to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it’s a life of gratitude in which we embrace all the gifts that God gives us and then put those gifts to use.

Those of us who work with youth must help them identify the gifts, resources, and opportunities that God has given them. We need to affirm and support their talents, show them where God is at work in the world and ways they can become involved with that work, and teach them the importance of responding to opportunities as they arise. Re-gifting may be appropriate for that video game that you already have but that someone else would probably enjoy, but it isn’t appropriate to pass along the gifts God has given us. We are uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit. Instead of re-gifting, we need to re-learn to receive.

This post is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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