To catch up, don’t forget to visit last week’s post: Spend Less.
This time every year, I think of the French philospher Jacques Derrida. Weird, I know. But stick with me.
Derrida named the inherent problem with giving gifts: their unspoken obligations.
If you think about the social contracts we enter into, gift-giving is among the most tangled and least generous expressions in our culture. Why? Because of the expectations and responsibilities associated with them.
You give a gift and the receiver is now obligated to respond. Regardless of what you think, you’ve just imposed upon them a responsibility. To send a thank you note or thank you in person. To wonder how much you spent and what effort you might have put in so that they might reciprocate. And match it–in money and effort.
Gifts, as we give them in our culture, aren’t free offerings. We attach strings to them in the form of obligations and expectations.
Even when we don’t, our culture imposes them anyway.
Just ask the newly married couple who have multiple people pressuring them to write those thank you notes. Or the one person in the group who doesn’t receive a birthday card. These pressures are real.
There is one generous response.
The only truly generous gift is the one which doesn’t expect a thank you. Perhaps this is why were told in Matthew’s gospel to give in secret. But even then, the burden remains.
How common in books and movies is it to see the protagonist try to repay debts and favors? All the time. Repaying a debt. A saved life. A generous gift or loan they couldn’t possibly repay. These characters agonize over it.
Even when we give generously, people may also receive a burden with our gift if we don’t free them from the unspoken obligations. Otherwise, we aren’t really giving a gift, are we? We are entering into a social contract. I’ll spend $25 on you and expect you to do the same for me because that’s what it means to be “nice.”
When GOD sent Jesus to us, were there strings? Did GOD say, here’s how much I’m spending on you, do the same for me? Of course not! Jesus is the example, not of Western or American gift-giving, but of GOD’s view of generosity: truly generous gifts, without strings.
Not just giving in secret, but with the strings removed. No obligations. Free of response and judgment.
As we explored last week with the idea of spending less: that GOD doesn’t just want us to be more generous than we are, but to also be less selfish, we’re invited this week to see how we can give with a more generous spirit. Out of that same sense of generosity and self-sacrifice which isn’t about us, but about the other.
Here’s one way from the Advent Conspiracy family guide:
Throw a party – During the Advent season plan a dinner or a party as a family. Invite someone (or multiple people) over with the intention of showing generosity and practicing hospitality. Give your kids the primary role of helping plan the evening and make space for them to be the hosts. Let them enjoy the creativity of giving, as opposed to just receiving.
Ask the Spirit to guide you in choosing who you invite to your party! Who is Jesus helping you see and love this Advent?
If you or your family want to follow along, download the family guide and get started!