A Cheerful Giver

~ Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. ~
2 Corinthians 9:7

There are always new fads moving through religious and psychological circles.

‘Progressive’ churches turn fads into studies, and psychology turns them into ten seasons of Dr. Phil. A few years ago, a hybrid of sorts, The Five Love Languages ,was published, which lit up daytime TV and filled theatre seating on Sunday mornings.

Mass market “self help” guides generally annoy me because fallible people never fit into neat little boxes. (Who decided there are only five languages of love, anyway?). I always end up with more questions, and since we can’t see through muddy water…

Men aren’t from Mars– they are from God; women are not from Venus– they are from Adam. You see my problem??

Today I was wandering aimlessly around the book store, when I spotted one such book. There was a lady standing in the aisle, reading a passage, and like a two year old that hides behind her hands, she felt invisible. I know she felt that way, because she was reading aloud. Not only was she reading aloud, she was having quite the enthusiastic conversation with… herself.

Psychology. Shelved ironically between ‘Menopause’ and ‘Alternative Theology’.

I’ve seen love languages in play all my life. Nobody buys realism anymore. But the poor lady from aisle three probably should.

If you skim through the popular book, you will see the five ‘languages’ are really descriptive and relative to how one presents affection, not how one personally receive or perceives affection.

(Water muddy, yet? I have that effect on people.)

One of the five generalizations is entitled “Gifts”. The author, though, is not referring to the selfless giving of gifts, he’s referring to the selfishness of receiving– or more accurately, EXPECTING to receive.

And that’s where the rap breaks down.

Meir was a giver.

Meir listened. She paid attention to the things that made others feel loved and appreciated. She never started Christmas shopping; she never stopped. She and Pa spent virtually no money on themselves. Ever. They gave to those they loved, and helped those that needed their help. Never once did any of us give Meir a “Christmas List”. We didn’t need to. She knew our wishes and dreams because she cared enough to listen to them.

Pa was practical. He didn’t talk much, but he surely listened. If someone mentioned a bent nail in the neighbors fence, and he’d be down there by dark fixing it. And he didn’t even know the neighbors. Between the two of them, many wishes and all needs were always met.

Pa really never saw the point in spending money on gifts for Meir. He just didn’t think that way. If she needed something, she could count on him to admire whatever it was she brought home.

Early in 1991, Meir and I stopped by the local pawn and jewelry shop. The proprietor was a long time friend of Meir’s, and they talked while I drooled over the treasures and lure of pawned gold in the cases. It was my favorite place to shop.

Meir told Joe how Pa’d lost his wedding ring, and of course Joe tried to sell her a replacement. Instead, she found herself drawn to a diamond cluster ring. She’d never been given an engagement ring, and why she fell for the one in Joe’s display, I will never know. It was gaudy. Maybe she was blinded by the sparkle (we all were) of diamond chip and ten karat gold. We left without buying anything, but she never stopped thinking about that ring.

I visited again late in the summer. Meir and I made the rounds in town, ending up, as always at Joe’s. The ring was still there, and by then she was referring to it as “her” ring. I’m pretty sure Joe kept it put back until we came around, quick shined it, and stuck it front and center.

Meir never told Pa she wanted that ring. She told Joe. Now, remember, Pa was practical. He didn’t shop. He went to wherever he needed to go, he paid for whatever he’d gone to get (and not one thing more), and then he got on back home.

As Christmas approached, Meir and I wrapped the gifts she’d been squirreling away all year. She put together treat boxes for the police and fire departments, baked pies for the rescue squad, filled shoe boxes for orphans, and filled stockings for the pharmacist and postman.

We stopped by Joe’s, under the guise of delivering hot chocolate and spice cookies. Guess where “her” ring was… Yep. Shiny as ever, right in the center of the largest display. Meir whispered to Joe, telling him that Pa would be down directly to “pick something up.” I guess Joe already knew which “something” he should direct Pa toward, because somehow, “her” ring had defied all rules of pawn, in the shop for nearly a year.

The following afternoon, Pa took the week’s mail to the post office, had his ears lowered, and circled back to pick up the weekly paper. He made the same circuit every Thursday afternoon, but that day, he was gone an extra fifteen minutes. When he did (finally) show up, he offered no explanation for his tardiness. Meir went about her business, looking pleased as punch. Pa never cracked. That man had the best poker face.

The entire family gathered for Christmas, nothing out of the ordinary. Meir cooked, I washed, we ate in shifts, and washed again. All the gifts were distributed, youngest to oldest, opened one gift per turn. After everything had been opened, Pa had a moment, still with his poker face, to hand Meir a box, professionally wrapped. Meir feigned surprise, and slowly opened her gift. I was all the way across the room, behind one cousin and a mountain of boxes, but I clearly heard her gasp.

Joe hadn’t been at the shop the day Pa’d slipped off to buy Meir’s “surprise” gift. And not having any clue what it was he was after, the stand in cashier had directed Pa to the shelf that held “wifely” gifts. There was no gleaming diamond cluster in that box, wrapped in shiny paper and curly ribbon. Nope. Poor Pa had purchased a Salad Shooter.

You know that scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie finally decodes Annie’s secret message, only to learn the “secret” was actually an Ovaltine ad? Yeah, well, that’s exactly the look Meir had on her face. She just sat there, staring at the box. Pa, thought he’d done a great thing, because she did love green salad. He waited for her to be ecstatic. Then she started to laugh. And laughed till she got the hiccups.

The Salad Shooter never (ever) left its box, nor was the term “Salad Shooter” ever spoken again, although she kept it in the most commonly used cabinet, so Pa had to look at it every time he snuck a cookie. As soon as Joe’s opened for the post holiday rush, Meir went and bought her own ring. I’m sure Joe got a good laugh from it, too.

She never wore it with the joy she’d expected. Pa was practical, and she loved him for that. She was the gift giver, and he loved her for it. Salad Shooter be damned.

The world places entirely too much emphasis on expectation, when the emphasis should actually be focused on nurturing giving hearts. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have in the bank, everyone is capable of giving, and to give freely is to love deeply.

Love “languages” are really plain old common sense. There is only one book that really teaches us how to love, how to be loved, and how to love ourselves. That book will never be found on aisle three. There will be no updates. We don’t need updates. It’s a self contained, life giving, love sustaining, divine and perfect gift, straight from the only indisputable Source.

While my son waits so anxiously all year for Christmas day, I know his heart is pure, and his spirit is prepared with reverence in recognition of the first true gift. Jesus is God’s living gift to each of us, with our salvation and redemption costing us nothing at all. His gift can’t be wrapped, exchanged, or revoked.

Give when you can. Give your time. Give your love. Give your heart. Whatever you invest in others, God will return to you immeasurably.

Merry Christmas, Friends! May God bless each of you, in heart and spirit, during this season of giving.

~ This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience
that accompanies your confession 
of the gospel of Christ,
for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone.
And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you,
because of the surpassing grace God has given you.
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! ~
2 Corinthians 9:12-15

(c) 2014, 2015