Spirituality of the Readings

Giving and Receiving

Have you ever worried about the gifts you give for Christmas? Well, not the gifts themselves but whether they will please the ones who receive them?

For instance, what if the giftee forces a courtesy smile and says, “Oh it is just what I wanted,” or something similar? What if, later in the year, by accident, waiting for the person to answer their door which you have just knocked on, you glimpse the family rushing to bring your last year’s gift up from the basement and hang it up in the living room?

So I used to keep second-guessing myself on every gift I shopped for. Look there, I would say, that is the perfect gift for this person, just right! But wait a minute, they don’t have a fireplace mantle to sit it on. Or, will it go with their décor? Or does he or she even like that kind of thing. Maybe I will look like a fool. Or, or, or, or. …

Or.

That’s normal, isn’t it? Normal agonizing.

A great friend of mine from South Africa helped me out with this dilemma. Kolile was his name (Ko-lée-leh, but pronounced with a click instead of the “K”*) and he told me, “You are trying to do someone else’s job. Do your own. Your task is to give the gift. Let them take care of receiving it.”

He gave two examples. In Africa the women at the parish work for many days preparing a feast. All the food is beautiful, tasty, and set out perfectly. At last the day arrives, the doors open, and minutes later the whole presentation looks like plowed earth—the food picked over, the people happy but oblivious. This does not bother the women, he said. It is up to the people to receive it in whatever way seems right. The women’s part of the exchange is to make the gift ready, and they love doing it.

Then he said, in his gruff but gracious way, that in his part of Africa it is the custom to bring a present to the person you are visiting. He and others walked the long journey to visit his father, who happened to love roast beef. Kolile brought along a big chunk of roast and put it on the table when they got there. His father said, no, thank you, I do not like that any more.

Kolile was not bothered. “I did my part,” he said, “and my father did his.” All was well.

So I began to choose gifts that just felt right for each person on my Christmas list. I did not worry and worry whether it would please them, I let the person fill my mind and when I saw something that matched my sense of them, I bought it. Without worry. Every gift did actually delight the one who received it, but that isn’t the point. My job was to open my heart and give. I let them take care of receiving it.

Maybe this is what God does at Christmas. So many people do say “No thanks” to the Christ child. But the Christmas babe is not born in order to get accepted. He is the spilling over of God’s immense love for us. When God lets each of us into his mind, he senses that the baby Jesus is the perfect gift.

Merry Christmas!

John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson