Another Christmas has come and gone, with all of the joys, wonders, and moments of quiet reflection that are so much a part of this season.
If you’re like me, a bit of gift-giving stress may also have been part of your Christmas season. As the great day of unwrapping approached, you may have felt some anxiety about the gifts you chose for loved ones, wondering if your gift-giving skills had been equal to the challenge this year. The big day came, your loved ones seemed pleased, and you heaved a small sigh of relief. Or maybe a big sigh.
Who among us has not, at one time or another, secretly wished to be an expert gift-giver, to be the kind of person who could touch any heart with the perfect gift and bring a look of pure joy to any face? LDS Church leader Henry B. Eyring acknowledged just such a desire some years ago when he said in a church publication, “I’ve always had a daydream of being a great gift-giver.” He went on to explain that he’d been surrounded by great gift-givers his entire life and that his observations of their actions had enabled him to develop a “theory” of great gift-giving. He used the following story to illustrate his theory.
It was a summer day. Eyring’s mother had passed away in the hospital that afternoon and he and his father and brother had returned home to receive visitors. As dusk fell, they fixed themselves a snack and continued to visit with callers. As the evening wore on, the doorbell rang yet again. Eyring relates what happened next.
“Dad answered the doorbell. It was Aunt Catherine and Uncle Bill. When they’d walked just a few feet past the vestibule, Uncle Bill extended his hand and I could see he was holding a bottle of cherries. I can still see the deep-red, almost purple, cherries and the shiny gold cap on the jar. He said, ‘You might enjoy these. You probably haven’t had dessert.’”
No, they hadn’t, Eyring continues. Bowls were found, filled, and emptied while Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine helped the heart-broken husband and sons compile a list of people yet to be notified of the death of Eyring’s mother. And then Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine were gone, barely 20 minutes after their arrival.
Eyring uses this story to explain his theory. “We can understand my theory best,” he says, “if we focus on one gift: the bottle of cherries. And let’s explain our theory from the point of view of the person who received the gift: me. That’s crucial, because what matters in giving is what the receiver feels.”
“As nearly as I can tell,” Eyring continues, “the giving and receiving of a great gift always has three parts. Here they are, illustrated by that gift on a summer evening.”
“First, I knew that Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine had felt what I was feeling and had been touched… They must have felt we’d be too tired to fix much food. They must have felt that a bowl of home-canned cherries would make us feel, for a moment, like a family again. And they felt what I felt… I can’t remember the taste of the cherries, but I remember that someone knew my heart and cared.”
“Second, I felt that the gift was free. I knew Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine had chosen freely to bring a gift…The gift seemed to provide them joy in the giving.”
“And third, there was an element of sacrifice. Someone might say, ‘But how could they give for the joy of it and yet make sacrifice?’ Well, I could see the sacrifice. I knew, from the cherries being home-bottled, that Aunt Catherine had made them for her family. They must have liked cherries. But she took that pleasure from them and gave it to me. That’s sacrifice. But I have realized since then this marvelous fact: It must have seemed to Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine that they’d have more pleasure if I had the cherries than if they did. There was sacrifice, but it was made for a greater return for them — my happiness. Anyone can feel deprived as they sacrifice, and then let the person who gets a gift know it. But only an expert can let you sense that his sacrifice brings him joy because it blesses you.”
“Well, there is my theory,” Eyring concludes. “Great gift-giving involves three things: you feel what the other feels; you give freely; and you count sacrifice a bargain.”
It is so very simple — and challenging. To be a great gift-giver, we need to know the other’s heart and sincerely care. The gift must be freely given — no compulsion, nothing for show or reward. And there must be an element of sacrifice. That’s it.
And we don’t have to wait for Christmas.