Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sucking the joy right out of Christmas

I've been pondering O. Henry's tale "The Gift of the Magi." The young wife (Della) and husband (James) are too poor to buy gifts for one another at Christmas. But motivated by of their deep love for the other, each secretly sells their most precious possession to obtain money to buy a gift.

Della cuts and sells her beautiful hair, while James parts with his prized pocket watch. With her money she rushes to buy a gold chain for his watch. With his funds he purchases lovely ivory combs for her hair. Both are surprised by the gifts and by the cost. Neither gift is useful anymore, but they are truly happy because of the love expressed.

It took me awhile to like that story, because it all seems so wasteful. Both of them gave up what was precious to them to obtain things they could no longer enjoy.

For a long time I wanted to fix the problem of the story. I wanted them to ask each other what the other wanted as a gift. I wanted Della to announce, "I'm selling my hair," and James to proclaim, "I'm selling my watch." I hated to see them realize, too late, that the gifts were no longer useful.

Eventually, I let go of my practical, "let's not waste anything" mentality. Sacrifice isn't a bad thing, it's actually quite beautiful. Jesus commended the woman who anointed Him with costly perfume while Judas pointed out what a waste it was. 

Fast forward to 2013 and how Kevin and I are approaching another Christmas together. It will surely move you to tears. It is that pathetic.

Kevin shops Amazon, finds the EXACT thing he wants, then sends me the link to buy it. I have to admit, it is easy. But there is not much joy involved. It feels very empty to have no say, give no thought, make no effort. But, if I were to make an effort, Kevin would be disappointed because wants exactly what he wants. And nothing else.

I'm not much different. I want Kevin to make an effort, to give some thought and to surprise me with something that will knock my socks off. I can't list any of those cool ideas here because Kevin edits my blog. If I tell him what I want, then it doesn't really count. I mean he's supposed to pay attention, study me, know me, and give me gifts that reflects this intimacy. However, he usually wants a specific idea, so I tell him some small thing I really do need, like bedroom slippers. And that is what I will get.

I know this because I picked them out and ordered them online. The slippers arrived a few days ago and are now hidden in Kevin's sock drawer. 

Ahhh, Christmas at the Cone house. It's depressing.

Giving and receiving looses it's joy when we hold our expectations in our fists and demand that Christmas look like a Hallmark commercial or a short story from 1905. The attitude that insists "I've got to have it this way to be happy" is usually unhappy in the end. Even when we get exactly what we ordered for ourselves, we are often disappointed that we did not receive that special surprise gift, the one we hoped would catch our imagination and thrill our heart.

I wonder if Christmas could be happy for me if I got hair combs that I couldn't use anymore? Can I learn to receive a gift even if I don't understand it? One of my friends got a red leather jacket. She doesn't wear much red or leather. It's just not her.... Can I look beyond the gift to the giver and just be glad that this person is in my life and has chosen to think of me in some small way?

Christmastime is here and it's time for me to learn that a gift is not something I want or ask for, a gift is something the giver delights to give. A gift always requires a sacrifice. Money, time, effort, thought....something is given up to make the gift available to me. It's not mine to control or manipulate. It is mine to receive. Some givers will give well and touch something inside me, others will miss the mark.

I want to be mature enough to receive either one with grace and joy.

But, you know, if I get some really cool boots, then I'm okay with that too.