attention – the most precious and demanding gift you can give

I’m guessing that I’m not alone in not having started my Christmas shopping yet. So as I turn to the Herculean task, it’s time for my current philosophy of gift giving to ‘go active’.

I say my current philosophy because I’ve moved around on this one quite a lot during my life:

  • As a kid I aspired to the ideal of a perfect exchange — as in You Give Me Exactly What I Want And I’ll Give You Exactly What You Want. I remember one particular Christmas where I arranged with the eldest son from the family we regularly celebrated the day with for us to get each other the one Lego kit that we both wanted. This (almost unfailingly) delivered a gift that the recipient regarded as precious. But with hindsight I can see that this hardly counted as giving at all!
  • Later I embraced the idea that it was best to give people not necessarily what they were on record as wanting, but something I loved that I wanted them to enjoy too. Of course, this philosophy pretty much allowed me not to go to the effort of thinking about what other people might actually appreciate. But it did preserve an element of surprise (and, in practice, wasn’t always as thoughtless as it could have been).
  • These days I aspire to get the best of both worlds by hunting down gifts that express attentiveness. Paying attention to the intended recipient of your gifts is kind of like a meta-gift. It’s a lot more demanding because it directs you to look for something they’d be delighted to receive — striving to draw out the confession, ‘That’s exactly what I need!’ — without caving in to the predictable quid pro quo of ‘Tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you’.

This philosophy of giving reflects — however dimly and imperfectly — the kind of gift Christmas is all about: God’s gift of his own Son so that ‘whoever believes in him might have eternal life’ (John 3.16).

God didn’t owe it to humanity to send his Son as our rescuer and life-giver. We weren’t entitled to it. He wasn’t on our Ultimate Wish List (even if he should have been). But this gift was exactly what we needed. Totally appropriate. Perfectly designed to secure our flourishing. Expressive of that profound attentiveness we call love.

I want to give gifts like that…

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4 comments

  1. Much as I enjoyed Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’, I must say I get much more satisfaction from your presents in the new ‘attentive’ gift giving paradigm! It’s a winner…

  2. i recon the key word in your thrid op is ‘exactly…’.. but sometimes that can be too ambitious… as in its hard to get the response “exactly!”…. so I aim for “I need that”

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