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I have a friend who likes to send me money randomly or pay for things every time we go out. For me, I just wanted to be with her, without anything of value being involved. I felt absolutely terrible about this to the point where I was about to have a panic attack and abandon the relationship, but I was having one of those weird moments where I try to achieve some personal growth. So I asked her if she believed I would still love her and want to spend time with her even if she didn’t give me anything. And she explained that she just wanted to give to me the way that someone else used to give to her when she was down. It took a while, but that conversation helped to break down some of the barriers I had around acts of service, too. I stopped thinking about only letting people give what I could give back, and if someone offers to do or give something, I’ve started just accepting it. For the most part.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved receiving gifts as a child. I loved birthdays and Christmas mornings and opening up the packages. We sometimes even got Easter gifts. I loved trying to find gifts for friends and family that they would like. We occasionally did Operation Christmas Child.
Nowadays, I don’t do gifts. I’m not sure why. I can’t point to any specific trauma or anything. Maybe it’s just years of being mostly alone. But I don’t decorate for holidays, and I don’t give birthday, Christmas, or especially Valentine’s day gifts, I don’t do Halloween candy. Not even to my son. Eventually I’ll probably call it some sort of anti-consumerism, minimalism or environmentalism. I am trying to downsize, and I have a lot of stuff that has been given to me by loved ones that I’m hesitant to get rid of, but ultimately would rather give to someone who would find better use for it if it means being free. And for the most part, other than my parents sending me cards and money on those certain days of the year, I don’t receive gifts from anyone, either. And I can honestly say I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I don’t think I have a love tank for gifts anymore. Honestly, I’d rather not get gifts during these occasions. I accept the money because I’m perpetually broke. I also accept practical items or food for those reasons, too. And if I know that this is the way that someone is trying to love me, it is touching. For special occasions, I like to go and spend time with those I love, hence the rank order of my love languages.
Yes, the parameters for me are incredibly high when it comes to feeling loved from gifts. It makes me uncomfortable in most situations, even without bringing pride into it, and in most situations I don’t care about not receiving them. I don’t speak gifts in the same way that someone else might, and for the most part can’t be bothered to try and give someone a gift.
When would receiving a gift actually make me feel loved? Well, usually when it has nothing to do with those expected occasions. Or, if I’ve specifically cited a need during some of our quality time, and someone uses it as a thoughtful opportunity to show me that they were listening. This is something that Gary Chapman says to be mindful of, anyway, so it makes sense to me. Whether it’s physical gifts or gifts of time/activities and activities, this holds true. If someone invites me to a movie that they know I want to see and they pay for it, I’d call that a meaningful gift that would give me the tinglies. Over the summer, I mentioned to some individuals in my church that I wanted a new Bible, and one of my friends offered to give me one of his that even included some of his personal notes. That is something I will treasure and never give away. I also have received some particularly moving letters that I think I have somewhere that I do appreciate. Also, as someone who has been in the low-income system for quite sometime, I receive gifts from caring individuals and agencies that I do appreciate, and enjoy feeling the love of community.
Occasionally, I will be moved to give someone a gift. I often make sweet treats that I share with my roommates, family, and friends as a low-maintenance act of affection. I recently bought my son a toy truck, partly to fulfill my end of a bribe, but also because he loves gifts and I feel a sense of pride seeing him with something that I was able to afford to give him with my own money. I was also moved to give someone a particular coloured pencil at one point, and gifts was probably pretty high on his list, because his reaction was the same as if I’d bought him a new mansion. If I can find moments like that, I feel pretty good. But it’s not front of mind for me, and occurs very rarely.
From a trauma perspective, one of the examples given by Gary Chapman is gift-giving at the expense of other languages that inherently require more personal attention. If you grew up in a house hold that constantly told you to be grateful for what you have and stop complaining, that you’re lucky to have a roof over your head, food on the table, and your own car, you might be able to understand the pain. Maybe you had a caregiver who was absence but showered you with gifts that you appreciated, but grew to resent because you’d trade it all for an hour of focused time together. In some ways, gifts can be the least involved method that a guilty or well-meaning caregiver can employ to try and show love. But even more traumatic can be the abuser who provides gifts after an explosive episode as a way to try and gain your favor back. Gifts can be a confusion phenomenon for you if this was the case.
How can we give gifts to ourselves? Well, I have a bit of a shopping addiction, which isn’t healthy, but if we are talking self-soothing, I do like to get things just for me. Whether it’s treating myself to a meal or some new clothes or bath items, when I do it in healthy and appropriate ways, I feel loved and cared for.
And ah, God. I can definitely think of many more examples of gift-giving than almost any other love language. Parameter for sacrifices come to mind. Not only required offerings, but rules for gifts of money, people, and animals that could be made to the nation via the religious leaders. Disciples were called to give away land and money to help support each other, especially the poor. Evangelists were called to only live on what they were given as gifts, because that’s the way that Jesus lived for a lot of his life. He put a coin in a fish to help the apostles pay their taxes. He provided the gifts of manna and quails, partly in a similar way that we let our children have an extra toy at the store when they whine too much, but a gift nonetheless. And lets not forget the ultimate free gift of salvation given to us by Jesus Christ. Talk about something that we can’t earn and can’t pay back.
Ultimately, even before Christ, God often pointed out that the gifts didn’t mean anything if they weren’t done with love. He isn’t stupid. He knows that while a gift can be something meaningful and loving, it can become rote and even meaningless, just like acts of service. He indicated how disgusted He is by meaningless actions like these, in the same way we are. From what I can tell, the rules around gifts were given to provide regular opportunities for humility and community. Just like these lists of current holidays observances and birthdays and anniversaries and other regular gift-giving events should. For someone who ranks gifts as essential, they will be extremely offended if they don’t receive gifts for these events, but they can still spot an insincere giver from a mile a away. They also enjoy giving gifts, whether its bought or hand-made or experienced, because they want you to feel love. I used to be one of them, and I’m not anymore. And I think that’s okay.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13