Giving and receiving gifts can be a tricky business. For some, the holidays are an emotionally charged season.
The materialism and buzz can grate on a heart struggling with loss or loneliness. Sometimes, even a well-intentioned gift can hurt when the heart needs something else.
How can we reach others when this is the case?
Giving the Right Gift
Think back. What was the best gift you’ve ever received? What about that gift made it the best?
I could list off a few items and experiences that vie for that label, but these rate among my favorites because of the creativity, intentionality, and specificity behind them.
These gifts did not deny me my ability to obtain what I needed, but instead they encouraged me or provided a need that I wouldn’t have been able to provide for myself.
Peter Greer, in his chapter of IFWE’s For the Least of These, points out that
Even when offered with compassion, traditional charity, which should be only a temporary fix, can often enslave individuals – becoming a poverty trap – if extended into the long term.
The best gifts are those that affirm an individual’s dignity and skills but simultaneously offer encouragement or help with humility.
Giving Effectively – All Year Round
Giving to those in need may not come easily. Between our natural apathy and lack of knowledge about the needs around us, we may feel unable to really give to others.
Here are some practical tips for giving an unconventional gift even beyond Christmas.
- Browse for the greater good. Organizations such as Amazon Smile or Tab for a Cause donate to charities when you install their plug-ins on your browser. In most cases, you have the option to select the charities to which you would like to donate.
- Invest in others’ creativity. Sites such as Kickstarter and Etsy allow you to give directly to a cause, project, or product in a way that preserves the connection between the need and the gift.
- Give where you’ve benefited. Can you think of an organization or program from which you have benefitted personally? I could rattle off a few churches, a campus ministry or two, a college, and several nonprofits that I would name as being somehow influential in my growth or community, and I would rather give to a program I’m confident will use my gift well.
- Give of your time. Money may be tight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t invest in others. If you’re not involved in a church, check out a site such as Volunteer Match to find out what needs are in your area.
- Give of your talent. This one requires some creativity. Often, we don’t think that the skills we’ve accumulated can be applied to help others because we take them for granted. Are you good at teaching? Look for tutoring opportunities. Is graphic design your forte? I bet that there is volunteer run organization or budding nonprofit near you that could use your help.
Above all, become educated. In some cases, it’s easier and safer to allow a third party organization to complete the transaction. We don’t always have the ability to do the ground work.
However, that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility of doing as much research as we can with the resources that we have.
Giving good gifts requires humility. It is humbling to set yourself aside to listen to another’s needs or wants. It is humbling to go out of your way to accommodate another’s schedule. And it’s humbling to remember that we will never meet another’s needs completely. All we can do is to point to the best Giver of gifts:
Every good thing is given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)