It’s that “most wonderful time of the year” again. And we’re all pushing and shoving to get good gifts for each other. The malls are filled, although each year we hear gloom and doom about how they are not filled “enough.” The economic predictions are always grey and cloudy. I have to wonder who is in bed with whom when that happens.
LightHusband’s company holiday party was the other evening. The event happened to coincide with a need for having my hair done. Really. It did. So I went to my favorite hairdresser for just a cut and style this time … no color or anything fancy. The salon is in a mall nearby and on my way out, I paused in a department store to purchase a few items which were necessary for the evening. Okay, pantyhose. I hardly ever wear it anymore and I didn’t have any.
Once, I’d finally located the goods in the store in question, I made my selections and stood in line to make my purchase. I was third. Then I was second. At first I was slightly annoyed by this turn of affairs because I was all rushy and needing to be on my way. But then I started to breath and watch the unfolding event in front of me. I was fascinated.
She was a smallish woman in her early 30’s. There wasn’t anything very remarkable about her as she stood at the jewelry counter. Nothing except the stacks of boxes of cheesy jewelry which she’d painstakingly selected from the rummage of the final markdown table. I sighed and rolled my eyes at the dozen or so boxes of necklaces and bracelets; all of them cheap and none of them particularly noteworthy. All were on sale, of course. While each item didn’t cost more than $5.00, she ended up spending over one hundred and fifty dollars on cheap plastic jewelry. As the clerk carefully rang each item up and replaced the cover on the box, I noticed that she pulled a neatly folded sheaf of papers from her purse. Within the sheaf was a flyer from the store with coupons for $$ off in consideration of $$ spent. But the sheaf itself was a marvel to behold. It was an Excel spreadsheet of gift beneficiaries … one would assume for the cheap plastic jewelry. I studied the spreadsheet from the appropriate stranger distance and thought of all the questions I wanted to ask this very tidy woman over coffee. I peeked into her purse and noticed it was very organized as well.
I’ve found myself wondering about the very tidy woman and her jewelry gift purchases over the last couple of days. She and the clerk, and eventually me too were drawn into some minimal conversation. Those of us in line were gently admonished to have extra patience for long lines during the holiday time. I was fascinated, so I needed no patience.
I’ve been thinking though, about the gifts we give each other during this “wonderful time of the year.” And what we might really want from those we love. It seems to me that what we always long for from our friends, lovers, loved ones, and family is time spent with them. We don’t think we have that to give, so instead we’re willing to spend hours on Excel spreadsheets organizing our gift giving, more hours rummaging through final markdown tables for cheap, plastic jewelry, still more wrapping it up in funky wrapping paper and then boxes to send to it’s final destination.
Oh, what’s that you say? You’re not that organized or obsessed. You do not spend hours on Excel spreadsheets. You, or course, would never buy cheap, plastic jewelry for anyone. Oh well, then, I’m not talking to you, am I?
Or … am I?
How much time do you spend on your gift organizing and purchasing? We all have some method to our madness. We all do something to organize ourselves and plan in some way. So we do something. We all have the same 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year to our lives. Now this is not another mid-Advent polemic on doing away with Christmas gift giving, shopping, buying, or etc. Just wait to see where I’m headed, okay.
I was also thinking about this in terms of my recent Thanksgiving blowout extravaganza. It took me three days to recover from that. But as I look back over it, I realize it was a huge gift to my mother-in-law and father-in-law to have their family all together in one place for several days. They enjoyed it enormously and it was a blessing to them.
It was a blessing to all of us in many ways. It was to me, too. I had the gift of time with my nieces and nephew and my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law. We all had that. My sister-in-law with whom the road has been rocky at times and I had a wonderful visit. She gave me the gift of her decorating abilities and I gave to her time with her family.
There were some funny moments though. One of the things I wanted to give my sister-in-law (LightHusband’s sister) was time to relax and enjoy her mornings. She works and gets 4 children out the door to school every morning. So I thought her time here might be a good time to sit, breath, and relax. Instead, every morning she kept after me to mop the kitchen floor. She wanted to know where the supplies and mop were. “I want to mop your floor!” was the declaration. “I mop my floor every day.” It was said without judgement or animosity, but with need. Finally, one morning in a tiny, pleading voice, “I need to mop … it’s how I wake up in the morning.” And, I burst into laughter; so did she. I told her that I had been trying to give her some time to relax; she, on the other hand, had been trying to give me free housecleaning (and she legitimately *does* clean to wake up). Her normal morning is so busy and regimented that sitting still just doesn’t make it onto her radar.
So I’ve been thinking about all the gifts we give each other. The tangibles and the intangibles. How we wrap them up with love and time and worry and care. Some people put theirs into an Excel spreadsheet and time spent rummaging through the markdown jewelry table. Others put theirs into carefully handcrafting gifts. Still others put theirs into hours spent in Google searches. But in the end I think it works out to the same time … or so. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Then we wrap those gifts up with paper and love, bows and care.
I wonder though about the good gifts we try to give each other and the good gifts from our Creator above. I’ve been pondering that. S/He gave us the gift of presence. The gift of God with Us, Emmanuel. It had never been done before and has not been done since. Or, really has been ever since if we consider the Holy Spirit. So those gifts, carefully wrapped and lovingly bowed, under our trees each year are like the shadows in Plato’s cave of the gift lovingly wrapped and given so long ago. It causes me to consider that the thing we truly seek after with one another and with God is not presents, but presence. We seek after each other’s presence, we long for it. Our children desire more of it, our spouses, our friends, our families. God even desires more of it from us and we from Him.
But that is not what we give each other. Sadly, we use up that time and energy on other things that we have declared more precious. I wonder what would happen if we began to give the present of presence? What other good gifts might come of that?