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The Heart Within a Gift

Dec 1, 2001

It's amazing how much meaning can reside in an inanimate object. We spend long hours standing in awe in front of museum artifacts because of their solemn history. Knight errants rode forth imbued with valor because of the handkerchiefs knotted to their lances. And when I was in the eighth grade I picked up a small rock that the girl in front of me carelessly dropped on the path -- because I was in love with her from afar. I no longer remember her name -- and she hardly knew mine, but I remember picking up the rock and treasuring it, because she dropped it.

In the same way, gifts can have great value attached to them based on the heart of the giver or recipient. Sometimes people give gifts out of duty, with very little feeling conveyed in the gift, beyond a sense of obligation. Gift giving is an opportunity to give more than a gift to someone. If we feel a strong sense of love or affection for the recipient, then the gift can take on a special meaning. Our heart is conveyed with the gift -- and our hope, in those instances, is that the recipient will recognize our heart contained within the gift.

It's unfortunate that sometimes our heart is not perceived by the recipient of our gift. It's also unfortunate for the recipients of our gifts that sometimes our hearts are only obligatory, rather than enthusiastic and sincere in our gift giving. In a sense, gift giving and receiving is one of the many barometers of the heartistic atmosphere between people. Giving gifts naturally requires more effort than receiving them, which perhaps accounts for the fact that the act of receiving gifts is more often beset by insensitivity to the heart of the giver than the other way around.

It's easy to experience this scenario at Christmas time. One of the busiest shopping days of the year is the day after Christmas, when hordes of gift recipients flock back to the stores to return or exchange their gifts. It's almost an American pastime. Advertiser even cater to this phenomenon. I don't really think that those who go back to the stores with their gifts have any bad intent. Certainly if an item doesn't fit, then it's reasonable to exchange it for a different size. I think that over the years, traditions such as this have developed in our country rather haphazardly, perhaps caused in part by the intense commercialization of Christmas.

Parents encounter this tradition when their young children gather around the tree in the morning, hastily tearing the wrapping paper from their gifts -- and then sourly pout, "I didn't want that one! I wanted the other one!" It's happened with our children. I probably did it to my parents. It's part of being a child, and wanting what we want, immediately, without any thought of the hearts of our parents who labored and perhaps went into debt for six months to buy us the monster Tonka truck and all the rest of the toys piled into a mound in front of us. I remember my mother working extra hours as a grocery store clerk during the Christmas season. It never really dawned on me why she did it, until much later. Someday, when I see her "upstairs", I'm going to apologize to her because I didn't understand her heart toward me.

When our children react with disappointment, Kim and I have decided that we just can't let it go unchecked. It's not limited to Christmas, by any means. Birthdays are the next in line, followed quite closely by ordinary, everyday sort of gift giving. Since our children are still young, we've had experiences here and there of returning home with a surprise gift for one or all of them, only to be greeted by monstrous frowns and grumpy faces. Don't get me wrong -- they love receiving gifts. But once in awhile, the sky comes falling down and they greet their carefully chosen gift with an upturned nose and a glower.

They act that way because they don't know any better. It's normal, because they're just children. Their hearts want to receive love -- and sometimes love to them means a Batman instead of a Superman toy. The issue becomes, then, a matter of clarifying to them that love really is being given to them -- even if it comes in the shape of a toy they don't want.

Thankfully, children respond to heartistic education. All they really need is a comprehensive explanation about love and heart, given to them with patience and respect and kindness. I think that children are actually more receptive to guidance about love than adults, simply because less damage has been done to them. They've been hurt less, and usually still trust that their parents love them more than the sun or the moon or the stars. Or, as I tell my children, more than elephants and tomatoes.

Teaching our children to value the heart within a gift has far-reaching consequences. If life could be divided into the realms of complaint and gratitude, which side would we rather live in? Part of love is the ability to recognize love when others give it to us. Instead of coldly spurning others' gifts, or reacting with indifference, our hearts should be so sensitized that the smallest gift, given with a sincere heart, causes us to thoroughly appreciate and value the heart of the person who gave the gift to us.

Sadly, the world isn't like that yet. Gifts come in many forms, some very obvious, and some as intangible as a smile or a kind word. A cup of coffee could contain within it the sincere heart of a person who is going out of her way to care for us. Ultimately, gifts should be given and received as distilled expressions of heart and love. Their value has the same value as the heart behind them. For this reason, the gift should be valued forever, even if it's an ugly tie, or a sweater that is the wrong color. We may not be able to steel ourselves to wear it every day, but at the very least we should honor the heart of the person who gave it to us by keeping it as the expression of love that it was. I think that the day after Christmas should be a day when the stores are almost completely empty, for why would we want to hurt the hearts of those who gave us gifts by returning them?

If we can teach our children about the heart within each gift, I believe that our children will increase their appreciation and sensitivity to all the gifts that life, and God, have given them. They will then be able to live in the realm of gratitude, rather than complaint.

Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to one of his favorite mottos: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”

~ Deus est auctor amoris et decoris. ~

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Peter Falkenberg Brown
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