How to give, receive and recognize gifts


It’s birthday month in our home, a time when four of the five of us flip the page that welcomes a new year and a new number. When you throw in Mother’s Day, end-of-year events, new sacraments and so on, the cake and ice cream alone has the potential to get wildly out of control.
So can the gifts — so much so that my husband and I decided that we were going to only get our toddler, celebrating the big two, a few small things this year. At that age, anything’s a toy, right? In reality, though, it mattered little what we got for our baby because he barely got to see his new spoils. Big bro and sis were waiting in the wings — or should I say, standing right in front of him — fully ready and willing to give the new items a thorough test drive. After the toddler had been put to bed, my husband told our six-year-old, who was still playing with one of the new toys, that he needed to remember whose gift it was that he was holding. “It’s John’s,” said Joseph, without missing a beat, “and he’s asleep.”
These observations have prompted me to spend some time pondering the gifts we encounter in our lives. There are the gifts we receive — the gifts of life, love and salvation from our Creator; the gifts of care, time and attention from our family members and friends; the gifts of the church and of the sacraments; and those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out on the Apostles and Mary on Pentecost that sustain the moral life of Christians. These also include the material gifts we receive — those tokens of love and thoughtfulness that, when shared and received in the proper spirit, can strengthen and sustain healthy relationships.
Then there are the gifts that we give, especially the gifts we make of ourselves: the sacrifices, big and small, that we offer daily for the good of others, modeled after Christ’s gift of himself to us on the cross and the gift he continues to give us in the Eucharist; the reciprocal gift of love between a husband and wife; the pouring out of ourselves, even when we think we have nothing left to give. As the fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in Gaudium et Spes, “man ... cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (no. 24).
And then there are the gifts that are given not to ourselves but to others. How do we respond to those gifts — to the things that we might observe, even things that we might think we deserve, but are not able to have for ourselves? The ninth and 10th commandments exist as guardrails to the natural human inclination to envy. We are not to covet anything belonging to anyone else — from family to personal effects. (I’m looking at you, Big Kids.)
This can be hard, because sometimes other people are gifted things that we aren’t. I think of friends who, though wanting to be married, haven’t yet met a spouse. I think of couples who, for one reason or another, or for reasons known only to God, have been unable to conceive a child. I think of women, myself among them, who have lost children to miscarriage — whose gifts await them in heaven while their arms remain empty here on earth. Or the gift of good health when ours is poor, or the gift of sustainable work for some when it is, for others, scarce.
Gratitude, we are taught from a young age, is the proper response when receiving a gift. But it is generosity that opens our hearts when things are seemingly going better for others than they are for ourselves. A generous heart cultivates within us a spirit of constant thanksgiving, to which St. Paul calls us, allowing us to crush jealousy and enabling us to freely honor the riches possessed by others. This is the lesson of the widow, who gave away all she had (cf. Mk 12:42-44).
And it is humility that allows us to recognize everything truly as gift. Mastering the virtue of humility means that we automatically think of others before we think of ourselves — including the blessing of their gifts.
Gratitude, generosity, humility — the recipe for true Christian joy and the keys to heaven. Jesus, grant us the grace to desire them.
Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News.