Giving the Gifts of Spirit and Love
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Santa Claus is hip-checking the Zombie Contingent and your friendly neighborhood Spiderman off the shelves every October. It used to be that the world stayed black and orange and yellow until Turkey Day, and then **BOOM!** overnight the world would turn red and green. Not any more – it isn’t even November first and Christmas marketing is in full swing. And we have Corporate America to thank for that. The Holy Trinity of Presents, Parties and Pointsettias are on everybody’s mind once the kids are back in school and the daylight hours get shorter.
On top of that, presents are no longer simple things. (And Spiritual Awakening is not at the top of most people’s wish lists.) They are Xboxes and the latest cellphone and more bling than you can possibly wear at once without blinding your neighbors. It’s about designer bags and three-figure gift cards and who gets more goodies under the tree (or around the Menorah). And it starts when the kids are still in single digits: your kids have to have every educational toy and advantage so Muffin and Binkie down the block don’t beat them out for head of the class in pre-kindergarten.
Gift giving is now gaming your friends and business people. People often agonize unnecessarily about giving the right things: will the recipient like it? Is it expensive enough/showy enough? Does it make me look like I care, or like I didn’t give it enough thought?
If giving is supposed to be something joyous, what is the point of having such agita (an ‘80s mangling of the Italian word meaning “heartburn”) that first you buy the present, and then you buy the Pepto-Bismol? Can we, like, take a break here? Because giving the gifts of Spirit and Love trumps anything you can find in even the priciest emporiums.
Like the homogenization of malls and shopping experiences today, the usual gamut of gifts has a sameness to it that’s hard to deny. If you want to be unique, if you want to give something that really means something, you have to go a different route. And it’s not that hard…because you have a closet full of gifts, already wrapped and ready to go. You do. (No, nobody’s been doing your personal shopping for you. Get your head out of ordinary thinking.)
These special wonders are never untimely, out of season, too big or too small. They are specific gifts that only you can give. And they do double duty as blessings to you as well as to those who receive them, because in giving them you can’t help but touch your own life with grace. These are what are known as “spiritual gifts.” Some are for individuals, and some are for groups of people. But think of them as literal gifts from the spirit of love, of giving, and sharing.
Stumped? No surprise. These days we are taught that unless there is a monetary price tag on something it isn’t “real.” But here are some examples to get you thinking, both as gifts to individuals and to groups you care about. They’ll put the spotlight on the specific talents that let you shine — and give you joy to use. Giving the gifts of Spirit and love means you have it handled with…
THE GIFT OF TEACHING
Everybody has something that they’re good at. People shake their heads and say “Man, Roger can stick his head in the refrigerator, pick six ingredients and whip up a fabulous meal.” Or “When there’s something to be designed, you can count on Carol to think outside the box and come up with the perfect solution.” And be it visually, vocally or by example, your own particular talent just might help others reach a new level of learning about themselves, the world around them – or the world within.
What do you have to teach that’s special? Can you give someone a new tool or trade, or spark an interest, by sharing your knowledge? Can you help someone make their lives that little bit easier with a few new ideas? Remember the example of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller — Annie’s dedication to teaching gave Helen the world after so many years in darkness. You, too, may have wonders to teach. Go find out
THE GIFT OF ENCOURAGEMENT
I’ve often said that “I believe in you” trump even “I love you” for the most important words in the world. You may have a knack for calling forth the best from others, helping them to be more aware of their own truths and paths. When they are discouraged or downhearted, you can bolster them up, and lovingly challenge them to see and set their life’s goals.
Having this kind of encouragement can mean the world. Take some time to write a letter to those on your gift list who need encouragement, because having concrete words to hold onto in the dark times can be miraculous. Reach out to your elders, to the homebound or those challenged in some way (physically, mentally, emotionally), to young ones who need to know they matter in the world. Help people go beyond where they think they can go. Encouragement builds wings!
THE GIFT OF TIME
It’s the number one complaint of most people these days – not enough time. It’s why people are chronically sleep-deprived, chronically stressed. Time is worth its weight in anti-anxiety medication! If you have a little extra, or can make some, offer it. And offer it concretely – don’t just say “I can do something for you if you need it,” because we are trained by society not to ask for help.
What can you do? Watch a pet so that your friend can go away for the weekend. Babysit (I guarantee new parents will bless you and find you an angel’s halo for that one). Next time you’re in the kitchen, make an extra casserole and give it to a working mom. Take the time to do someone’s grocery shopping for them (and if you know nutrition and they don’t, you can turn it into a learning experience for them). Even giving someone an extra hour or two can feel like a million dollars when it’s time to breathe, to relax, and to get their feet under them again.
THE GIFT OF MERCY
Mercy – it’s an old fashioned word but desperately needed in these days of “never good enough.” This is the gift of those who emanate kindness and compassion, especially to the folks that the world may deem least deserving of it. If you’re the kind of person that people relax around, if you’re someone that deruffles feathers by merely walking into a room, this might just be your special gift.
If it’s directed at one person, it can be helping them find forgiveness, either for themselves or someone else. It can be giving comfort to someone grieving or in crisis, at the end of their emotional rope. It can be brokering a peace between two discordant sides.
It can even be big enough to give to groups. This gift can flower in many directions, from helping individuals to organizing programs of social needs. The world can seem so harsh and unforgiving today. The Gift of Mercy is vital if we’re to stem the tide and bring gentleness and understanding back into our lives.
THE GIFT OF HELPING
Remember how I mentioned under “Time” that we are taught never to ask for help? That we’re supposed to give, not receive? Helping is a simple word that needs more exercise. There’s not one of us that hasn’t been immersed in an impossible situation, ready to give up, when one person stepped in quietly and unobtrusively, bringing order out of chaos.
If you find yourself willing to offer assistance or relief from distress wherever it’s needed, this gift is your specialty – and you’re onto something precious. Use it to help organize volunteers, assistance projects and social outreach programs, fund-raising. On an individual level, weed a garden for someone whose arthritis no longer allows such work . . . clean out a garage and organize a tag sale for someone who is moving . . . paint someone’s living room if they can’t use a ladder . . . offer to carpool the local kids even if it’s not “your turn.” Be that angel-giver who pitches in to do whatever needs to be done – no matter how detailed or tedious.
THE GIFT OF ADMINISTRATION
You’ll often hear me use the word “administrivia” when it comes to the details and background tasks that make something work. Yet that sort of thing isn’t trivial at all, really; without someone who knows how to be the spider at the middle of a day-to-day web, we ALL get tangled.
You’ll know this is your special gift when you are willing to take responsibility for managing an organization or program. That’s not only the paperwork, but also being in charge of people, items and tasks. It involves being able to put things together, tie up loose ends, and get things done. If you have special talents at financing, planning, organizing, problem solving, or delegating responsibilities, offer them to those programs and events that are important to you. Offer it to someone whose business desperately needs your expertise, but they can’t afford to pay someone to do it. Your ability may take a marginal situation and make it a success. A close relative of this gift is . . .
THE GIFT OF LEADERSHIP
Leadership is not a common talent. Most people want to follow, rather than lead. They want to be responsible for themselves alone, not bringing a group with them. They question whether they can be the point person in an enterprise. Yet you may be known for setting a pattern for others, by direction, instruction, guidance, encouragement or example. If you’re at the head of the pack in most groups or situations, if you routinely inspire others to reach for what matters — then this, my lion/ess, is your special gift.
When you know that a group, a fund drive, an event, a study circle, a team needs someone to march at the head of the line, then step up with grace and enthusiasm. Your gift may bring into fruition something that many people have searched for, but not been able to create themselves – and that’s a whole bunch of gifts in one big box, touching every single life involved.
THE GIFT OF HOSPITALITY
We all know that person who can make a party out of a cold cup of coffee and a stale Twinkie. The one that always has room at the table or can make up a bed for the night on a moment’s notice. Hospitality is your gift if you resonate with ensuring the comfort of others, or you have a knack for making people feel at ease or especially welcome.
Remember that whole idea of “don’t ask?” Sometimes folks we think are aloof or unfriendly are hungry for a welcome, but can’t express their need. Open your door and your heart to these people. That person at work that you got on your “secret Santa” slip? Give them a certificate for lunch with you, or a walk in the park, or a movie. Or bring together friends or like-minded discoverers in your area on a regular basis. Whether your hospitality takes the form of a welcoming home-space or the ability to include people wherever you go, it’s a gift to be cherished beyond measure.
So there you go. Some of these gifts are suitable for single-person giving, and some are for larger groups that you care about. But I hope you’ve noticed that these gifts don’t require a special occasion to be bestowed. And in the spirit of The Season, it often doesn’t even require a close relationship with the person you’re gifting. But when you’re debating whether to buy someone their 5th sweater or 12th pair of earrings . . . when you are standing lost in the middle of a department store because nothing feels right . . . when you look at the calendar and realize someone’s special day is fast approaching . . . go to your inner closet and check out those gifts. Giving the gifts of Spirit and Love means seeing if there isn’t one that will be just right for the occasion. Guaranteed that no matter what you choose to give, the recipient won’t have “one just like it” – and will cherish it because it’s from your heart.