In my Advent reading this year, I found an essay about Christmas by Harper Lee. While working in New York, she spent the holidays with friends, a family with children. “Christmas to me was only a memory of old loves and empty rooms, something I buried with the past that underwent a vague aching resurrection every year.” Christmas was now only a day for children. One year, after watching the children open their gifts and play, and then the husband and wife each open their gifts, she was told her gift was on the tree, an envelope. Their gift to her was a full year off from work to write. The friends assured Harper of their ability to give this gift and their faith in her to use her talent. Harper’s reflection on the gift was that it was “Not given me by an act of generosity, but by an act of love.” And in receiving this gift given in love, she was able to replace the “ache of an old memory.”
I pondered the difference between a gift given through generosity and one given through love. Is it not the gift at all that is imperative, but the intention with which the gift is given? Generosity is a fine virtue, and one I have benefitted from greatly many times. I hope I have equally been generous to others in gift, kindness and self. So, I would not scoff at a gift given in generosity, it carries esteem and respect. In a singular way, a gift given with love conveys to the recipient an embodiment of dignity or self-worth, the sense of being seen fully by the one offering the gift. In Harper’s story, she was seen by her friends, they had faith in her talent. The love with which they gave their gift conveyed in Harper a sense of self that healed the “ache of an old memory.” The memory of old loves was reflected now in a new memory, and the ache was replaced with the embodiment of self-worth.
I remember a gift given in love that I received when I was a senior in high school, soon to leave home. At home, we were taught to be generous to others, and my parents gifted us as generously as they could, given there were eleven of us children which only expanded with weddings and births over time. But the gift of love my mother gave me that year was simple and never forgotten. She gave me a jar of home-made granola, something of a novelty back then. She not only noticed I liked it but did the work to find out how to make it, find the ingredients and put it all together. She noticed me at a time when I was being seen for all my achievements, grades, and awards. A gift given in love is one that makes me feel seen for who I really am, not for all the things I do to get seen.
As I prepare gifts this year, I want to give with love, I want to convey that feeling in the recipient that I see them. After all, Christmas is about love. It is through love that we receive God once again in our midst, and it is God that truly sees each one of us.