Many years ago when my children were small, I announced that I was not going to buy anyone any more gifts for Christmas. The reason was simple: I no longer wished to feel obligated, pressured and under the compulsion to give.
I also did not want to motivate others to buy me gifts as a result of an unwitting anticipation of pressure on my part. I was going to be free and set others free to love and give, in the time of their own choosing. My family and friends could now function from the goodness of their hearts rather than any customary conditioning.
The result was as you might expect; since everyone knew I was not under an obligation to give anything for Christmas, none of my friends felt any obligation to buy me anything either. So much for the spirit of Christmas!
For the “what it¹s worth” department, I am not adverse to Christmas festivities and merrymaking. I personally have no objection to my wife¹s fondness for decorating the tree and putting up the various decorative lights. But in no way do I associate the seasonal fanfare with what Christmas really means to me personally.
I am not the Grinch that stole Christmas, and I¹m certainly not about to take away all those joyous noises and sights kids enjoy.
Christmas festivities do not stir religious faith in me the way they do others, nor do they represent its more ominous pagan origin. I see all the merrymaking as a fun family custom and focus of getting together. While there is indeed a deeper spiritual significance to Christmas, it is always overshadowed by the center ring of a three-ring circus; that is, glorifying a sensuous Santa Claus and embracing one another rather than honoring the main event, the Christ child coming into the world.
Christmas, therefore, instead of arousing a formal spirituality, will find me amid all the excitement becoming more quiet and sober, reflecting upon its deeper meaning.
However, there is something I undertake as part of the Foundation of Human Understanding as Christmas time draws near. I take the occasion to send an appropriate Christmas card thank-you note of appreciation to all the kind people who have supported me in my work over the past year.
While Christmas can be, if you so choose, an appropriate time of the year to give a gift, for whatever reason, this custom does not represent love unless such giving arises gratefully and naturally from the heart and not from the obligation of the season.
The compulsion to give under pressure is both manipulative and grace-robbing, and subtly dangerous to one¹s mental and spiritual well-being. Responding with respect to the obligations implied in any sort of pressure is a monkey-see, monkey-do type of thing. Giving can hardly be from the heart if it is the result of pressure and obligation, which is the basic cause of conflict in everyone¹s life. Because, you see, the compulsion to conform to pressure is a subtle form of stealing from you, and not just a Christmas custom. Conformity is a dilemma we encounter every day of our lives; it actually prevents us from living our own lives and from bringing forth the hidden good awaiting to unfold from the secret place of the heart.
Reflect for a moment before you read on, and see how many times and in how many ways you are obligated to do nice things for others just because you didn¹t want to hurt their feelings. The conditioned reflex response command to share, to give, to obey is very dehumanizing.
Every Christmas I am inundated with gifts from people with whom I do business. One radio station sends me a smoked ham in consideration that I have given them $200,000 worth of business for many years. I have often thought that perhaps a gold Rolex might be more appropriate if they wanted to show love, or even reciprocate in a balanced way! The point is that it is an embarrassment to receive cheap tokens of love as a result of a compulsion to relieve that seasonal obligation.
“The compulsion to give under pressure is both manipulative
If you are the average working stiff, you work five months out of every year for the government with precious little left over for yourself. What you really need to do, more than anything, is to save your money for a future opportunity. How can you get ahead in life if there is, throughout the year, a nagging, pressuring obligation to give all the time? Christmas time rolls around and the atmosphere, the festivities, the music, all awaken and intensify that obligation that compels you to go along to get along. And off you go, rushing out like a crazy person to spend your hard-earned money, all to head off the pain of guilt you know will arise as a result of a subtle suggestion inherent in the anticipation of having to exchange gifts. And so you too, fall in line in order to avoid the unbearable stigma of being seen as a stingy Scrooge.
So what kind of giving is swapping anyway? Why not give in a timely way when your heart moves you to compassion because of a real need. Surely Christmas is meant to be understood all year round. Why should our giving obligations be confined to a special moment appointed by commercial custom?
Not everyone has good intentions in the gift-giving department. Remember the words of William Shakespeare: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” If you could only see how vulnerable you are under certain circumstances, how easy you are to manipulate by way of a kind word, let alone how overwhelmed and honored by a “free” gift. A gift that honors can also be one that controls and obligates.
All gifts and words of praise have strings attached to the gift giver. Even when a gift is given to you with a pure intention, your lack of maturity could make you feel obligated, resentfully bound to obey an unintentional hint. You must be very careful in life about accepting such honors that compel servitude. You must also be wise enough to perceive when you are being manipulated to another¹s advantage, so you need the insight and strength and courage to reject such a gift. Just because someone seems to love and admire you, and gives you what appears to be a token proof of their appreciation of love, does not make the gift kosher. It could very well mean that they are giving the cow hay in order to take the milk.
It is quite amazing to see how small a gift it takes to milk some people. Take the Hare Krishna cult hucksters you see hawking their wares in just about every major airport in the country. See how quickly they lift $10 from a passerby. All those manipulators need do is place a penny flower in someone¹s lapel, and the compulsion to accept that gift immediately translates into the obligation to listen to the pitch and buy what is offered.
So you see how important it is to say no even to the free gift of a penny flower, as well as to decline more substantial offerings. But what if you have never learned to say no? Then you will always be open to the manipulative will of others, giving the shirt off your back, and never will you be happy or have anything in life, not even your own soul. And even if you make something of yourself, you will end up attracting parasites and giving it all away. You will always be buying things you don¹t need to fill the emptiness of your soul, and being generous to all the undeserving scoundrels around you. You will have friction within yourself in both the giving and the getting.
One must be very wise. There is no hard and fast, rigid rule of thumb in this business of giving and receiving gifts. There are times when you must allow people to be gracious because graciousness is good for the giver as well as the receiver of grace. I remember a time when my five-year-old son bought me a sail repair kit for my boat. I remember how I hurt his feelings when I told him, “Son, you shouldn¹t have spend your money.” I thought I was being unselfish by getting him to save for his future and teaching him thrift; little did I know that I was being prideful and thoughtless. I didn¹t see deeply into his sweet motive, which was that he loved his father and wanted to express that love. That was a precious moment in which he needed to give and where it was equally good for me to graciously receive. Only after many years had passed did he tell me how much I had hurt his feelings. And then again, some people are too proud to accept anything from anyone, even in times of trouble and badly needed help. And others are so proud that they cannot, even at that special time of the year of Our Lord¹s birthday, receive the ultimate, unmerited gift the salvation of the Father¹s grace.