Unwanted Gifts

Today, the day after Christmas, is the second biggest shopping day of the year….and the one in which many gifts are being returned to stores. This blog post reflects thoughts that came after reading Jennifer Rothschild’s devotional today, “How to Accept A Gift You Never Wanted”. One TV network has had a special segment this morning on how to effectively return gifts to stores, sell them on eBay, or “re-gift” with grace. So soon after the euphoric delight of Christmas and reality hits! You don’t always get what you want.

Jennifer Rothschild, who was the Hope for the Heart speaker at Lynn Haven UMC a few years ago, addresses an uncomfortable issue in a Day-After-Christmas devotional on “How to Accept a Gift You Never Wanted”.  Many will be returning gifts today, the second busiest shopping day of the year.  Some because of wrong size, others because of wrong color or other issues related to the gift itself.  But many gifts are likely to be returned because the recipient simply doesn’t want it.  There are some “gifts” I have received that I, too, I did not want.  I would not have labeled some of them as “good and perfect” gifts.  And some of them, I’m quite sure, were not from God.  They were more like “white elephant” gifts that someone else wanted to be rid of or “booby prizes” that someone thought would be funny, or interesting, or challenging, (Definition of “booby prize” – a prize given in good-natured ridicule to the worst player or team in a game or contest), or a “re-gifted” offering from someone whose gift seemed to say, “I had to endure this, now you will have to, also.”  For a lot of years, as a people-pleasing, approval-seeking child raised in the South to be seen and not heard and to express thanks for everything offered and deny one’s true feelings I smiled and said, “thank you.”

Moving out of bondage to approval-seeking and people-pleasing as an adult has been difficult. Thankfully, though, God, I have discovered, is quite willing to listen to the cries of a disappointed, hurting child.  He is not insensitive, hardened and dismissive of a child’s disappointment, the way some in my life had been.  He, instead, is kind and patient, and, with love, helps one see the value of even an unwanted gift, recognizing that, like the underwear from a beloved aunt that Jennifer talks about here, it may not be what one desires at the moment, but it will, in many cases, serve a purpose in one’s life. And even a white elephant gift or booby prize, after the sting of the disregard and lack of care it implies for the feelings of the recipient is forgotten, can be a novel and humorous reminder that there are people who give little thought to the person receiving the “gift”.  But the person who “re-gifts” a gift that they didn’t want may be the most problematic. Our son, when he was a plebe at The Citadel, told us how every insult, humiliation, bullying goad, and demand from upper classmen had to be met with the response, “Sir, yes sir” or “Sir, thank you, sir.” He did not move into military life after his college years there, but he did learn to endure indignities with a measure of perseverance and patience while he was there, particularly in light of knowing it would not last forever. Knowing him, I would suspect too, that when he was an upper classman, he was not inclined to inflict such humiliation, goads, or demands on others. But how do we receive an unwanted “gift”, especially when it is one that may well be with us permanently, like Jennifer’s blindness or rejection or denial when one had expected welcome.

Consider a person struggling with the emotions of having been left abandoned at birth and who was eventually adopted. Now the adult wants to find the unknown biological parent, to know something about that parent, to maybe have some answers that can bring peace to a fragile and wounded self-identity, perhaps even have some measure of reconciliation. Should one encourage a person to begin that journey of seeking?  And when the decision to undertake the journey is firm, how does one prepare someone for such a journey of seeking?  As some Titus 2 students and I were talking about yesterday perhaps the best way is to move forward with an attitude that “hopes for the best, but is prepared for the worst.”   Accepting an unwanted gift is much easier to do when the expectations are properly set, when the “worst” case scenario is known and prepared for.

Past experience with some people conditions us to expect the worst, so that we are pleasantly surprised when their gifts are good and disappointments can be managed in the light of considering the source when they are not.  And with some people one may have so much history of good gifts, that an occasional one that seems hastily given or thoughtless is easily simply set aside and overlooked.  Sometimes, however, one is simply surprised, left questioning both the gift and the giver.  It can be hard to experience such “gifts”.


Accepting a Gift You Never Wanted    by Jennifer Rothschild       

I vividly remember the night before Christmas when I was nine years old.   One of our family traditions was that each child got to open one gift on Christmas Eve.

Each year, my brothers and I spent most of the month deciding which gift that would be. We began our research in early December, and as each gift appeared beneath the tree, we carefully examined it, checking the weight and shape of each box, looking for clues to what was inside. As you can imagine, by Christmas Eve the gift we had chosen to open had become the most coveted one under the tree.

That year my brother, Lawson, and I both chose a gift from Aunt Patti. (Our brother David was a baby and still too young to care.) Aunt Patti was young and hip. She knew what kinds of presents kids liked, and now she joined my parents on the couch to watch the events unfold.

Lawson went first.  He carefully removed the wrappings — and there was a brand new GI Joe action figure! It had been on his list, so, boy, was he excited!

I was excited, too, because it confirmed my hopeful suspicion that my gift from Aunt Patti was the number one thing on my wish list — a Barbie doll.
My gift was in a rectangular-shaped box. It wasn’t the traditional box that a Barbie doll came in, but I was convinced that Aunt Patti was just trying to fool me. I pulled off the narrow rectangular top, peeled back the tissue paper… and there were seven pairs of neatly rolled underwear.

Underwear!   I wanted a Barbie doll, not underwear!  I didn’t even care if I wore underwear.

My mother obviously noticed my disappointment because without hesitation, she said, “Jennifer, what do you say to Aunt Patti?”    “Thank you,” I said.

Now, why did I say thank you for a gift that I hadn’t asked for and, obviously, didn’t want?

Because from as early as I could remember, my mother had taught me that I was always to receive whatever anyone gave me and say thank you for it. She had instilled in me how important it is to always honor the giver by gratefully receiving the gift.

So, one reason for saying thank you was to honor Aunt Patti.

Another was that it was my mother’s will… and I knew that I would be a lot happier if I obeyed her!

Being thankful in all circumstances shows that we’re acting in accordance with the will of God — who always gives us what is best for us.

One reason many people struggle with bitterness and ungratefulness is that…they’ve never learned to receive difficult gifts.

Blindness is just one of many such gifts. Illness, broken relationships, wayward children, and financial strain can be very hard to receive… much less be thankful for.

But the interesting thing is that God expects us to be thankful anyway. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” the apostle Paul reminds us, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Often, we struggle with an attitude of ungratefulness because our eyes are fixed so fiercely on the gift.
Some things that God allows to come into our lives are genuinely hard to be thankful for. But, if we fix our eyes on God, we can see beyond the difficulty of the gift into the heart of the Giver.

Regardless of whether we asked for it, or want it, it’s a gift of God’s grace and our response should always be to receive it with thankfulness.

Faith is the most essential ingredient for gratefully receiving whatever God lovingly allows. And, faith can also be the greatest source of blessing in our lives when we learn to look at our lives from the right perspective.

Is your response to difficult gifts based on your feelings about the gift itself, or on your desire to honor the Giver and do His will?

Is your closed fist extended in anger, or is your open hand lifted to Him in praise?

Only an open hand receives the blessings that accompany difficult gifts, and sometimes it’s only in a package wrapped in heartache that we receive the fullness of God’s grace.

Question: What gift has been difficult for you to be thankful for?