Whatever else you do this Christmas, you are very likely to give or receive a gift. How often have you heard political leaders announce that all foreign aid is in our national self-interest? Can you imagine what your world would be like if you announced to your family and friends that you only give gifts which are in your own self-interest?
Yet the shadow side of giving is just that. There is a toxic possibility hidden in the process of generosity.
May I invite you to unwrap the shadow side of giving? I suggest it has several components to it.
The first is to do with power. Somehow, as a giver, you want to place the receiver in a position of weakness, contrasting with the elevation of your own power.
Closely connected, then, is manipulation. You can give in a way which reduces the receiver’s choices and manipulates them into a position of attitude or gratitude to you which they do not want. This debt of gratitude is one you will want to call on whenever you choose, creating a sense of dependence and inferiority in your receivers.
The giving can become an act of buying friendship, power, or influence. Whatever the varied components, the net result is that giving becomes more about what you can get than pass on. It is more about what you acquire than release. In summary, the shadow side of your giving is receiving. You give to receive.
Underneath this giving is a dissociation. Giving is not from the heart, it is to hide your heart. Giving is not of your heart, it is of anything but your heart. It makes no difference how much such gifts cost, they become heartless.
Of course, in yours and my imperfect word, your giving will come in all shades of light and dark, making it almost impossible to give in an absolutely altruistic way.
I want to invite you to explore a related aspect of giving. Let your mind wander with me. Just suppose for a moment that you had in your power, the ability to give the gift of a cup, which carried within it a lifetime’s supply of everything the receiver needed. Suppose you held exclusive ownership rights over that cup. In our imaginary scenario, you alone could source this cup, and only you could give it. No-one could buy it. No-one could copy it or reproduce it. You, and you alone can supply.
Stay with me and humor me for a moment. Supposing you and you alone could manufacture these cups and produce a supply of them. No-one could re-gift them or pass them on, they had to come direct from you.
Your approach to this elevated position, you decide, is to make your amazing cups freely available to anyone who wanted one. Without your cup in their hands, people would die, so you make an infinite supply available, free of charge.
As I bring my little Christmas story to a close, suppose you now find yourself being criticized in the press for the way you handled the cups. You are accused of forcing people to come to you for their supplies. You are blasted for creating a market dependent on you. Most of all, the press is furious that without your cups, people die. How would you feel? How do you see it?
As I now finish with this shadow side of giving, may I invite you to reflect on the comments circulating in the “atheistic press”?
“Your Christian God makes his offers but threatens death”. “Your Christian God does not give unconditionally, but demands more than he gives”. “No thank you to your offers, they disgust me”. That’s how they see it.
In my story and in these words, you will find the way out of the shadows of toxic Christmas giving, or any other giving.
God, in Christ, comes as the Christmas cup-bearer, offering eternal life freely to any who ask. He explains what is obvious: you’re all dying, so choose life.
This is Christmas. How do you see it? How do they see it? How does He see it?
I know that I see a model of giving, free from all toxicity and shadows.
What else can God give that is bigger than himself? Of course he’s the only supplier, manufacturer and multiplier. Of course he warns you of danger. Of course he is the sole supplier of eternal life. If you have such a gift, and you make it freely available to all, what else can you do? The Christmas baby has brought the gift of life to us all.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
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