There is no such thing as a free lunch.
I don’t know about you, but I have trouble giving gifts. I have even more trouble receiving gifts. I’ve heard that gift giving at Christmas is supposed to represent the gifts the Magi brought the Christ child, but somehow we seem to have skewed this gift giving thing. I feel stressed every year by the expectations and obligations – what did who give me last year and I need to make sure I give something of equal value and did I send a thank you note to so-and-so and will so-and-so be upset at me if I didn’t and oh, this other person gave me a gift but I haven’t bought anything for them and . . . what if nobody likes or appreciates the gifts I got for them?
Okay, I’m over-dramatizing, but maybe not by much. Do you ever feel any of this at Christmas?
Then the philosophical part of me kicks in. What should be our attitude toward gift giving at Christmas or any other time? When I discovered Miroslav Volf’s book, Free of Charge, it was truly liberating. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book on the theology of giving.
Volf’s book has helped me appreciate how lavish God’s gifts truly are. According to Volf, there are three kinds of people: takers, getters and givers. A thief best describes a taker – he takes what is not his and what is not offered to him. A getter is like an employee or a shopper. They will give in order to get something in return. I give the services of my work in order to get a paycheck. I give money to a store so I can get a bike. The giver gives favors that they don’t owe and that the recipient doesn’t deserve. Only in the giver mode can we give generously.
Ah ha, I thought. That’s why I have so much difficulty with gift giving at Christmas. It is so often based on an exchange mentality, even if what we expect in return is nothing more than an appreciative thank you or a thank you note.
The best kind of giving is God’s way – generous, one-way, no expectations. That’s why it brings the giver and the receiver so much joy.
In later chapters, Volf applies this to the concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness in and of itself is lavish generosity. We forgive the wrong even though the person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. No one can demand forgiveness because they don’t deserve it. The forgiver sacrifices their right to revenge in order to give the gift of forgiveness.
Heavy thoughts, huh? I warn you, this is not a light reading book! Even though the words are simple, the thoughts are big. I can’t read more than a few pages at a time before I have to stop and allow my soul to digest and process. Even as I write this blog, I’m not done with the book yet. But it is so worth reading. I have a whole new appreciation for God’s generosity toward me, that not only has He given me forgiveness, but much more that I do not deserve nor could I ever pay back.
The apostle John expressed it well when he said:
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!” – 1 Jn 3:1
No wonder I feel a tension over gift giving at Christmas. I’m longing to experience the kind of selfless, no strings attached giving that my Lord extended to me. You know what? I’m ok with that now. Even though gift giving at Christmas is a poor facsimile of God’s gift to me, I can at least reflect on His indescribable gift and make a human attempt to pay it forward by gifting at least one person, expecting nothing in return. I can relax about receiving gifts, seeing them as a reflection of the way my Father gives to me all the time instead of feeling obligated to give in return or guilty that my gift is not as grand.
I chewed on this question: When do I most enjoy gift giving? The answer? When I give a gift that is not reciprocal – the person hasn’t done anything for me before and I’m not expecting anything in return. The joy of giving free of charge to someone I love or who has a need I can meet is worth the sacrifice of the gift. The next question is this: can I receive just as joyously?
Whoever said that line about no such thing as a free lunch has it wrong. God gives us free lunches, free salvation, free everything all the time. He gives it to us whether or not we say thank you. But He sure does like it when we do!
There are lots more nuggets of wisdom in this wonderful book. I’m reading Free of Charge on my Kindle, but you can order it either in Kindle format or in papaerback on Amazon.