Janie Cheaney: Gift-giving and gratitude

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 31st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The Bible says, give thanks in all circumstances. Janie B. Cheaney now on gift giving and returning thanks.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Christmas is not far off. Are you sounding out friends and loved ones on what they might like as a gift? I’m thinking about it already. By November I’m usually researching possible presents and setting aside money to pay for them. Sometimes I even make something. By mid-December all the shopping is done and purchases made; I’m wrapping, labeling, and sending.

And, more often than not, I get no word in reply.

That sounds like a whiny old grandma talking, but it’s not just me. Here’s what I’m seeing too much of, even among solid, vibrant Christian young people—and people moving toward middle age as well—gifts may be received with thanks, but the receiver doesn’t take time to let the giver know.

Sometimes I break down and ask, did you get the present I sent? Packages do get lost, or emails bearing gift cards get buried. Usually the answer is, Oh yes! Sorry, it slipped my mind. Thanks!

Now, I myself have forgotten to write that note or make that call, so I shouldn’t be pointing fingers. But I see my carelessness as a fault, whereas I’m not sure everybody does. That leads to a question: does the giving of a gift, which takes an investment in time and money and (sometimes) presentation—deserve thanks? Do I deserve thanks, as the giver?

My Calvinist daemon shakes its head no; dangerous territory, to think I deserve anything. My natural self urges yes. Maybe there’s a compromise: I don’t deserve thanks. But… 

Am I owed it? Like I would be owed a paycheck for contracted work? But gift-giving isn’t contracted; just the opposite. It’s supposed to be without obligation.

So, do I need it? Maybe closer to the truth, but not quite true. I would like to know if the gift arrived and that it was appreciated. But I’ll survive either way.

Should I expect it? Well… maybe, but expecting anything still sounds like strings attached: I do this for you, you’d better do something in return. And don’t you hate it when people feel like they have to pay you back something of equal value whenever you do anything for them? So expectation doesn’t quite fit either.

Maybe it’s like this: a gift isn’t complete unless it’s received and acknowledged. It’s still a gift, because of the giver, but something needs to come back to the giver for the circle to be closed. A work of art is unfulfilled without an audience, and an act of mercy must be received—preferably with gratitude—for art or mercy to be fulfilled. 

“It’s the thought that counts” works both ways.

Yes, we get busy and forgetful. But I wonder if thank-yous are even a thing today. Do our lives move too fast for proper giving and receiving? If so, our lives move too fast, period.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


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