Have you ever given a gift only to later regret it because you felt the recipient wasn’t gracious or thankful?
I have. And I’ve been on the receiving end of this, too. Someone once shared with me that they felt my kids weren’t thankful for gifts they had received and although it was hard to hear I knew it was true. And I owned it. I shared that it was my responsibility as a parent to instill gratitude in my boys and teach them how to express thankfulness. Kids are not naturally inclined that way, we have to lead them.
Sometimes our expectations don’t match up with someone else’s behavior. We might expect a certain expression or hope for some kind and generous words. We may look for a note in the mail or a text telling us how much someone enjoyed a gift. When we don’t get these things, disappointment settles in.
When I was a little girl, I loved playing with Star Wars action figures with my cousin who was six months younger than me. We would take them outside and embark on hours of adventures through rocky terrain, then bring them indoors for a showdown behind cardboard boxes under my grandma’s dining room table. We had an extensive collection of cast members but were always trying to expand it with new and rare finds.
One year for my birthday I submitted a wish list of new figurines to my grandma. I think there were maybe three that made the cut and I was sure she could track them down because she’s a grandma and she knew how to sniff out the gifts.
When I unwrapped my present that year, I discovered a small wind-up doll with a key that allowed her to walk. I’m embarrassed to say that I cried when I got it. I was young, immature and visibly disappointed. My grandma felt bad which in turn made me feel bad. I think my mom had me apologize to her and I learned a valuable lesson…not to get my mind so set on something that I wouldn’t be willing to embrace a different something.
Now that my grandparents have passed away, that doll is one of the most treasured gifts I have from them. And those action figures are long gone but I know exactly where that doll is. It will always have a special place in my heart and in my home.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been there, in that space of giving something that we are excited about but the other person views it as a disappointment or it doesn’t seem to mean as much to them.
And I think this sometimes happens in relationships…in our friendships, in our family dynamics. Things can sometimes feel off balanced like one party is contributing more than another, leaving a feeling of imbalance.
One thing I’ve contemplated over the years is that God asks this of us: to love one another as He has loved us. To me that means unconditional, undeserving love. This is the kind of love that keeps no record of wrong. Love that surpasses all understanding. The “turn the other cheek” kind of love.
And honestly, this kind of love is hard to give because it requires us to present it from a place of selflessness and empathy. We don’t always have what it takes to give this kind of love…our hearts are not always in the right place. No one likes to feel that they are being taken advantage of, and no one likes to feel that someone is taking more than they give or that they don’t appreciate what has been given. And yet, through all of this, God asks us to love.
Many years ago after I felt I had given something in a friendship that wasn’t reciprocated, I sensed God saying this to me, “Give what you can out of love.” He also gave me a mental visual to give it meaning. It was a picture of me hesitantly raising my arm and then reaching out just a little bit to touch the shoulder of the other person as a gesture of kindness.
This was a game changer for me. I had always tried to understand how we could love everyone the same and I’m not even sure where that idea came from. God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and I think He’s referring to the heart behind the love that’s given. I believe it’s the idea of giving authentic love out of a sincere place in our hearts. It’s making an effort to sincerely love someone, even if we only have a little love to give.
The first fall after my divorce I was walking over a hill to find a place to sit for my younger son’s football game and I noticed my former mother-in-law sitting at the field, waiting for the game to begin. I instantly felt sick—not because she was there—but because MY heart was ugly and shameful and full of discomfort. You know that feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin with nowhere to go to get away from yourself. Everywhere you go there you are…
I stopped abruptly attempting to make a plan, but there was no way to avoid the inevitable. She spotted me and I said a curt, “hello,” and surveyed the field for a different place to sit. But guess what? God had other plans. “Go and say hello,” I heard Him whisper to my heart.
When God nudges, you can fight it as much as you want but ultimately, you either listen or you don’t. After throwing a mini internal temper tantrum (thankfully it only lasted a few seconds), I went over to her and said, “Let me give you a proper hello.” And then I hugged her.
She asked me to sit by her so I parked my chair right next to hers. And boy, was I squirming in my seat and I’m guessing she was, too. That was a very loving thing she did to ask me to join her.
A short while later my former father-in-law came up behind us and I turned around and said, “hi.” Again, God’s quiet voice whispered in my heart, “Go give him a proper hello.” Another opportunity to give what I could out of love. So I got up and hugged him.
My former mother-in-law and I talked. My heart hurt for her as she shared that her brother had recently passed away. She kept things relatively light and as we talked I felt I was able to genuinely engage. Soon she left for one of her other grandson’s games and my former father-in-law sat down. We talked and caught up.
I don’t remember who won on the field that day, but I felt we had a huge victory on the sidelines. I said my good-byes, loaded up my car and sat in the driver’s seat for a few minutes. I felt completely emotionally exhausted. I went home and climbed in bed.
As I laid in the dark I reflected on this day where I had found sincere love that I was comfortable giving. At first it was just a reach-out to say a quick hello, and then a little more effort into a hug. Finally, we sat and engaged, spending time together as we once had when we were family. It was love given cautiously but without reserve…not only on my part, but also on theirs.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.