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(photo by Eugene Zhyvchik, Unsplash)

Every year former priest and therapist, John Cade, offered his clients what he referred to as his “Christmas homily.” It was a timely reminder that there are three kinds of “gifts” we can give at the holiday season. He described them as:

  • Having gifts _ Things we can buy or touch or wrap and give to someone;
  • Doing gifts _ Activities we can share with others like shopping for a special gift for our mom or driving to see Christmas lights or baking special cookies;
  • Being gifts _ A special, intentional mental state which we offer like patience, or being rested, or being engaged in the family activities in a willing way.

John always made the point to say that Being gifts are the ones we remember longest, the ones which touch our hearts the most deeply. And yet, in many families, our attention and energy and money go mostly to the first two categories.

I invite you to join me in my annual tradition (thank you, John) of taking a gift tag, sitting quietly and asking myself what I really want from each family member. Then I consider what they may want, really want, from me. It might sound something like this:

A number of years ago when I had two preschool kids and my elderly mom was living with us, I was expecting my college-age son home for the holidays. Our house was filled with happy, festive chaos. A few days before Christmas, during my quiet time, I got my gift tags and sat meditatively, allowing the din to fall away for a few moments, thinking deeply about what might mean the most to me that holiday. Sadly, it occurred to me that this might be one of my mother’s last holidays…she was frail. And I almost missed that my grown son might get shunted to the sidelines in the prattle of Santa’s visit and cookies and large family dinners.

How had he been, I wondered. Was he making new pals where he was? Did he feel successful in his college work? I realized that what I really wanted was a few quiet minutes for just the two of us to genuinely connect. I wrote that on my gift tag and tucked it away, along with others.

The coming days were as I’d expected. Up early, dragging tired until all hours of the night. Is there such a thing as too much fun? After Christmas Eve dinner for fifteen, followed by Candlelight Service, when at last we’d wrangled the little kids into bed, the piles of dirty dishes loomed in the kitchen. It was well past midnight when I put on my rubber gloves just as my grown son came into the kitchen to help. We threw out trash, tossed napkins into the laundry, put away leftovers and washed and dried dishes. No one interrupted us as we stood side by side. Carols drifted over us as we talked and talked and talked. It was only as I prepared the coffee pot for the following morning’s early Santa stocking activities that I realized: I had received the “gift” I had expressly hoped for….the cherished one-on-one time to talk with my son.

Decades later I have come to trust that right before Christmas, I need to turn down the chaos, go inward and identify the gift I really hope for. Only then is there any chance I might actually GET it.

Is there a BEING GIFT you’d really like? Write it down. Look for it.
You may be surprised when is shows up even if it isn’t wrapped under the tree.

Blessings to your family this holiday season.