NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Written by Jessica Ponder on May 23, 2013
What Makes a Good Gift?
Everyone loves getting a good gift, me included. They don’t have to be big. In fact, many of my favorite gifts have been the small-but-thoughtful ones: a surprise dessert just because, a card in my car on a hard day, an offer to walk when I’m getting cabin fever, a knitted hat, blueberries and ginger ale after I had my son, a favorite homecooked meal, having my bathrooms cleaned, a chair redone, the laundry folded, a gift card to get a pedicure, a timely word of encouragement.
I also adore giving gifts. I like thinking about people and taking notes on the things that they like in order to give them gifts they will really enjoy. Some of my favorite gifts to give are: movie tickets, candy boxes from For the Love of Chocolate (if you don’t live in Richmond, then you’re missing out!), and homemade cookies.
What makes these gifts wonderful is not their cost, for many of them inexpensive to buy or easy to make. No, what makes a gift wonderful is the spirit with which it is given. It is the love of the gift-giver that makes a gift so special to the one who receives it.
In, nothing is uglier than a begrudging giver. We’ve all experienced this before. Someone gives you a gift, but you feel like it came with strings attached. Perhaps there are some stipulations with the gift, or maybe the person gives you the indication that you ought to pay them back. This can even happen when the gift-giver simply expects or feels entitled to be “repaid” with a compliment, a display of affection, or a thank-you card.
Sometimes the guilt and manipulation can be laid on so thick that you wished they hadn’t given you a gift in the first place. Those are not just bad gifts. By definition, those aren’t gifts at all.
Confessions of a Selfish Gift-Giver
Having a young baby has also made me realize how often I serve or give the gift of my time and effort in order to get something in return. Babies, as sweet as they are, cannot thank you or repay you for changed diapers, midnight feedings, and endless laundry. They aren’t supposed to.
But God has used my son to show me how often I am a begrudging giver to my friends and family. I labor with great sacrifice and expect something in return. Instead of choosing to give without expecting anything back, I demand a thank-you for cleaning the baseboards, making a special meal, or changing the baby’s diaper for the fifth time in an hour (not that my husband is ungrateful for these things, but there’s something wrong if I feel the need to announce them in the hopes that he will take notice).
Likewise, it is enslaving to our friends and family to serve them and give them gifts and demand something in return, whether that be a thank you, recognition, another favor done for us, (you know what to insert here). If we are demanding something back, who are we really serving here?
The answer can only be ourselves.
My flashing eyes and quick tongue betray my real motivation in gift-giving. Many times, I’m not giving anything at all. I’m demanding a transaction. I’ve struggled with this a lot recently as we learn to be a family of three. The Holy Spirit constantly exposes the selfishness of my own heart. My heart says when will I get to _________ ? (There are endless things that could be put in this blank.) What about me?
I fail to believe that giving and serving others really is better than looking out for myself, even though the Scriptures say that this is true: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
Here are some questions that I think are important in exposing sin in this area:
- Are you asking for approval, recognition, acceptance, pity, sympathy in return for things that God has given you to do joyfully?
- Are you busying yourself with tasks and demanding that others notice how important you are?
- Would you still have given the gift or done the task even if no one noticed or thanked you?
The Secret to Giving Gifts Joyfully
By giving us the free gift of grace in Jesus, God has freed us from selfishness and empowered us to serve others and give things with no strings attached. His grace to us is not dependent upon our earning it or paying him back for it. We could never do that if we tried. Thus the more we understand and appreciate the grace we have been given, the more we will stop demanding things in return from others. God’s grace frees us to give joyfully to our friends and families.
That is the “secret” to giving gifts joyfully. We must see that what we have been given in Jesus is better than anything that we could receive from others in return. We have no need, therefore, to demand that they give us something as payback for our effort, our time, or whatever cost our gift may carry with it. We can give with no strings attached, because we have already received the greatest gift imaginable in Jesus. Let’s take a moment to remember that precious gift of God’s grace.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom. 3:23-24)
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Cor. 2:12)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to one (so far). She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time.