Last month, I participated in 29 Gifts, a challenge started by Cami Walker who published a book by the same name. Each day for 29 days, I gave a gift to someone. Nothing major. Sometimes just kindness or a phone call. I was to give mindfully and with love, with no resentment or expectation. I was also to reflect at the end of each day what I had received in return.
What I learned from the process was that giving was easy and a natural part of my life. I’m a worrier when it comes to others. I feel the need to take care of people; to lift them up when necessary and keep everyone around me healthy and happy. I think I’ve had the mothering instinct long before I had children.
There were only 2 days when I realized I had not given out a specific gift, but several days when I gave out more than one. My most cherished day was writing a letter to my childhood friend’s father who was battling cancer. He lost his battle one week after receiving the letter. While his death still saddens me, on the day of his funeral I was given an entire afternoon with my sister who also attended. It was rare time together where we could simply talk and catch up.
In fact, I wrote a lot of letters. I realized that putting your thoughts of love and encouragement into writing becomes a timeless gift that can be cherished again and again. I still believe that saying what you feel is more important, but writing it down is a close second.
I also became more mindful of the small gifts that I was receiving: cookies in my mailbox from a neighbor, kindness from a stranger in a parking lot when my car died, and even a check from the library who admitted that they had actually found a long lost book that I had been forced to pay for.
What was shocking, I guess, is that I rarely put myself in the position to receive.
I often say no to invitations or brush off my desire to attend certain events if I think it might inconvenience my family or myself. I rarely speak up for what I desire. My real challenge during these 29 days was to say YES to life.
I forced myself to schedule time with friends. I bought tickets to hear one of my heroes, Michael Pollan, speak – even though I didn’t have a babysitter or someone to attend with me. And much to my surprise, it all worked out. I found two friends to sit with me and finally – finally – asked for something that would seem trivial to a more extroverted person. I asked Mr. Pollan for a photograph and had a short but delightful conversation with him.
Right now many of us are busy buying gifts for Christmas or perhaps you just finished Hanukkah celebrations. It clearly is the time of year when gifts are front and center in our lives. During the course of 29 Gifts, I was encouraged to give with love, joy, remembrance, abundance and gratitude. I like to think of all five attributes as simply giving mindfully.
I encourage everyone this season to really think about the essence of giving and receiving. Perhaps a store-bought gift is not appropriate this year for everyone on your list. Even small children can appreciate time spent with you as more important than any toy.
So, is it better to give than to receive? Here’s a better answer than any I could give:
“Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” Luke 6:38
Grace and Peace.