How to Give When Giving Is Hard

How to Give

From the day my youngest daughter was born, I knew she was strong-willed (ask me to tell you that story another day). As a toddler Olivia’s first multi-word sentence was “I do it!” with strong emphasis on the “I”. Â  Even now, at nearly 8, she might answer me by saying, “I’ll do it, but I don’t want to!”

Gift-Giving Dissonance

That attitude – the one that can be sitting in time out, but standing up on the inside – that is what I want to talk about today. It’s called dissonance.

It’s when we act one way, but believe something different. It creates a stressful internal conflict. I think that this time of year, especially as we give gifts, we often experience this uncomfortable feeling.

Consider these very real dissonance-creating possibilities:

  • You buy your teenager some clothing and an mp3 album that you feel is inappropriate, yet you know she really wants it so you oblige.
  • You drew your cousin’s name for the family gift exchange. You felt judged by your cousin a few years back when you were going through your divorce. It’s hard to spend your hard-earned money on him.
  • You don’t have enough money to buy what you’d really like for your son. You get him something, but it feels like second fiddle to what you really desired.

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which you physically  give a gift, but your heart isn’t in it.

Resolve It

Friend, this is the year when you resolve the dissonance. You don’t simply push through it.

When you feel that scratchy-on-the-inside sense that something is off-kilter, you acknowledge it. You see it as a warning light that indicates your need to make a change. Then, you make a change (or two).  You’ve got two possibilities for change:

  1. Change your own attitude, or
  2. Change your own behavior.

Sufficiently adjust either one and your stress will dramatically decrease.

Attitude Shift

Going back to the scenarios I mentioned above, if you shifted your attitude, the result might look like this (although it may look a million other ways, too):

  • You rethink your objections to your daughter’s clothing and music, then realize that they were an overreaction. You can be comfortable with her preferences.
  • It’s been four  years. It’s time to genuinely forgive your cousin so that you can move on.
  • Enough of calling your gift “second fiddle.” It’s not. It’s your very best and you embrace it as such.

Behavioral Shift

Maybe you decide it’s best for you to change your behavior. That’s fine and it could work out like this:

  • You don’t get your teenager the clothing and music you disagree with, even if she’s disappointed. Instead, you buy something that your heart can get behind.
  • You swap names with your brother, since he got your other cousin and is stumped on a gift idea for her. Your brother buys for the cousin whose name you initially drew.
  • Instead of settling for second-best, you go a totally different route and give your son a family heirloom that has deep significance for your family.

I want you to see that you have the ability to resolve your internal gift-giving struggles. You can do it.

I can promise you this: If you go beyond the act of gift-giving to a place where your giving is fully backed with a gracious attitude, then you’ll have a truly joyful Christmas.

Your turn: I know it’s personal, but feel free to share any struggles you’re having with gift giving in the comments below. (You don’t have to leave your real name.)