By Carra Hughes Greer
I was 13. While my friends were ecstatic about all the new clothes and other stuff they would be getting for Christmas, I was facing the very real fact that we would not be exchanging any gifts in my family that season. My dad had just gone through a year of chemotherapy and several months of radiation; strained finances because of his illness and the loss of his job meant we did not have money to spend on gifts. Christmas would be different that year.
Christians are constantly reminded that Christmas isn’t all about gifts. And I agree; it’s not all about gifts — but oh, how much joy it brings parents to see the expressions on the children’s faces on Christmas morning as they tear into all the presents! Not expensive gifts necessarily — just simple, thoughtful gifts. I know it must have hurt my parents’ hearts so much to think about a Christmas void of the memories of our faces as we held our new clothes or listened to our new portable CD players. Plus, a tree looks a little odd with no gifts underneath. The empty space was a reminder of our situation, the heartache of the year and the isolation we felt.
I was not sad. I’m not quite sure where my strength came from. Our family was so overcome with joy when we discovered a week or so before Christmas that my dad’s cancer was gone that the empty space under our tree really didn’t matter. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “The emptier our hands, the better we understand.” His statement was true for me. My hands weren’t all caught up in the “gimme!” of Christmas, so my heart had a whole lot more time to ponder the gift we were given — health.
A few days before Christmas, my parents received a small, white envelope from one of the ministers at our church. With tears of joy, appreciation and humility, my parents shared with us kids the news that an anonymous gift of $500 was given to us by friends at church so that we could celebrate Christmas. It was a lesson in true giving that I will not forget.
Christmas is not about the gift; it is about giving and receiving. It is about giving back to someone what hard times, financial strain, or illness has stolen from them. It is about giving an individual back his or her dignity. It is about restoring someone’s hope in the midst of what seems like a hopeless situation.
It is also about receiving. It is about learning to humble oneself enough to accept a much needed gift. For some of us, it is recognizing there is deep hurt in our lives, and admitting we need the gift of hope, prayer, friendship, financial assistance or community.
It is about recognizing the empty spots in our souls — empty spots created from our need to push people away and covet isolation. It is allowing these empty spots to be filled by the love and concern and friendship of others.
My empty hands taught me to be thankful for such meaningful gifts I once overlooked as our health, our love for one another, our laughter and our church family. What gifts are you so blessed to have received this year?