Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On Gift-Giving

As you may or may not know, my birthday was a few weeks ago. I spent most of it driving in a snowstorm, then staying up until about 2 in the morning. On the upside, I did get to talk to an extremely cool staff member from camp last summer and spend some quality time with some of my awesome kids from church, so it really wasn't too bad.

One thing that was difficult about it wasn't anything that actually happened on my birthday exactly, but one of the presents I received a few weeks in advance. Since January, we've been working through the entire series of The West Wing. I own Season 1, so it wasn't too much of a problem until we got to the end of the season and, if you know anything about the way the finale ended, you just can't stop there: you have to watch the next season premiere. Of course, once you rent the next disc to watch the next few episodes, you can't stop there either, and get sucked into watching the rest of the Season 2. Phew. It would be wise to point out now that the show went on for seven seasons.

.....yeah. So we rented the first three and a half seasons from the rental place, which wasn't too bad because we got some two-for-one deals sometimes, other discounts, etc. Sure, it was going to be expensive to watch the rest of the series (especially because they went all cheap on us in Season 3 and started using single-sided discs, so you have to rent twice as many to finish the season.... dirtbags), but hey, what are you going to do? Buy the whole series? Yeah, right, it's like $200 on Amazon. It'd be only a fraction of that to rent it, and there aren't any other options, so... ::shrug:: that's the breaks.

Until one night when we finished up a Season 4 disc and needed to run to the store to grab another. That's when an early birthday present is given to me: The West Wing - The Complete Series Collection. It's even in a little briefing case, with the Seal of the President embossed on the front.

I couldn't believe it, I was so humbled. This was expensive, this was... it was completely unnecessary. It was more than I needed or deserved. It... it was nice gesture, but I couldn't accept it. It was too much. They shouldn't have, really.... really, they shouldn't have. But "no" wasn't taken as an answer. It was given as a gift, they wanted me to have it. They were so enamored with finishing the series as well that they admitted it was kind of a selfish gift, that they wanted me to have it as much as they knew that I'd like to have it. And, as they pointed out: what does cost matter? This is what they were giving to me, this is what they wanted me to have; what does its cost matter?

...::sigh::... they had me. It doesn't help that I had just been listening to a series of podcasts from North Point Community Church called "Choosing Christmas," which revolved around the problems of accepting a gift that didn't seem to be genuine, that seemed too good to be true. The gist of the message was that we all have trouble accepting gifts, because we never want to feel like we "owe" someone, even if we might need help. In our lives, we might not want to accept the gift of Jesus Christ because we're too proud: we want to feel like we can do it ourselves, that we don't need saving. We don't want to feel like we "owe" God something.

....the problem is, a gift isn't meant to cause any sort of guilting at all. It's a gift- free of cost to you and absolutely free of strings. After all, what good is a gift if you put conditions on it? No, a gift is given by someone who truly cares for you, who wants what's best for you, regardless of the price they may have to pay for it.

There's a song that I've been thinking of recently, "Above All." I have it on tape somewhere, and I used to listen to it on my way back and forth from my student teaching. I'm not sure why it's been in my head, but the chorus is pretty poignant:
Crucified, laid behind a stone
You lived to die, rejected and alone
Like a rose trampled on the ground,
You took the fall and thought of me
Above all

Christ, as He was being crucified, was thinking of us above all else. Why was the gift given to us? Because God loved us so much, He couldn't help but give it. Was it a high price? Absolutely. Do we deserve it? Absolutely not. I didn't deserve to get the entire West Wing series either. But that didn't matter. What mattered was that the gift-giver wanted to give it.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)