1. Give with open eyes and a willing heart.
Not only do children see opportunities to give, but they seize opportunities to give. I’ll never forget that day in Pike Place Market when my daughter walked by the disabled homeless man in a dingy pink cast. She stopped in her tracks and said, “I feel like I need to give that man some money.” So she did. She didn’t concern herself with the fact he was missing a leg, that there was no money cup next to his wheelchair, or that it was her last $5 bill … she just walked straight up, looked him in the eye, and offered her blessings.
This season, don’t walk by despair; if your heart tells you to stop, then do it. Look for the overlooked, the underappreciated, and the easily forgotten and then show them you see them—show them they matter.
2. Give with no reservations and no hesitation
Have you ever noticed children cannot wait to give their gift? It never fails. Each year, my daughters go to their school holiday shop armed with a few dollars to pick out family gifts. But alas, they never can wait until December 25th. I must open the gift now. And because the best part of the gift is the expression on her face as I rave about what she chose for me, I oblige.
This season, who says you have to wait until the proper day, a grand occasion, or the perfect moment to express how you feel about someone? If you wish to bestow a gift of love on another person perhaps there is no better time than the present.
3. Give with no hidden agenda and no expectations
Children give because they want to express their love and appreciation – not because they feel like they have to or expect something in return. I’ll never forget when my daughters set Easter baskets out for the trash collector and mail carrier.
As soon as they got home from school they scoured the area like professional detectives. When they squealed with delight, I thought perhaps something had been left for them. But I was wrong. When my oldest child called out, “Yep! They got ‘em!” I realized they were expressing happiness solely because their gift had been received.
Truth be told, that is the day I stopped looking for my thank you note or reciprocated favor when I helped someone or gave a gift. My children showed me that one of the greatest joys in life comes from giving with no strings attached.
This season, focus on the true spirit of giving: bringing happiness to another human. Period. After all, exhibiting love and kindness toward someone else without expecting anything in return is a generous and content way to live.
4. Give what you can
Children give what they have – it may cost money or it may not. It may have lovely wrapping; it may not. Children don’t get caught up in how a gift looks or its price or whether it is “good enough.” I thought of this fact recently when I was at a rest stop that had a bathroom attendant. Although it was late and she’d probably been on her feet all day, she was making those sinks shine like diamonds and offered a warm smile to every weary traveler who entered.
Before exiting my stall, I suddenly felt compelled to look inside my wallet. I found a crumbled $10 bill and a few singles. Normally I would have thought that was not enough to make a difference and walked out. But when I thought of our children holding their precious hands open with whatever they have to give – be it a penny, a rock, or a paper heart – I was inspired to give what I had. After drying my hands, I held out the wad of bills and said, “I wish I had more.” With eyes that glimmered with happy tears the woman whispered, “This is more than enough. More than enough.”
This season, remember that it is often the mere gesture, the thought, the effort – not the actual gift itself – that makes a profound impact on a person in need of a little kindness.
I’ve often said that living “Hands Free” may require making choices that don’t align with the values and standards of mainstream society. But eventually there is confirmation for these unconventional choices—confirmation that these choices are in deed bringing us closer to the meaningful life we are striving to live. Well, as I drafted this post, I received such confirmation to embrace this child-like, heartfelt way of giving.
My daughter’s best friend became suddenly ill with the flu. Within minutes of hearing the news, a card was made by my daughter and a bracelet from her drawer was lovingly wrapped. Briefly relapsing into my old ways, I felt slightly relieved that the price tag was still on the bracelet. But I was quickly reminded that the price tag meant nothing.
The next day, the child’s mother told me how much my daughter’s gift meant to her daughter. And when the mother recounted what her child said, I could not hold back my tears.
With sincerity her daughter said: “I bet a lot of people heard I was sick. And after they said, ‘That’s too bad,’ they just went on with their life. But not Natalie. She stopped what she was doing to show me she cared about me. She is the best friend anyone could have.”
Which brings us to guideline #5, and possibly the most important one on the list.
5. Give when the rest of the world keeps on going
As my daughter’s friend and all our children show us on a daily basis, our most precious gift is when we stop in the midst of our busy lives and give a piece of ourselves … our attention, a listening ear, a lingering embrace, a word of encouragement, meaningful eye contact, snuggles in bed, one-on-one time, or a helping hand.
In order to give our most precious commodity – the gift of ourselves – we must let go of all that distracts us from what truly matters.
Perhaps the perfect gift is not in the getting, but rather in the letting go.
This season, rather than spending hours at the mall shopping for the “perfect gift” realize what your loved ones most want this year is you—your attention and your love. Set aside the distractions of the modern age, let go of the need for the holiday décor to look perfect, forgo the barrage of social gatherings and instead simply be available – heart, mind, body, and soul.
It’s what you call the gift that matters … and you can’t put a price on that.