Today I’m giving a talk in church, during sacrament meeting. I’ve given a talk in sacrament meeting once before, you can read it here if you like, and in that post I explain why I’m the one doing the talking in church. If you’re curious about the structure of LDS meetings you can watch a video about it here.
To those who are LDS: We’re not doing our Christmas program until next week (which means I won’t be here for it, sad!). Is this what your ward is doing too?
Little That Wife thinking sweet thoughts about giving gifts to family and friends. Not.
I spent the entire week puzzling over my assigned topic of “Christmas”. I admit I feel some extra pressure with this assignment, as this is the Sunday before Christmas. I wanted to come up with something really grand and marvelous, to try to reflect the spirit of the season. Two nights ago I had a dream about my talk, and in the dream I did a magnificent job. Unfortunately you won’t be hearing the talk from my dream, as I forgot what it was about as soon as I woke up, which is quite typical for me.
So I turned to the church’s website for inspiration, and immediately I found what I had been looking for right on the front page. In the First Presidency Christmas Devotional of this year President Eyring said, quote“This little child, born in a stable and cradled in a manger, was a gift from our loving Heavenly Father.” endquote
Christmas is the time of year when gifts are constantly on our mind. My mom starts calling me asking for my own personal wish list. I try to decide if my husband really means it when he says he doesn’t want me to get him anything. As a new mom I’m wondering how we will teach our children that Christmas is about not only receiving new things, but giving to those you love and those who are in need.
One of the childhood gifts that I remember most fondly was a set of handmade Barbie clothes from my grandma. And not just one outfit, but a whole box full! A more recent Christmas gift that meant a lot to me was a very nice new camera from my mom, which is meaningful because it sparked my interest in photography. I have been surrounded by family and friends who put much time and effort into giving me something I will love, and I try to return such kindness by doing the same, but I admit I don’t always feel successful.
In a 1996 talk entitled Giving with Joy President Eyring spoke on gift-giving, highlighting a few ways each of us can give more meaningful gifts. He began by detailing an experience he had during his childhood, hours after the death of his mother. As he sat with his father and brother, a knock was heard at the door. It was President Eyring’s aunt and uncle. In President Eyring’s words:
I could see that Uncle Bill was holding a bottle of cherries. I can still see the deep red, almost purple, cherries and the shiny gold cap on the jar. He said, “You might enjoy these. You probably haven’t had dessert.”
We hadn’t. The three of us sat around the kitchen table, put some cherries in bowls, and ate them as Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine cleared some dishes. Uncle Bill asked, “Are there people you haven’t had time to call? Just give me some names and I’ll do it.” We mentioned a few relatives who would want to know of mother’s death. And then Aunt Catherine and Uncle Bill were gone. They could not have been with us more than 20 minutes.
What a beautifully simple gift! It likely cost the giver next to nothing, especially if the cherries were harvested from their own trees. Using this experience though, President Eyring presents a theory that explains the secret behind expert gift-giving.
First, you feel what the other feels. I will amend this a bit to add that even if you can’t know exactly what the recipient is feeling, you really try to understand their situation. President Eyring’s aunt and uncle focused on the temporal needs of their family, feeding them physically, and on the emotional needs, that a bowl of home-canned cherries might help them feel a little bit more like a family again after the loss of their mother.
Second, the gift was given freely. There were no strings attached, and no hints that the favor would need to be repaid. The act of giving the gift was the only reward necessary.
Third, the gift contained an element of sacrifice. His aunt likely canned those cherries for her own family, because they loved to eat canned cherries. President Eyring has since realized, “It must have seemed to Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine that they would have more pleasure if I had the cherries than if they did. There was sacrifice, but it was made for a greater return to them—my happiness. Anyone can let the person who gets a gift know of the giver’s sacrifice. But only an expert can let you sense that sacrifice brings joy to the giver because it blesses the receiver.”
During the Christmas season we celebrate God’s most precious gift to all mankind, His Son, Jesus Christ. As Christ is meant to be the type for our own lives, we can see Elder Eyring’s theory hold true in the Savior’s example. Jesus took the time to understand the needs of the recipients of his kindness. He gave freely of Himself, looking for no reward in return, only that we glory our Father in Heaven by obeying His commandments. And He presented the ultimate sacrifice, giving His life that we might receive the greatest gift of all, eternal life. “If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 6:13).
I know that I have been greatly blessed by our Father in Heaven. I have wonderful friends, and a husband and son who bring me so much joy. I am never wanting for food or clothing or any of the other necessities in life. Reflecting on these blessings ignites a desire to give back to God, and I can do this through obedience to His commandments.
As I am surrounded by reminders that Christmas is only a few days away, that the sale won’t last long, that this store has the must-have gift for my little one, and that that store has the perfect gift for everyone on my shopping list, I don’t have to get caught up in the rush. The best gifts will come from learning and meeting the needs of the recipient, giving without expecting anything in return, and sacrificing in some small way for the gift, whether it’s time, money, or talents.
The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry’s often-told story perfectly illustrates how to give to the ones you love. Jim and Della are a young married couple without money for Christmas gifts. Money is so tight that they can barely afford the one-room apartment they live in. For Christmas, they each set out to give their spouse the perfect gift. Della decides that she will give Jim a chain for his most prized possession, a pocket watch given to him by his grandfather. Jim sets out to buy Della a set of beautiful tortoise shell hair combs for her knee-length hair. When they meet to exchange gifts they realize that Della no longer has her hair, as she sold it to buy Jim’s gift, and Jim no longer has his prized watch, as he sold it to buy Della’s gift. Though their purchases are now useless, they are happy because they had sacrificed, and given freely, that they other might have joy.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to you today, as it caused me to think about changes I can make to my own life in order to better honor the Savior during the season where we celebrate His birth. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.