Gift Exchanges

These last few weeks before graduation are always filled with public thank-you’s, gifts of gratitude, and tokens of appreciation.  The academic excellence of students and the sacrificial faithfulness of leaders calls out many well-deserved expressions of honor.

On the Deans’ Staff this year, we’ve had the privilege of serving alongside a very rare student leader — a three-year Resident Assistant named Jesher Loi.  To honor and thank him at our final staff meeting, I brought him up and presented him with an ESV Study Bible.  As I spoke about Jesher, every head in the room nodded in a unison that demonstrated the consistency and power of his campus-wide influence during his time at the college.

After the meeting, Jesher met me at the front of the room and thanked me.  Since I had chosen the color and cover style of his gift, I had planned all along to tell him that he could exchange it at the campus bookstore for a differently-styled ESV Study Bible of his own choosing.  Earlier in the day I had even confirmed with the bookstore clerk that Jesher could come in on his own and make the exchange without having a receipt.

Jesher’s gracious response to my offer was surprising:  “No, I wouldn’t want to exchange a gift; it’s special because it’s what you’ve chosen for me.”

I don’t know if it’s his Singapore roots where leaders and teachers are highly honored, or his social graces which give him relational wisdom beyond his years, or his spiritual maturity that exhibits a rare perspective.  No matter the source, I was struck by his response because it’s as instructive as it is uncommon.

We function in a society of gift receipts and post-Christmas exchanges, an atmosphere in which it’s entirely normal and often expected for the gift-giver to provide as many post-gift options as possible: exchanges, store credit, or even complete refunds.  We expect many of the gifts we give to be altered or even completely bartered away for something more preferred.  To put it crudely, we expect many of our gifts to be unaccepted.

But far more importantly, we even reserve the freedom to alter the gifts we receive.

Certainly it’s sensible and practical to grant each other the social freedom to exchange an oversized shirt or trade in an already-owned board game after the Christmas festivities have wound down.  With all the travesties in our world, this custom surely isn’t too high on the totem pole.

Yet this type of mentality has a liquid quality — it tends to seep into the rest of our thinking, seeking the lowest level, at times even infiltrating the very foundations of our worldview.  Who can deny our tendency to be customizers of grace, those who would rather pick and choose what we’re given instead of trusting the Good Giver of all?  How many of God’s gifts do we accept hesitantly, putting on a smile and mouthing the obligatory thank-you while examining the box for a gift receipt?  A tray of well-prepared food in the school cafeteria, a ministry opportunity in the form of an interruption, a morning of needed rain on our one day off?

How many of God’s gifts do we miss entirely because we’re looking for something else, something more in line with our preferences, or even our mood?  A stunning sunset on the horizon when we’re looking for a traffic-less commute home; a strong exhortation from a knowing friend when we were hoping for some soft pushover sympathy; a short night’s rest when we’re really wanting to wake up fully rested and fully independent.

How happy we might be if we were to accept each of God’s gracious gifts in simple faith, trusting the Giver, even telling Him, “No, I wouldn’t want to exchange Your gift.  It’s special because it’s what You’ve chosen for me.  It’s good because it’s what You’ve chosen for me.  It’s good because You’re good.”

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).  Father of Lights, teach us to happily receive each of Your gifts according to Your wise providence instead of customizing our own according to our worldly preferences.

2 thoughts on “Gift Exchanges

  1. I’ve thought about this a little bit before, as gifts have always been meaningful to me. I think a big contributing factor to the “gift receipt and post-Christmas return” madness is that the giver of the gift has little reason to put genuine thought into the gift they choose to give. Gift cards are easy. They’re a no-brainer. Just today I was with a friend who was struggling with what to gift her husband for his birthday next week. He already bought what he wanted…a month ago. It wasn’t something he needed, rather, something he wanted.

    God’s ultimate gift of goodness is something that we need. Maybe that’s what makes it so meaningful. And then there’s grace, mercy, blessing, et al, that we don’t necessarily need, but that God knows will be good for us. And we reject them. Or want to exchange them for something we think would be better.

    I think you’ve hit (or Jesher hit) on a deep theological issue that has surfaced in our society.

  2. I’m really excited for the people you will meet & minister to in Louisville. They don’t have a clue what a gift they are getting!


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