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The Infinite Cycle of Giving

Betty Firth
Posted 12/22/21

Diverse thoughts about gifts and giving have been dancing around in my head during this season of giving. Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, the Solstice, Kwanzaa, or some hybrid combination, …

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The Infinite Cycle of Giving

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Diverse thoughts about gifts and giving have been dancing around in my head during this season of giving. Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, the Solstice, Kwanzaa, or some hybrid combination, some forms of giving and some types of gathering are probably involved, even if only virtual. There is something about the season that softens our hearts to the needs of those less fortunate (enhanced perhaps by the added incentive of tax deductions) as organizations of all types depend on the generosity of year-end givers. We feel the pull of love or obligation to seek out presents for Aunt Millie and Cousin George, grateful for the invention of gift certificates. You may wonder, as I do, why I am sending my homemade fudge and cedar sprigs along with a few small presents to my brother, Mike, and his wife who live 1,300 miles away, paying more for postage than the value of the contents. The fudge has sentiment boiled in with the sugar because our father taught us how to make it when we were quite young…which means Mike makes it just as well as I do. But I mail him a piece of memory anyway. I have purchased chickens in their honor through the Heifer Project, but the season seems incomplete if I don’t send them something. The cost of a gift isn’t the point, or hopefully, shouldn’t be. This year, as I have before, I tucked in a net bag of gold-foiled chocolate coins, because we always had some in our Christmas stockings. He has sent me silly little mechanical toys, also tiny remembrances of our childhood Christmas mornings, opening overflowing stockings while we enjoyed homemade muffins and orange juice.
The image persists in my head of hundreds of thousands of packages and people whizzing across the country, burning up oil fields full of petroleum to celebrate, but I continue to participate anyway, at least in the sending packages part. I love having a quiet, peaceful holiday season with an ocean of time, so I quite happily stay put and don’t engage in much of the Christmas craziness. I think many others have also figured out that keeping things simpler reduces stress and contributes to an environment more in keeping with the true meaning of the season.
I have often thought, “Why can’t we extend these good feelings into the rest of the year? Why don’t we just make a resolution to be compassionate, thoughtful and generous all year round?” That takes me into the broader sense of gifts and giving, beyond the material. We are all given gifts to use in our lifetimes, often very different in nature from our siblings or friends. Pablo Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” From biblical times to the present day, wise people have advised doing just that.
Romans 12, verse 3-8 reads: We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Joseph Campbell was a life-long student and teacher of the human spirit and mythology past and present, studying people who searched within themselves and their societies to identify the needs about which they were passionate. Campbell said in an interview with Bill Moyers, (part of the PBS series, The Power of Myth), “If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. You begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
As Campbell saw it, following your bliss wasn’t simply doing whatever you liked, but identifying the pursuit you are passionate about and committing yourself to it, thereby reaching your fullest potential and happiness. With that level of accomplishment and satisfaction, you would be also serving the community by giving it your best. Frederick Buechner, educator, writer and theologian said it another way: “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”
So there is the possibility of a beautiful balanced cycle, like a continuous figure eight, the symbol for eternity. Pursuing what you love and value, what you’re willing to commit your time, energy, and passion to will lead you to become more knowledgeable and adept and introduce you to others with similar passions as well as others with need of your skills, enlarging your world and your possibilities. As you expand and utilize your abilities, you will be able to contribute to the community and in turn be rewarded for your contributions, and the cycle continues.
I see that as a very fascinating twist on what we often have been taught to believe: that rather than keeping our nose to the grindstone doing work we may not like or are not compensated well for, and feeling that we need to stick to it because it’s an important contribution to the community, we can actually celebrate our passions pursuing the directions that beckon us and sustain us, and end up contributing even more to the community as happier, healthier human beings.
Randy Alcom, author and minister, claims, “The more you give, the more comes back to you, because God is the greatest giver in the universe, and He won’t let you outgive Him. Go ahead and try. See what happens.”
If you ever feel like you’re not getting your fair share, instead of complaining or feeling sorry for yourself, try giving more. Practice continuous, intentional generosity for a few days, seeking out people who would love to receive a gift of your smile, your laughter, a helping hand with their groceries, a plate of cookies, or just a listening ear, and see how that feels. Don’t forget your favorite non-profits; you might even add a couple of new ones to support their good work. And have a wonderful Solstice-Christmas-Hannukah-Kwanzaa-New Year’s season.

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