Outgifted

 

We’ve all been there. You have a friend that is close enough that you are exchanging gifts (usually at Christmas). You put thought and money into what you think is a nice gift. You buy or make them something that you think they will really like. Maybe it’s something that you’d like to receive yourself. Your friend opens it and is loving and gracious and appreciative. And then you open the gift they gave to you…and you are blown away by their thoughtfulness and the sacrifice of resources or time that they have spent on you. You are humbled and feel unworthy of their generosity. You have been outgifted.

I’m not sure why we think that this exchange needs to be equal, but in our culture it just does. Perhaps it’s because comparing is such a prevalent (and unhealthy) part of our society. Perhaps it’s because we are subconsciously keeping score with an unseen relational currency and we don’t want to put more, or leave more on the table than we need to. Whatever the reason, there seems to be unspoken social mores that gift-giving should be a level playing field among friends.

But what about when what’s given cannot be held in your hands or deposited in the bank?

I work in a nonprofit ministry organization, and we have been taking time each morning, (over the last few weeks) to look for and talk about the good in each person in our office. After each person has written their word of affirmation or admiration on a poster-sized piece of paper hung on a whiteboard, we take turns explaining what we wrote. It has been a beautiful and meaningful exercise. The point of it is to cultivate the practice of looking for the good in people as a daily discipline.

The other day, I was on the receiving end of all of this goodness. I sat and listened to people explain what they had written. Some of the people in my office I know very well, and others I have spent less time with. I was not prepared for their generosity. I was not prepared for the outpouring of love and emotion. I was not prepared for how much the things that I have done or said meant to people. Their words to me were overwhelming and extravagant. I was outgifted.

The thing about being outgifted is that it’s humbling. You are put in a position where what you have received is far greater than what you have given. My coworkers and co-laborers in ministry saw good in me that I don’t always see in myself.

I want to be extravagant with my words and selfless in my actions towards others. Looking for the good in people is really not that hard to do. It’s a habit that you can cultivate. I think it is in line with learning to look for the attributes of Christ in people. Imagine how different the world would be if we could train our first impulses to seek the good in every circumstance, encounter, and relationship.

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Jennifer Chetelat

I am a potter, gallery curator, wife, and mother of two adultish people. I write about life and faith and learning.

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