The idea is that because we have received something, we owe something. The problem is the nonexistent debt. The love received, or money, or time–or anything that causes us to feel obligated–should be accepted as a gift.
‘Gift’ implies no strings attached. All that’s really needed is gratitude. The giver has no expectation that the present will provide a return. It was simply provided because someone loved someone and wanted to do something for him or her. Period.” (p. 120)
This excerpt is from the New York Times bestselling book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so very long to read this book. I knew I needed it and I put it on my “must read” list, the one that floats around in my brain, but I never actually bought the book until last week. I was ordering a couple of books for my daughter, and I finally just put it in my Amazon cart and checked out.
I feel like I should have read it twenty years ago. Seriously people. It could have spared me so much mental and emotional trauma.
Sure, I’m being a little dramatic, but I’m totally serious. I don’t do well with boundaries. I’m a pleaser and fixer and I get sucked into other people’s problems in a way that negatively affects me and my little life. I’m also plagued by a faulty guilt meter…like the little red arrow on the meter is broken, because it’s always at full guilt throttle. Whether or not I’ve done anything to deserve the guilt is irrelevant. It’s the voice in my head that tells me I should have or shouldn’t have or it’s my fault or that person is probably hurt now…whatever, it’s guilt, and it’s too big a load to schlep around through life.
I need boundaries, fences (not walls) with gates that open and close, so things can come in and out when I say they can. Boundaries are good and healthy and Biblical and necessary. Where have they been all my life?
Back to the quote above…
‘Gift’ implies no strings attached.
We begin with the gift of the grace of God. We all know the Christmas story. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, a humble birth in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. He came, this only begotten Son of God, to live a sinless life and die on an old rugged cross. He took our sin upon Himself, paid a price we couldn’t pay, and offers us eternal life as a free gift. It’s grace.
Everyone nods their heads.
Then we screw it up, because too often we don’t “get” grace. There’s so little of that demonstrated in our world. It is the thing that goes against our human nature. Something for nothing doesn’t add up.
We get earning our own way. We understand debt and paying it back. We know sin and consequences, but grace is foreign to us. I think that’s why it’s so hard for us to believe.
You even have to be good all year-long before Santa will give you gifts!
You’re saying Jesus gives a gift like forgiveness of sins and eternal life and there are no strings attached? It doesn’t add up, so we add strings.
We work to clean up our lives, to be good enough, to muster up a measure of faith, to be a good Christian, to go to church, to keep the commandments, and on and on it goes. Sadly, it seems like the longer we’re in church, the more things we add to our list.
Grace says you can do nothing to deserve this gift. It’s not about you, the receiver of the gift. It’s about the giver. We can’t earn grace. We can never ever be good enough, but we work so hard at it. We work at it until we’re miserable and everyone else around is miserable too. We put ourselves and others in bondage to working for a gift that doesn’t require work.
I know this, because I lived this for way too long. I’m good at guilt and bad at grace.
Friends, it’s not about us this Christmas, or anything we can do. It’s all about what’s been done for us, about the gift that’s so freely been given to us, no strings attached.
It’s simple and yet so hard to wrap our minds around.
The giver has no expectation that the present will provide a return. It was simply provided because someone loved someone and wanted to do something for him or her. Period.
Let’s make this Christmas different. Heck, let’s make our lives different. Let’s accept the gift of grace that’s been offered to us, and out of a heart of overwhelming gratitude, let’s pass it on to someone else.
Let’s stop trying so hard to be something and someone we’re not, and just be thankful for who God is, a grace giver.
Our lives are an amazing gift. Let’s not allow ourselves to be driven by guilt and obligation. Let’s celebrate Christmas, the baby Jesus and the gift of grace incarnate.
I made a video on the blog’s facebook page where I talk about the above quote from the book Boundaries, but I talk about how it applies to the way we give and receive Christmas gifts. It was a game-changer for me! You can go watch it here.
I hope each of you enjoys the holidays. See you all next year!