A few years ago, I took a test to see what my “love language” is. Your “love language” means that this is the main way in which you give and perceive love with others. For some, their “love language” is doing kind deeds. For others, their “love language” includes affectionate words. When I did my test, it turned out I had two.
The first was quality time. I’ve always understood that time is life. We only have a limited amount of sand grains in the hourglass of our life. When they run out, they are gone. And every second that passes is one that you don’t get back. When you give your time to something, you give your life to something. I’ve always been of the mind that the person or thing we love the most will get most of our free time.
The second quality was gift-giving. I remember being with my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) for our first Christmas as a couple. I was twenty-years-old and I had reached that age when you put aside childish things. This also includes Christmas presents. Standard gifts would be sweaters and the like. But on our first Christmas, she got me an action figure set of Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader in the Emperor’s throne room from Return of the Jedi. I was so enthused that I opened the gift right away and began to play with them as if I was 5-years-old all over again. I always remember that gift, not because she got me something fun or geeky cool. I remember because her gift was a sign of how much she understood me.
For me, gift-giving has always brought me great joy. I don’t mean to imply that I am heroically generous in any way. But I enjoy so much to see the happiness in another person’s face and voice when they receive a gift that tells them that they are known and understood, that someone knows their mind and heart enough to give them something that might be particular only to them.
Of course, gift-giving can easily get off track. How many of us get caught up in the commercialism of the season that Charlie Brown decried. I certainly do.
How many of us see gift-giving in terms of debt? Do we feel an obligation to get gifts in proportion to those who gift us? And do we become disappointed when the perceived value of the gift we get is less than the gift we give? I know I have been guilty of this, though I am ashamed to admit it.
And are there not some who use the gift to solidify their place in our small social hierarchies? Some use gifts to show off their wealth or their status.
A gift should be given in the truest sense of the word, meaning that it should be offered with no expectation of return. And the same should be done when we receive a gift that we do not expect. We should be gracious in taking it without thinking about how we look by comparison.
But in hard times like these, the exchange of material gifts may be difficult. I’ve had those I love dearly ask that we put aside the exchange of presents. While the part of me that has gift-giving as my “love language” feels great pain at this, it would be the kind and loving thing to honor this request.
But that doesn’t mean we still cannot give a Christmas gift.
As I wrote earlier, my other “love language” was quality time. And it got me thinking about the gift of that first Christmas: the gift of Christ Himself.
He Who The Universe Cannot Contain exists in the realms of eternity. But at Christmas, He entered into time. Born into a specific time, during the reigns of Emperor Augustus Caesar and King Herod the Great, Jesus took His first breath of our air and took the second-by-second journey of life that we all are on.
By entering into time, He blesses time. He makes it sacred.
How will we make a gift of time to others?
There is a great deal of distance that pulls us apart, and 2020 has made this much worse. We are yanked into different directions. And even when we are together, we are beholden to our distractions like our smartphones or our anxieties. Like many of you, distraction is one of the biggest impediments to my prayer life. I can sit in prayer for fifteen minutes while only giving God maybe a minute of undistracted attention. But when I recognize this distraction, I refocus my attention the best I can. While this is discouraging, the most important lesson I have received is not to abandon this time because it is of poor quality. A friend once said to me that 90% of prayer is showing up.
And I believe the same is true of love.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving sayings is “It’s not Thanksgiving dinner until it’s ruined.” Family drama around the table is nearly universal on some level. But we return time and again because beyond the friction there is the affection. We show up to show that we care.
Jesus showed up to this world to show us that He cares. Will we do the same?
Everyone needs to make the best decisions for their family’s safety, especially during this pandemic time. I know that my in-person holiday contact with friends and family will be extremely limited. But the wonderful thing about modern technology is that we have ways to reach out with video chats to see each other face-to-face. We don’t even need modern technology to reach out and touch someone with a phone call, a text, and email, or simply a letter. If there is ever a time to reopen lines of communication that have been lying dormant, Christmas time is it.
We can also volunteer ourselves for local charities. Monetary donations are good and noble. But the hands-on act of giving is good for the soul and gives us a more tactile connection to the active love we are called to live out.
And we must not forget how we communion with each other in spirit. The Communion of Saints also applies to us on some level. We can hold each other up in prayer and the mystery of God’s spiritual economy, those prayers somehow affect the lives of those for whom we pray. We can remember them by name to the Lord.
Finally, we can be with the Lord Himself at mass or at prayer. Jesus came to us so that there would be no barrier in us coming to Him. We can get caught up in the business of Christmas that we can forget to enter into His presence and adore Him as He was adored in that stable in Bethlehem.
And all of this requires a gift of time.