Sunday, December 25, 2016

Thank-yous are loving the giver more than the gift

Love the giver more than the gift.  ~ Brigham Young

Friday in predawn darkness … rolling out of bed, sliding into slippers, remembering I also have to throw on clothes for this task, trundling downstairs, making my morning tea, I finally wake up enough to start getting excited. I open the blinds to see the trees in the moonlight. Good, no wind. I flip on the outside garage lights. My husband has placed our two garbage cans at the end of the driveway on the south side so that I can see them from the house. He knows that the Friday before Christmas I will want to watch the guys empty them. I stick my hand out the back door just to confirm no precipitation. My gift bags for the garbage pickup guys are paper—this year I won’t have to wrap them in plastic when I place them atop the bins. I’ve been leaving Christmas presents for these fellows for more than ten years, and some years, howling winds and driving sleet have kept me busy keeping the gifts intact out there until pickup time.

This past Friday, after my weather check, I simply tape the “To Our Recyclables Collector” card to one gift bag and the “To Our Trash Collector” card to the other bag, then trot them both out to the bins. Turns out, there is a slight breeze, but not enough to budge the bags. Whew. Back inside the house for my vigil, I smile as I sip my tea and recall the Christmas the recyclables guy leaped out of his truck, grabbed his gift, and sprinted up the driveway with the empty recyclables bin to place it right by the garage door. That was a great thank-you to me. Another time, one of the guys grinned from ear to ear and waved his thank-you at the house. One time, a guy grabbed his gift, ripped off the card and threw it in the trash without opening the envelope, and jumped back into his truck. I was stunned that he so crassly rejected the card with my “thank you for your good service” note inside, but he looked pretty happy about getting the gift, so I felt happy too. This year I hope for some sign that they appreciate the gifts. The recyclables guy pushes his empty bin a few feet up the driveway. Nothing from the trash guy. Meh.

In more than ten years, I have never expected a thank-you. My gifts have always been lovingly baked by me with only the desire to thank and delight these guys. And in all that time, let’s say ten years times two guys—that’s twenty thank-you opportunities—I’ve received only the three acknowledgements I just described. And I never cared. I wouldn’t even recognize these guys outside their trucks on their appointed rounds; but they serve our household and deserve some thanks. It was enough to give and watch for a smile on their face. But this year the whole thing fell flat, sour. I am not sure why I no longer want to bother.

Will I do this next Christmas? Is not enough thank-yous a good reason to stop giving? I wonder this sometimes with people a lot closer to me than service persons like the garbage guys or the mail carrier. People to whom I’ve given heartfelt gifts of time, talents, and treasures for many years. People who not only don’t thank me but also don’t make any move to get closer to me. Am I just kidding myself that I’m part of their lives? Among my family and friends are folks who have made both decisions—to stop giving when no reciprocal action is taken, and to keep right on giving with no expectation of affirmation. What do you do with this question?

I realize that Christmas “tips” to service people I don’t even know are one thing, and gifts of myself to family and friends are quite another. I know Jesus noted only one of ten He healed came back to thank Him. And although I am appallingly ignorant of just how spectacularly ungrateful I’ve been throughout my life, God and many people continue giving to me. It’s just that my strangely flat reaction to the garbage-guys scenario this Christmas has prompted me to think about the bigger question of when to cut back on giving. So I’m curious how you handle such situations.