A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers her into the presence of the great.
This is no Christmas story; it’s a practical application for all year round. Gift-giving upon first meeting is a distinguishing mark of courtesy – a great idea anytime you want to be distinguished as a courteous person!
My first day of college, I arrived to find a jar layered with colorful candy waiting for me on my desk in my dorm room. It was from my new “roomie.” More than 25 years later, we’re still great friends.
There are a lot of first meetings where we can improve our impression with a gift. How about the first time you meet a friend’s parents or your boyfriend’s parents? Or when you go for your college interview – why not bring a famous hometown trinket for the interviewer? First day on the job? You’ll impress your boss like no other employee ever has with a home-baked pie or some cookies. (Just pray she’s not diabetic.)
Once, I received an invitation for a graduation party for a lady from my church. She was a nontraditional student in her early 50s. I didn’t know her that well but I wanted to honor her effort with a gift. I decided to give her a little tea basket of my own composition. Finding honey, tea and some biscuits was easy but for the cup and saucer, I wanted something antique and very pretty. For being as busy a person as I am, I spent way too much time looking for that cup and saucer. I went into every second-hand store in town and concluded I must have been on the heals of an antique dealer who was buying up just what I needed right before I arrived. No store had anything suitable. Finally, I went to an antique flea market and found about 50 beautiful sets in all price ranges. I spent half an hour trying to find the one that was the right combination of elegance and cost.
All this time over the several days of my teacup search, I kept thinking about the lady I was going to give it to. I didn’t know much about her, so my thoughts weren’t too varied or profound; I just held an image of her in my head and thought of some of the things I’d heard her say. It was interesting to me to be thinking so much about this person I hardly knew. By the time I finished wrapping the gift and delivering it, I found myself warmed up to that woman and wanting to get to know her. And I really wanted to know if she liked my gift.
Less than three months later, I was sitting in her house having dinner – something that might never have happened without that gift-giving opportunity. I saw on the wall behind her stove a collection of about 25 boxes of tea and I spotted the one I had given her. She is a tea fanatic! I had no idea.
I know, this advice sounds so quaint it’s almost retro to the 1950s, but look who’s giving the advice – a king! The greatest king in all Jewish history (except for Christ himself) is saying, “You want to get in to see me? Don’t show up empty-handed!”
Do you think Solomon was so easily won over? Was he a real sucker for getting gifts? Probably not. The magic in a gift is that it creates in the receiver a sense of obligation to, at very least, say “thank you” in person, particularly if the giver is waiting just outside for such an opportunity. And in the giver, it builds affection for the person you are giving to as you take the time to contemplate what that person would like.
Even if you’re not trying to get an audience with an important person, learn to give gifts. Maybe you think, “I can barely pay my bills, how I am supposed to be a gift-giver?”
Well, here’s where I have to confess to being a real cheapskate. When I find an interesting gift item for a good price, I may buy two or three of them. I have a plastic storage container in the top of the closet in our guest bedroom that has a collection of gifts that are ready to give should I need one in a pinch. When I shop garage sales and second-hand stores, I hone in on items that still have the price tag on them. More than one person has received a gift from me that looks brand new but cost me less than a dollar at a garage sale.
As an aside – if you don’t shop garage sales and second-hand stores, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt, but it’s fun and saves lots of money. I paid $20 for the antique desk I’m sitting at right now. One summer, my daughter found two pairs of Nike Airs in excellent condition for just a couple of dollars.
When giving gifts, it really is the thought that counts, and shopping for a gift for someone, or just creating a beautifully wrapped gift from those you picked out of the top of the guestroom closet, causes you to spend time in selfless thought about another person, and that is time well spent. By the way, I believe that time spent in selfless thought is what distinguishes a gift from a bribe. To give the right gift, you have to put another person’s interests above yours. When finding just the right bribe, you’re thinking foremost of what will work best to your advantage.
Whether you’re trying to get in to see a busy person, make a good impression on a first meeting, or responding to an invitation you’ve received, form the distinguishing good habit of giving gifts. It seems to be of another generation, age and time, but in fact, it is timeless yet rare. And rare stands out!
Hold this thought: I don’t show up empty-handed.Donna Lee Schillinger is the author of On My Own Now: Straight Talk from the Proverbs for Young Christian Women who Want to Remain Pure, Debt-free and Regret-free and editor of the recent anthology Purity’s Big Payoff/Premarital Sex is a Big Rip-off.