Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gift Giving

"Jesus replied, "If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water." John 4:10.

Muslims have taught me a few things about generosity and gift giving. It is embarrassing to admit but I have been a slow learner in this regards. Nearly every time we invite Muslims over for a meal they bring a gift. When I visit their homes, not even for a meal, they will frequently give me a container of food to take home. It seems we can not out-do the generosity of Muslims. They have been my teachers in showing hospitality and in gift-giving.

Maria accompanied me to visit a newly arrived Muslim family. She explained that she would not be taking any gift because she  wanted to "check them out first". Perhaps they would take advantage of her generosity. She did not want to get trapped into something uncomfortable to deal with later. So, she went empty handed. But when we visited the family they were responsive and served us food. They served what they could within their meager budget. Maria's story could be mine. I kind of like to first be assured that the person I am extending kindness to is "worthy" -  or at least that my gift won't be wasted.

Gifts like home-made cookies, chocolates, a silk or real flower, children's book, a card or a balloon with a saying on it, some fresh produce from our garden, or a small craft item like origami paper art are tangible expressions of extending a blessing and showing honor when we make visits. The gift does not have to be expensive although there are such times like weddings or other significant events when it would be considered strange or offensive to give a gift that would not cost us much. 

One of the most frequent gifts I give is a home-made cake placed on an attractive plate. The cake gets eaten(at least I hope so!) but the plate is eventually put away in their dish cupboards. One such time after not seeing Karima for six years she was reminded of my visits when she took the plate I had given her out of her cupboard, prompting a sudden desire to reconnect.  Surprisingly she found my phone number. A surprise for me, too, as I had concluded that the door to her life had been shut permanently. She had not seemed very "promising" to me. But God gave me another opportunity to share the gift of Good News just because of that plate. 

No doubt we need to have discretion and wisdom in our gift giving. If something expensive is given they will inevitably feel they have to reciprocate at the same monetary level or even higher. I don’t want to put them in a difficult financial situation. Nor do I want to give in a manipulative way to get something in return. I am not in the business of buying people’s affections or loyalties. No, rather, I give because my heart has been touched by God’s shower of grace gifts in my own life - even when I have been undeserving and perhaps not very "promising". Thankfully God did not check me out first to see if I would be promising enough!

Dear heavenly Father, please show me ways I can give grace gifts to my Muslim friends.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.