In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I gave away eight presents. Each one was chosen with love, wrapped with shiny paper and tied with a bow. I gave out each one excitedly, waiting to see their faces as they tore through the packaging and freed the gift. Many of the gifts I actually wanted myself – a pretty sports bottle that would look great at the gym/on Instagram, a sparkly bag that I’d had my eye on for ages, those weird plastic hair bands that shouldn’t work, but seriously do.
But then something awful happened. Not a single one of them gave me a present back. I made eight trips to drop eight gifts, and returned home empty-handed.
I know we don’t give to receive. I know the joy should be in the giving. I know I’m a horrible person for even writing this post. But seriously, not a single bath bomb or box of Lindor in return for all that?
The only answer I have here is that God must be teaching me a lesson. Every other year since these various friendships began, my friends have done the Christmas Eve present drop off – driving around like Santa distributing a yuletide haul. But this year? Nothing.
I’m not asking for your pity, and I hope you don’t think I’m a spoilt brat like my brother did when I told him my sorry tale. The presents I did get were great – and I really do have everything I need and more.
The trouble is… I like nice stuff. I like pretty shoes on my feet and I like good coffee to drink. I like to drive my nice car to my nice gym where I like to lace up my nice trainers to work out in. And there’s nothing wrong with all those things, but perhaps the value I place on them is where I run into problems. When I start to feel uncomfortable because I don’t look right, I’m not able to be all that God desires me to be. Time spent thinking about that new pair of shoes is time I could spend praying for those around me that need to experience the love of Christ. Thinking about how the gifts I just gave out weren’t reciprocated means the joy I originally felt in giving those gifts was tainted by my desire to get something back.
So I’m starting 2016 differently.
Challenge one: next week, I’ve challenged myself to wear the exact same outfit for seven days. Anyone who knows me will know how difficult I will find this. I love clothes, but if I can get through this, perhaps I’ll learn to buy a little less, as I realise I can just wear the ones I have more. You can follow my struggle on Twitter, and read about it here.
Challenge two: throughout January, I’ve also pledged to step away from the coffee shops and ditch my morning cappuccino. Buying one every day is costing the earth – not just financially, but also in terms of all that cardboard and plastic in the disposable cups.
Challenge three: packed lunches are also a new thing for 2016, in an effort to reduce food waste and cut back on all the packaging that buying lunch each day causes.
Challenge four: give more. Once a month, I’m going to buy something for someone special in my life for absolutely no reason at all. It might be something they’ve wanted for ages, or just something to let them know I care, but it will be out of the blue and given without any expectation of reciprocation. I swear.
I may not keep these up until 2017 – I might not even make it past the end of the month – but I am determined to think about what I’m costing the earth, my bank balance and my friendships.
And hopefully by next Christmas I’ll be a nicer human being.
You can read more about ethical consuming, including the results of the Evangelical Alliance’s new research into the issue, in the new idea magazine, which will be released Friday, 26 February.