Oatmeal, Elf Shoes, Hammers and Fails
I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon around this time of year. We are totally sucked in by the packaging. Look around at your local shopping haunt. You’ll see the strangest, most ordinary things packaged together as a gift set, and people are buying it.
Right now at the local discount department store there’s a gift set containing four plastic bowls, four spoons, and a variety box of instant oatmeal selling for about $17.00. A set of two parfait glasses and jars of chocolate and caramel ice cream topping will bring about $13.50. Down another aisle, there’s a gift set containing a hairbrush, a comb, a couple of barrettes and a few colorful ponytail bands for $10.00.
Travel on and you’ll discover that even Fido has a gift set…doggie bowl, ID tag, rawhide chew and a Frito-sized bag of dog food which will set you back about twelve bucks if you’re determined to buy that fleabag hound a gift. Trudge on and you’ll discover a gift collection of foot care products containing specialty insoles, cozy aloe socks, foot cream, and a grotesque “scraper” of some sort that looks a bit like a vegetable peeler or a lemon zester. I didn’t even bother to check the price. Just gross! Who buys this stuff?
What is it about clever, attractive packaging that draws people to the most idiotic ordinary things? Maybe it’s the perception that they’re getting more for their money. Maybe it’s the illusion that everyone can use it. Maybe it’s the child in us that gravitates to eye-popping primary colors. Or maybe it’s just laziness. We don’t have to think. Take a few nonsensical items, arrange them creatively, tie a red ribbon around them, and voila! It’s a gift.
Let me say right off the bat, yes, I’ve received some of these gifts through the years and I’m grateful that someone cared enough to buy me something. But here’s the rub. They didn’t care enough to get to know ME. They didn’t care enough to ask themselves, “What do I know about her? What do I hear her talk about? What do I see her do? What are her interests? Okay, maybe that’s a lot to ask of a gift giver and probably explains the forty-nine various containers of bath beads I’ve received over my lifetime. It’s the thought, right? Of course, it is.
Years ago I was the new kid on the block at a law firm. It was my first Christmas at the firm and I quickly learned that the gift exchange was a big hairy deal to them. They would decorate the lobby, close the office, and everyone was looking forward to it…everyone, that is, except me. I had drawn the name of one of the partners. What on earth could I buy for someone I didn’t know with a $25.00 gift limit…someone who could afford to buy anything he wanted many times over? So, said I, let the anxiety begin.
I had always had “gift-giving anxiety”. I thought and thought and overthought every gift I ever bought for anyone to the point of making myself sick. I wanted people to know they were special to me. But what if my gift didn’t measure up? I had been known to disappear from more than one bridal or baby shower before my gift was opened so I wouldn’t be around to experience the yawns and groans or worse…the polite but pitiful thank you’s that I feared were sure to come. (It is perhaps a perverse irony then that I became a songwriter…a field fraught with more “no thank you’s” and “what have you done for me lately’s” per square mental mile than any other profession.) But I digress.
Back to my attorney. I began to think about the conversations I had had with him and overheard him have with others. I remembered him saying how much he enjoyed spending Saturdays in his garage, wearing a favorite ragged sweatshirt, refinishing some old piece of furniture he’d picked up alongside the road. It was all I had to go on, but I grabbed at it and managed to find a book called “Just Junk”… a pictorial idea book on stripping years of paint and varnish off of tables, chairs, and old chests seemingly past hope and turning them into beautiful pieces of “heirloom” furniture that even your old granny would be proud to own.
As we sat in our awkward semi-circle, organized by an overbearing office manager/former kindergarten teacher, and realizing there was no escape for me, I watched breathlessly as each person took their turn opening a gift. When my gift recipient finally picked up his package, my breath caught in my chest and a knot rose in my stomach as he began to peel away the festive paper and discard the ribbon. I don’t think I took another breath until he lifted the book with a broad smile and expressed his delight. Whew, what a relief! Can we go home now?
At some point after Christmas, he mentioned to me that it was odd that I had known him less than six months and had found something that actually fit his life. His in-laws had “known” him more than 15 years and had hurriedly blown into Ace and bought him a hammer because “who doesn’t need a hammer and we really don’t know you that well.”
Oh, you wonder what gift I got? Well, another of the attorneys drew my name. He gave me a gorgeously wrapped package for which I’m sure his wife spent considerable time making a lovely gigantic bow. It contained a bottle of white zinfandel. (Insert heavy sigh here.) He was clueless about me. So, glug, glug, glug …down the drain it went, because no matter how beautiful it was, it was worthless to me.
It’s interesting how Satan cleverly packages his “gifts”. He’s done it for thousands of years now. He tried it on Adam and Eve and they bit. He offered loss and ruin packaged as knowledge and equality with God. He packaged his temptation of Christ as a gift of the kingdoms of this world…knowing full well, that Jesus would one day rule this world, without any help from old slewfoot.
He may present “gifts” that are attractively wrapped in the bright green of wealth or the golden glitter of fame. He tempts with the bold red wrapping of power and position. But after a while, what appeared to be a great gift pack, time reveals to be just a bunch of useless hurtful nonsense bundled together with a pretty string of false hope, and you wonder why it ever caught your eye.
God, on the other hand, sent a present into a world that had no idea what it needed or wanted…no idea of what could heal its brokenness and hopelessness. This gift came in humble wrapping. It came wrapped in the rags of swaddling clothes and lay nestled in a nasty animal feeding trough, but it concealed a REAL gift, a pearl of great price…King Jesus…King of Kings, Lord of Lords. And this Gift knows us like no one else can…better than we know ourselves. He knows what we want, what we need, and the dreams tucked so deeply in our hearts that we have shared them with no one at all. His blessings are not a thoughtless last-minute “one size fits all”, but are uniquely crafted to fit each of us and to minister to our own personal needs and desires.
As Christmas rolls around, yes, I realize I may get hounds tooth stockings and elf shoes this year, but it really doesn’t matter because I’ve already received the special Gift that the Lord planned for me from the beginning. And you know, He has a gift just for you, too, and it will be the very thing you need.