I have always been dismal at shopping. But Christmas shopping—there is something truly magical about Christmas shopping. Maybe it's the secret reconnaissance and information-gathering you do for months leading up, or the joy and anticipation of seeing someone open a gift they truly love, or the shiny wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and tags piling up beneath your Christmas tree.
But much like the Grinch, I know that the giving of Christmas goes beyond packages, boxes, or bags. I love the way stories, songs, and TV programs focus on peace and goodwill toward men. I love the way it's so easy for me to look up and give a friendly smile or simple hello to those around me and that the season's focus on service and love helps me move beyond myself to give, help, and uplift.
But, the other day when my husband and I were debating where the true joy of Christmas lies—whether giving or getting—my illusions of what Christmas means were shattered. It seemed a strange place for the Spirit to speak to me so forcefully—in my kitchen with bantering in the background. As I tried to make a case for the joys of giving and serving, the Holy Ghost suddenly deflated my ego, telling me I was entirely wrong.
Dumbfounded, I thought on the idea for a moment: Christmas was entirely about getting, receiving, and accepting. But, how could that be? Didn't that take out the selflessness, the joy, of the season?
The more I thought on this idea divinely whispered to me, the more humbled I became. At Christmas, we celebrate the ultimate gift in the history of the universe, the gift Heavenly Father gave each one of us as He sent His Son to earth. And inseparably connected with that gift was the sacrifice of our Savior, giving His life and enduring incomprehensible suffering for us. "You can’t separate Bethlehem from Gethsemane or the hasty flight into Egypt from the slow journey to the summit of Calvary," Elder Holland says. "It’s of one piece. It is a single plan."
As I thought of these gifts, I experienced a King Benjamin-like moment, suddenly seeing myself as the dust of the earth and the presents I can offer as no more than dust themselves. Christmas is not about giving, because what we have to offer is so meager, so inconsequential in the eternities. Instead, I needed to focus on what I could receive and accept into my life. Do I search for ways to receive Christ's Atonement, His grace, His forgiveness every day of my life? Do I seek Heavenly Father's infinite blessings and accept them, allowing His love and will to shape my life? Do I accept the help of angels and loved ones? Do I hear the whisperings of heaven and the Spirit? Or do I try to do everything myself, not centering myself on the Savior or accepting His guidance until I reach my limits and realize I can't possibly do it all? Do I feel a sense of pride in my independence and capabilities, not humility? Do I rejoice in giving to others out of self-interest or selfishness?
That sacred moment in my kitchen, I realized the things worth giving can only be found when we become good at receiving the light, love, and grace our Heavenly Father and Savior offer us. Only then can we help share Their influence and teach of Their love because we understand a small portion of it ourselves.
Speaking of the Savior's last night on earth, President Uchtdorf shares:
"Do you remember that as the meal progressed, Jesus rose from the table, poured water into a basin, and began to wash His disciples’ feet? When He came to Simon Peter, the fisherman refused, saying, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” The Savior gently corrected him: 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.'
"I’m sure Peter thought he had noble reasons for refusing this gift and felt he was doing the right thing. But at that moment he clearly did not understand the spiritual significance of what Jesus was offering him. . . .
"Every gift that is offered to us—especially a gift that comes from the heart—is an opportunity to build or strengthen a bond of love. When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of the gift. But when we fail to appreciate or even reject a gift, we not only hurt those who extend themselves to us, but in some way we harm ourselves as well."
When we gratefully receive the gifts Heavenly Father and our Savior offer us, we too can strengthen our bond of love between the divine and ourselves, between heaven and earth. Receiving a gift encompasses so much more than acknowledging it with a quick note of thanks in our prayers. To truly receive a gift, we must open it, learn how to use it through study, and apply it in our lives.
President Uchtdorf continues:
"I hope that this Christmas and every day of the year we will consider, in particular, the many gifts we have been given by our loving Heavenly Father. I hope we will receive these gifts with the wonder, thankfulness, and excitement of a child.
"My heart grows tender and warm as I think of the gifts our loving, gracious, and generous Father in Heaven has given us: the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, the miracle of forgiveness, personal revelation and guidance, the Savior’s peace, the certainty and comfort that death is conquered—and many, many more.
"Above all, God has given us the gift of His Only Begotten Son, who sacrificed His life 'that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'
"Have we received these gifts with humble gratitude, with joy? Or do we reject them out of pride or a false sense of independence? Do we feel our Father’s love expressed in these gifts? Do we receive them in a way that deepens our relationship with this wonderful, divine Giver? Or are we too distracted to even notice what God gives us each and every day?"
May we ever realize that we are recipients of God's love, grace, mercy, light, and blessings and truly receive them with gratitude and a desire to share these truths among our fellow men.
Lead image from Getty Images
Get more profound insights from President Uchtdorf in The Gospel at 30,000 Feet.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has earned a reputation among members of the Church for using his decades of experience as a pilot to draw gospel metaphors. This new book, and audiobook narrated by President Uchtdorf himself, brings together many of those stories of flight that President Uchtdorf has used in his ministry. In this colorful, inviting format, more than 20 of his best-loved stories and a never-before-told story come together under five major themes: Principles of Flight, Lift, Guidance on the Journey, Weathering the Turbulence, and Our Eternal Destination.