It all started with a meeting by our Creative Team at the church. The conversation was about what to do this holiday season. What’s on people’s minds? What are they thinking/planning for the holidays, especially Christmas?
As the conversation flowed, it followed themes such as people who were giving in to discouragement, fear, and despair because of the e-word. Also, one couple talked about giving out to charity instead of buying family a bunch of stuff they didn’t particularly want or need.
We talked about how Christmas has become jacked up because of the demands and expectations we place on it – how it’s supposed to magically solve all our problems or bring some sort of enchantment to our otherwise unhappy lives.
We talked about the pressure to make Christmas tricked up – raising the materialistic bar year in and year out. We’ve been keeping up with the Joneses, only to discover that we are the Joneses.
We talked about how, biblically, God one-upped Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist. God always seems to be able to out-give, out-serve, out-surprise the greatest acts of our service or obedience.
And we talked about the ultimate Gift – offered up by God to a world too busy to care.
So, our theme for Christmas is, Give It Up! Before you give in or give out, give up! That’s exactly what God did with His Son. Now He awaits your response.
But why wait for Christmas Day? Why not start now, in the Thanksgiving season, to offer up our lives, first to God, then to others? For many of us, this will be an opportunity, albeit unwelcome, to really discover that it’s not about the toys and trinkets as much as it is about the love, the joy, the life, and the service we offer up. So in that spirit, I thought I’d share ten ways you can give to others in life-affirming ways for little or no money. I would encourage you to do some or all of these things, regardless of your financial status.
1. Give the Gift of Words – Write a handwritten note
Todd Thompson recently reminded me of the power of encouragement, especially in the form of handwritten notes. Yes, I know emails are faster and more convenient. I know face-to-face has dynamics all their own, with possibilities of a hug or other nonverbal communication. But there is real power in your written words, minus the technology.
A few years ago my friend Kevin Rhoads designed a simple, elegant way for us to give the gift of words during the holidays. You can see it here. It’s designed to fit inside a standard business-sized envelope. If you have the technology, print this off and use it, if you’d like. Or design or use something else. Hey, a Post-it note works, if it’s from the heart.
2. Make Thanksgiving resolutions
New Year’s Day is the recognition that we’re starting something in our lives with a clean slate. We’re resetting the clocks to zero, and that provides us the opportunity to think about how our lives can be different. Nothing wrong with that. (Nothing done about them in most cases, either.)
This year, try Thanksgiving resolutions. It’s the same idea, but a different springboard. Rather than thinking about your new opportunity to start over, think about the ways God has been incredibly good to you. How should you respond to that goodness over the coming year? It’s easy enough to go around the table when you’re full of turkey and trimmings and say what you’re grateful for. But take it further. Thanksgiving resolutions are a gift you offer the Lord. Here’s the way the psalmist put it:
What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me? (Psalm 116:12)
3. Give the gift of honor.
“Honor to whom honor is due,” Paul says (Romans 13:7). But that’s in a formal sense. Who has earned your respect? How about your parents? How about other family members? How about members of the military? Or God’s “military,” missionaries? Start with people you know, but don’t confine it to that. If you see someone in uniform or someone in public service find ways to express your respects to them.
So how do you give this gift? Cards. Notes. Something as simple as “Thank you for your service to our country.” Picking up somebody’s tab at lunch or dinner (I just saw somebody do that for four men in uniform at a Pizza Hut.)
4. Give some of your time.
We don’t all have equal amounts of money, but we’re all on the same clock. And often we fail to realize that the people who love and need us most need our time more than what our bucks can buy. That’s why Kevin also designed a “Time Ticket” coupon that’s the size of a business card. You can see it here. You fill it out and give it to someone as a gift, redeemable whenever.
5. Tell your story or teach your life lessons to somebody. Mentor!
One of the most consistent cries I’m hearing these days is for people to share their wisdom and experience with others. You have experiences, life lessons, and God lessons that can add incredible value to other people. Share! Pick an age, and somebody needs wisdom, or an experienced listening ear. You don’t have to be an “expert,” (whatever that is). You just need to have lived a bit longer, made a few mistakes, and learned a few things.
6. Send Thanksgiving cards.
I have received thousands of Christmas cards over the years, and there is a reason. It’s a time-honored tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus and of saying to friends, customers, and family that we’re thinking of them.
Over that same period of time, I have received three Thanksgiving cards, and I remember all three. Two of them came from our banker. One from a university. Regardless of the source, what’s striking is the way they’re remembered. Want to stand out? Tell somebody you’re thankful for them. Here’s one place where you can order them. And here’s another.
7. Make “ability coupons” and give them away.
What are you good at? Can you swing a hammer, edit a paper, cook a meal, massage a shoulder, read out loud, tutor math, tell a joke, write a song, or any of a myriad of other abilities? Make a set of coupons offering a “unit” of those abilities and give them to people you care about. If they haven’t redeemed them after a month, send a cheery reminder note to let them know you meant it.
8. Find a way to say thank you to the people who serve you in your “traffic patterns.”
A few years ago, on Christmas Eve, I got up way before the family and made a quick trip to the local supermarket. They were selling cases of 24 scented gel candles for a dollar a candle. Nice, simple, elegant. I picked up a case, and printed up some labels that said, “Thank you for the ways you light up our lives. Merry Christmas, The Wood Family.”
I had each family member pick out people they routinely ran into or did business with, and we went passing out candles. We gave one to the mail carrier, a bank teller, the lady at the dry cleaners, a youth pastor, and a host of other every-day people. I can’t describe the impact it made on them, but more so, on the family. They still talk about it.
9. Give something you own away.
If you live in the United States, you probably have too much stuff, sold to you by somebody whose job it was to convince you that those “wants” were actually “needs.” Get rid of it if it isn’t vital.
Obviously, I don’t mean your sweaty ball cap or permanently-stained cookie sheet. But nearly all of us have something that’s in great condition or even unused. Pass it along. Hey, you could even start a new family tradition – everybody gives somebody at least one unpurchased gift.
10. Honor those in leadership or authority over you.
On November 5, Barak Obama emerged as the second most hated man in the world. Right now the number one job belongs to somebody else. Here’s a thought: why not find a way to express your respects and honor to people in authority? Could be your boss, your mayor, your pastor, or yes, even your president. Regardless of what you think of his policies, George W. Bush is still a human, and one in authority. Here’s where you can write him:
The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
My son just recently wrote the president-elect. You may reach him at this address:
Barack H. Obama
PO Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680-8102
What ideas do you have for giving without spending? I’d love to hear them.