Kohl’s Department store is airing a commercial, “Giving with All Your Heart.” It is the story of a lonely, isolated, bored little girl, who strikes up a friendship, through her window, with an elderly woman across the way.  The question posed is, “Will you be my friend?”  It is easy to see that the hearts of these two are fully engaged.  They are each offering warmth and love and regard for each other—the best gift that anyone can offer or receive.

I love buying or making gifts for others, and I sorrow that my list has dwindled drastically through the years.  Many family members are gone, and old friends my age have decided mutually that we can no longer afford it, so we have settled for loving one another over the phone.  I keep my eyes open all year for gifts that will make loved ones smile.  I also listen carefully to find what they are longing for.  I spent hours yesterday afternoon wrapping and beautifying my packages.  O, I know gift bags are now the thing, but a beautiful package is part of the gift, and says, “I really do value you.”

          Christmas is a time for giving.  That’s really what Christmas is all about, but it is not as simple as it sounds.  This year, in particular, a good deal of our shopping is done online.  I’m not really an online shopper—for I like to see and handle the things I buy, before I put my money down.  So, last week I went to a department store for the first time since February.  I was excited to go, but somewhat disappointed in what I found.  I went looking for pretty things, even sort of dressy things, but mostly I found sweatshirts, t-shirts, and laid-back stuff. Often, when we don’t find what we want immediately, stress and time limitation tempt us into buying just anything.

When it comes to gift giving, it is easy to give cash, gift cards, or something trendy.  However, that is not the hallmark of giving from the heart, but of obligation.  Giving from the heart means making someone else a priority.

There has been an example of that kind of giving setting on my buffet for forty-five years.  My first Christmas and birthday in Brussels, in 1975, was difficult for me.  Having been in country for less than four months, I was just beginning to adjust to a new life.  Then Christmas loomed on the horizon, and I didn’t know how I would survive without my family. 

One day, shopping with my roommate, I fell in love with a little “English Royal Crown Derby” bone china bird.  He is blue, white and gold, not three inches long from bill to tail. I oohed and aahed and longed for that little beauty, but English Royal Crown anything was too expensive for a rooky missionary, so I reluctantly left him behind.  Imagine my surprise and joy when I opened that small package on my birthday, three days after Christmas, and found that delicate little bird.  My roommate didn’t have any more money than I had—it was a gift from the heart. 

Giving from the heart means putting thought and effort behind the gift.  It really is the thought that counts.  We need a mind with a heart.  We need to let our feelings shine through, and guide us to giving something special, and “special” doesn’t necessarily mean grand and expensive. Give because you want to.  Give out of an expression deep within. That’s what my roommate did.

Scientific studies show that giving from the heart without strings attached or expecting something in return results in the release of hormones such as Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone.” The ability to give freely produces in us a sense of health and happiness and overall well being.  In contrast, giving with expectations of getting something in return can leave us suffering pain, stress and feelings of separation.

Giving with all your heart means giving with love.

That’s what God did.  Love is the basic substance of God.  “God so loved that He gave His only son,” the first Christmas gift.  And Jesus gave His life, so that I might have the gift of life.  What marvelous examples in loving and giving!

Luke 10:27 tells us what we may do to show our gratitude, “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  If we love God that way, then we belong to Him completely.

Loving God and loving our neighbor is basic to our existence.  Neighbors are not always easy to love, but God said we are to love even our enemies.  Real love values the differences, and uniqueness of others.  We talk about, sing about, and write about love all the time, but how do we love our neighbor as ourselves? 

We love our neighbor by giving of ourselves.  We give our time, our energy, our help, our substance, and our love to those who are hurting and in need.  

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, “…in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.” In a very real way, every small act of service, kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring that we do for someone else is an act of loving God.

This Christmas I want to give as God gives.  I want to give with all my heart both to God and to others.  Instead of stress, frustration, and depleted energy, I want to experience the JOY OF GIVING!