If someone baked me an Italian cream cake for Christmas, I would be pleased. If someone spent the time showing me how to bake one and then gave it to me, I would be elated!
The giver would spend roughly the same amount of time making the cake either way, but by including me in the process, an even more beautiful thing than an Italian cream cake would be given—the gift of self.
With time at a premium during the weeks leading up to Christmas, giving time to another person is not usually the first gift idea to come to mind. But it just might be a better investment than trying to buy the perfect gift for someone or finding a particular gift that someone has requested—because they already have everything! The emotional and physical energy, as well as time, devoted to finding the perfect gift for someone—or the gift requested—could be invested in spending time with the recipient.
Which is more likely to create a lasting memory for both giver and recipient?
Not everyone on your Christmas gift list would be a candidate for this kind of gift, of course. Many individuals will receive tokens of appreciation. But consider those for whom the gift of self makes perfect sense.
Most children in our lives have too many toys but crave personal attention. For what will they remember a family member? Yet another toy, or a gift of self? For example: an older sibling could give a picture book to a younger one, and they could read it together. A teenager who drives could take a younger sibling to purchase a dog toy and treats and visit dogs at the local animal shelter under staff supervision. This is the stuff memories are made of!
Supplies for a favorite hobby—or the start of one—could be an opportunity to share in the interests of a friend or family member. For the handy, materials or a kit to construct something small or large would provide togetherness for hours or days after the holidays have passed.
Elderly or alone, a neighbor might welcome an offer of a shopping trip. If they’ve gotten out of the habit of shopping in real life, they might not know where to go to find gifts for others or housewares or decorations for their homes. They’d probably appreciate the companionship, so don’t hesitate to ask them to join you.
When we give the gift of self, it lasts far longer than the bags, boxes, and wrapping paper taken out as trash. It doesn’t wear out in a year, or get broken, or get placed in a drawer or on a shelf or in a toy box where it might be forgotten.
And there is no telling what we will receive in return!
Many of the novels on the Catholic Teen Books website provide examples of characters giving the gift of their time and attention to others in their lives.
Cynthia’s main character in her Bird Face series, Wendy, gives the gift of self to her elderly neighbor, to classmates, and to animals, both domestic and wild.
In Standing Strong, one of the West Brothers books by Theresa Linden, Keefe gives the gift of his time and assistance to a stranger who needs help--even though he knows it will make him late for something very important to him.
In Julia's Gifts by Ellen Gable a young girl begins buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” But her greater gifts come in the form of the volunteer work she does as a medical worker soon after the United States enters the Great War.
In Leslea Wahl's book, Where You Lead, the main character Eve realizes her cranky neighbor is lonely, so begins to spend more and more time with her, despite the woman's initial protests.
About the author: Cynthia T. Toney writes for tweens and teens because she wants them to know how wonderful, powerful, and valuable God made them. Her novels employ hope and humor to address some of the serious issues young people encounter. Her books have won several awards, including a Catholic Press Association Book Award and numerous secular literary awards. She is the author of The Other Side of Freedom, a coming-of-age historical novel for boys and girls age ten or older, and the Bird Face contemporary series for girls. She is also a short-story contributor to Secrets: Visible and Invisible and other anthologies by Catholic Teen Books.
Cover photo by Andrea Piacquadio at Pexels