QUESTION: Christmas can be a trying time when it comes to gift giving and receiving. Of course, I remember the true meaning of Christmas; however, often I receive gifts that just aren’t anything I can use or even want. Many of my relatives who give me gifts also include a gift receipt. This year I did return a gift, and now I’m feeling guilty and I don’t intend to tell the person who gave it to me.
My mother always said, “Appreciate what you receive,” and her words are ringing in my ears. I’d like to get over my feelings of guilt. Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid these kinds of situations?
~ Guilt-ridden Auntie
Dear Guilt-ridden Auntie,
I have been where you are, and am currently there, as someone in my church recently gave me a late Christmas present that she “just knew” I wanted. I wanted something similar, but not this. Since I appreciate her, and since she provided what you received, a return receipt, I told her how much I loved that she did this, but that it was the other one, and not this particular thing. She didn’t bat an eye. She said, “I wasn’t sure, but I want you to have what’s perfect.” She’s been bugging me ever since, asking if I made the switch. She wants to take credit for the right item, and she will, as soon as I get to the store (soon, I promise!).
It really makes no sense to keep a new coffee pot if the one you have is wonderful, and if you were looking for a framed mirror, you might not prefer the gift that has a picture of dogs playing pool superimposed thereupon. So here’s what I suggest to everyone: If the item is an inexpensive, useless bauble, put it away and retrieve it when the giver comes to visit; no harm no foul. But as you said, you’ve already returned the pointless thing and replaced it with something appreciated. Keep it to yourself unless the subject ever arises. If asked, “How’s the lame gift I gave you?” be honest and relay the course taken. Thank them profusely, and every time they visit, point to it and tell them “Thank you again!” It can be the gift that keeps giving – in two directions.
Dump the guilt. Nobody’s going to disparage you for such a minor thing. If they do, I’m not sure you should really care about their gift giving. Look, there are only so many resources to go around, and God says we are custodians. Be a good custodian and don’t regret your positive use of his resources. No guilt necessary…
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Dear Guilt-ridden Auntie,
Family and friends are the most valuable assets we have in our lives. They are the blessings that enrich our life and, most importantly, they are the gift, period. The presents that we receive are just the icing on the cake! I too have been taught that it is really the sentiment that comes with the gift that is the most important. It is in acknowledging the love and care expressed in the gesture of the gift giving that is the key.
We can appreciate what someone gives us, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
It sounds as though you’re feeling guilty because you think you have to pretend to feel in a way that is opposite of what you’re feeling. Guilt does not bring out the best in highest in anyone! Remember, “To thine own self be true.” That means be aware of what you’re feeling and the source of what’s making you feel that way. If it isn’t bringing out your highest good, reexamine the situation, think about what you do want and how you want to feel and change the direction of your course.
I suggest that if you have a relative, or friend for that matter, that you feel doesn’t mirror the taste that you have in gifts, perhaps you can let them know what you would prefer. You can be direct without being brutal – after all, if it’s a friend or family member, part of any relationship is allowing each other the space to honest. The discomfort that you are feeling is simply because you feel that you can’t speak your mind. But who is putting the restraints on you? Let yourself and the other person off the hook. Be kind to yourself.
Accepting an unwanted gift doesn’t make you dishonest. Not liking a gift doesn’t mean you don’t like the person that gave it to you. It just means you don’t care for the gift. You can always bless the gift and pass it on. It could be someone else’s treasure. Your treasure remains in the relationships that you have and nurture.
Rev. Mary Morgan
QUESTION: I have two very good friends and each of them was sexually abused when they were children. One of them has moved past the experience and forgiven the perpetrator, is happily married and, as she puts it, “It’s over and done with – I have too many things to be grateful for in my life now.”
The other, also living a nice life, can’t seem to get over the abuse. Almost every time I am am with her, she talks about the experience she had. As she puts it, “I was shamed.”
I patiently listen to her because I really do care. Both of my friends have been in therapy and the one continues therapy even though the abuse was 25 years ago.
Is there anything I can say to my friend that will help her get over her past?
~ Love My Friends
Dear Love My Friends,
One thing you might try is to bring up the idea that her continuing to stress over the abuse is actually giving the abuser power over her. I have never been sexually abused so I have no idea what this woman went through or is going through, and so it is easy to be glib about someone else’s pain and, of course, I don’t want to be glib.
However, the old non-Biblical saying that the Lord helps those who help themselves might be relevant here. Does the lady want to move beyond being a victim? Does she need to change therapists? I don’t say that lightly because my wife is a psychotherapist psychologist, and I’m not sure she’d agree with my suggestion. But continuing the same course of action time and time again and getting the same results can be a kind of insanity.
What change can this person think of herself to try to move beyond where she is apparently stuck? One reason I believe Jesus said we should forgive those who trespass against us (from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12) is so that we can get on with our lives! I’m sure there is a “religious” reason for that forgiveness line, but there is also a very practical aspect: let it go and get on with your life! By harboring a grudge, the person you harm is yourself because the person who offended you may not know that he offended you or forgot that he offended you or has even died!
So whom do you hurt by not forgiving? Yourself, and by harming yourself you are continuing to let that other person, whether he is alive or not, to have power over you.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Love My Friends,
Anyone who has been sexually abused needs to process that pain at some point in their live. If it is not tended to immediately following the trauma, it will surface at some point in life.
Often trauma is pushed down inside a person via the coping mechanism of denial. Coping mechanisms are useful in that they work to help one function – temporarily. However, they are not useful long term. Unprocessed subconscious pain must be worked through. Because I specialize in trauma and mood disorders, I often see patients in their 30s and 40s who were abused as children. What brings them to therapy is the discovery of reemerged pain that is significant enough to motivate them to seek help. It is at times such as these that people realize their trauma did not go away; it was simply denied.
Intensive therapy should be effective. If your friend is with a therapist who is unable to help her move forward – a professional who knows how to effectively process and integrate the trauma – she will remain saturated in her memories, unable to move through it and past it.
There really isn’t much more you can do to help your friend. She is blessed to have you as a sounding board. She needs intense therapy with a trauma specialist. A very effective form of therapy for this issue is Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). You may want to mention this form of healing to your friend. There are several good EMDR therapists in the area.
Kimberlie Zakarian, LMFT
Thrive Therapy Center