When Good Givers Go Bad

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

"I really do have love to give, I just don't know where to put it."

-spoken by William H. Macy, in Magnolia

My husband and I have been at odds about gift giving since we got together 22 years ago. He's a great gift giver, and also a treasure hunter (of the garage sale and flea market variety, not the Nicolas Cage variety). On Christmas morning he always gives me the new pjs I sent him a photo of , along with a number of fun surprises: a jar of vintage buttons, a special charm for my favorite necklace, and a number of other salvaged items from some grandma's sewing collection. I'm weird. I love this stuff.

However, Jeff's side of the tree is sadly empty. We refer to my husband as The Man With No Needs. It's not really true...there are many things he needs from me as his wife. But he is also incredibly content, frugal, and self-sufficient. When we were first married I used to go to Nordstrom and splurge on a really nice piece of clothing. He would take it back and leverage it for three or four things on sale.

After years of this, I finally heard and believed what my husband was telling me: he didn't want Christmas gifts. I can't bear to leave his stocking empty, so our compromise is I buy him food. He gets beer, salami, gourmet cheese and hot sauce for Christmas, and we go on a picnic over the holiday and eat it together. Because the gift my husband really wants is my time and attention, which is pretty flattering.

Though I am now totally at peace with it, for years I felt Jeff was actually rejecting a part of who I was by not receiving the gifts I wanted to give him. (Jeff's mom isn't quite as okay with it, I don't think. Every Christmas I proudly tell her what wonderful things her thoughtful son gave me and her response is always, "And what did you give HIM?")

Gifts, to me, are a way to show someone that you know and value them. But they are also a way to feel valued: It makes me feel good to be the one that got you something you want and need. And this is where a good giver like me can go bad.

I clipped this image out of Oprah magazine last year, and hung it on my fridge. I thought it was beautiful, and true, especially with the image of what seems to be a grandmother's hands teaching her grandchildren to bake.

But here's where my good giving can go bad: When the giving is more about making me feel valuable than showing someone I value them. And, when I expect people to receive everything I want to give them. Giving becomes about pride, or possibly my insecurity, which are two sides of the same coin. Though giving makes me feel loving, is it really loving to keep trying to give something that they do not want?

Maybe you've tried to give things that people have rejected...

advice, or the passing on of knowledge or a skill





hope, a solution to a problem, or even your faith in God

...but they just don't want it. Or they don't want it from you. As parents, friends, spouses, and siblings, we grow in love and maturity when we accept that we are not the source of all things for those we love. I can't tell you how many times a friend has given me advice and when I tell Jeff he says, "I told you that six months ago." I have had mentors in the church who tell me things they wish their own children would listen to. My kids have certainly rejected many things I want to give them: from sewing tips to time with me. Gifts have to be received at the right time, when the receiver, and not the giver, is ready.

Another slice of wisdom on the subject of giving I've accrued through giving misadventures: Need and love are not the same thing. It is also possible for someone to need me and not love me at all. I have given and given and given in some relationships and felt secure that I was loved, only to find that I was a source of help for them, but not intimacy. I was just a warm body offering assistance. I could have been anyone. And that hurt like heck. I have also learned that it is possible for someone to love me, and not need me...not want some of the help I would like to offer. I'm finding that those relationships are wonderful and healthy. These friends keep me around for companionship, fun, and an occasional dose of truth and perspective, but generally they are adults who manage their own lives. I'm their gravy, not their bread.

And the final hope I have to offer, as a good giver who can sometimes go bad is this: God has a reason for every gift he's given me to share, So there is no deprivation after all, only the opportunity to treasure hunt, not for the perfect gift, but for the person my Father knows is ready to be given it. He's got a place for your gifts too. This Christmas, go find it.