“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill.
Around this time of year, my wife and I often remind each other how fortunate we are, from the most simplistic circumstances to the favorable conditions that provide us with comfort, security, affection, nourishment, and calm.
It’s worth noting that our lives are not devoid of unexpected challenges, personal distresses, and at times, loneliness for those cherished individuals who are no longer part of this earthly life. Unfortunately, the holidays tend to amplify that loneliness as we all yearn for the celebratory occasions of holidays past.
But every year, just as I’m about to become consumed by crippling thoughts of where my personal and professional lives are deficient, I’m given the gift of perspective, and immediately I’m humbled.
My wife and I regularly participate in a charitable holiday program that provides teenagers with gifts their families cannot afford. Of course, such charitable programs around the holidays are nothing new. Neither are the naysayers who often justify their exclusion by assuming these youngsters are simply looking for a handout for some overpriced, materialistic possession and believe the notion of what we give in life is unimportant.
Yes, some teenagers cannot escape the materialistic spirit so many adults ironically adopt during the holidays – regardless of their financial limits. But overwhelmingly, you might be surprised to discover that today’s youth are not as materialistic or careless as you assume. Let me explain what I mean.
As we scrolled through the long wish list from unknown teenagers, I found myself instantly speechless to discover one practical request after another for basic necessities I take for granted regularly. When asked to wish for anything from an anonymous gift-giver, even with their limited life experiences, they were unbelievably responsible with their choices.
Many requested warm coats, which made me question whether their current clothing was terribly inadequate. Others asked for a pair of new socks, even socks for the entire family, which guilted me over the many times I’ve casually tossed a pair with a hole in the toe into the garbage. Finally, there were requests for warm blankets and comforters, leading me to surmise that there may have been times when their living conditions were without heat.
But the one that impacted me the most was the teenager who asked for a Christmas tree. It made me recall a quote by American columnist and author Burton Hillis. “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” Was that what this teenager was hoping to capture this holiday season? Have they never had a Christmas tree before?
I began concocting several scenarios for the request, but whatever the real reason was irrelevant. For a teenager to ask for nothing more than a Christmas tree from a total stranger immediately secured them a place on our holiday what we give list.
American author, motivational speaker, and professor Leo Buscaglia once said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
While the charitable holiday program my wife and I participate in might seem like the smallest act of caring, the impacts can be immeasurable for teenagers navigating through the struggles of life, often unsolicited by them. They need to be assured that there are people in society who, through their generosity, understand that what we give is powerful and often alters two lives.
The act of what we give doesn’t just benefit the receiver but the giver as well. It forces us to stop and take inventory of the many blessings our lives have been afforded (and often taken for granted), which makes sharing those blessings an easy decision. Then, suddenly, you lose sight of the things you believe your life lacks.
I know that the generosity of others has impacted my own life through the years. It seems careless not to share that kindness with those just starting to understand that the world can be unfair and even uncaring, as greed and a lack of empathy render many unsympathetic to the challenges others face.
Regardless of anonymity, what we give to those individuals whose blessings are limited is the true gift we receive during the holiday season, which has the incredible potential to turn a life around.