I've noticed a strange phenomenon around Christmas time this year. For the past couple of years, my roommates and I have tried to be "good neighbors" in the most old fashioned and traditional sense of the word by caroling and giving away baked Christmas goodies to those around us. Sometimes it's hard to get people to answer the door (I live in kind of a rough neighborhood). But the ones who live closest to us now gladly accept our cookies.
What I've noticed this year is that, without fail, those neighbors come to our door a couple of days later with Christmas goodies of their own. And one of the neighbors even bought candy from a local shop because they don't really bake, but they didn't want our kindness to go unreturned.
What do you think makes people feel like they have to respond in kind when you do something nice for them? I'm not sure that this is always true, but it seems like part of the desire to respond in kind is so that we don't owe anyone anything. Because if you give me a gift and I don't respond, I am now in your debt until I can repay it. It's the same with getting a Christmas gift that is worth way more than I spent on you. It makes me uncomfortable because there's this money sign hanging over our heads, showing how uneven the relationship seems.
I would suggest that this discomfort is rooted in our desire to be self-sufficient. It takes great humility to accept gifts from others, and we want to somehow believe that we earn those things or deserve them in some way. And if we didn't do anything to deserve them, at the very least we want to repay someone.
Grace is hard to accept. It's hard to accept that today, I might need you to love me because I'm in pain and I can't be nice to you. It's hard to accept that I might need help shoveling my sidewalk because I have the flu, and maybe I'll never be able to respond in kind. It's hard to accept that, when I look at my relationship with God, I'm really bringing nothing to the table. He gives me grace, he chooses to love me. I can respond in gratitude, but it can never really repay what he's given me.
If I was trying to identify emotional barriers to faith, this is a huge one. I think it's a barrier that we all face, and we all have to work through. But in times like the holidays, I think we can also be a part of bringing this barrier to the surface by seeking ways that we can pour out kindness and love on those around us--even when they have nothing to give back or have done nothing to deserve it. You never know how your gratuitous gift might open the door to someone receiving the grace of God.
So this week, who in your life can you give to for the holidays that wouldn't expect it and can't return it? How can you be a reflection of the love and grace of God by giving to those around you?