Receive the gift

I’m a fan of lists. Always have been, always will be.

I even have a Christmas spreadsheet tracking what gifts we’ve purchased, what gifts we still need to buy, etc. In the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, I unhealthily obsess over my list, trying desperately to ensure that I haven’t forgotten anyone.

I’ll admit, one of my least favorite things about Christmas is when I (or the girls) get something from someone unexpected.

I should be delighted. But more often than not, this leaves me fretting over how to reciprocate to the giver.

That’s our culture’s way, isn’t it?

If you do something for me, I need to do something for you.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

This week, gracious volunteers from my high school youth ministry distributed Christmas party supplies and white elephants to the students in our high school ministry.

We'd initially asked people to register for this event and then drop off a gift if they wanted to participate in the white elephant exchange. The expectation was that if you dropped off a gift, you’d receive a gift.

But as my student leaders and I wrestled with a chapter from Bob Goff’s Everybody Always, we realized all the reasons why someone might not drop off a gift even though they meant to or wanted to.

So, we decided to cast a wider net. We got a few extra white elephants and then delivered them and the party supplies to any student who’s attended our high school ministry (even once) this year.

As soon as these gifts started getting delivered, I started receiving messages from confused parents:

I think there’s been a mistake. We didn’t sign up to participate in this.

I’d apologize for the confusion (we did, after all, change course midway through) and explain we wanted to include rather than exclude people from the night’s festivities.

More often than not, I’d get a response back asking, 

What do we need to do to make this right? We can return the gift… Or drop one off for someone else.

Quid pro quo, right?

And again, I get it. This is my default response to, especially this time of year.

But as I texted the umpteenth confused parent saying, 

You don’t need to do anything. Just receive the gift!

I couldn’t help but think: Is this how God feels about us?

Is this how God feels when we overcomplicate salvation? Is this how God feels when we start telling people the steps they need to take in order be saved? 

Is God sitting there thinking, You don’t need to do anything. Just receive the gift!

After all, unlike my student leaders and I, God didn't need to do a mid-course correction. 

God has always welcomed all.

God has always loved everyone. As I told my confirmands on Sunday, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more or less than God already does.

So, this Christmas, may we have the courage to stop trying to reciprocate and instead, simply receive the gifts… From God and each other.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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