“A picture is worth a thousand words” never rang truer than when I opened the gift from my husband the first Christmas we were married. It was a program from the 1989 auction of Pablo Picasso’s Au Lapin Agile, when it was purchased at over $40 million by a private bidder. The program was hardbound, wherein you found a brief history and a 12 x 12-inch foldout full print of the painting. The 24-year fold left a crease running vertically down the outer arm of the harlequin, a portrayal of Picasso himself.
A couple of years prior when my husband and I were newly dating I told him of an impactful experience I had when I first came upon this painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I was moved by the contrast of the bright colors and stoic expressions. I spent the next several days learning as much as I could about the subjects, location, and period of the painting. It led me down a rather satisfying path of discovery where I emerged feeling a connection to and empathy for Picasso.
I’m sure when I turned to my sweetheart that Christmas morning my expression was a mix of gratitude and curiosity because he quickly told me the entire story behind my gift. After making countless phone calls to the MET he was finally routed to the right person only to find out there were no prints for sale of this painting. He spent the next few weeks calling museum after museum to inquire after a print, which was not sold by anyone, anywhere. With research my husband learned of a little industry of painters that will, for a fee, go and paint a copy of your desired work so you can have a more authentic experience when hanging your art. However, with the holiday rapidly approaching there were no artists for hire that would have the project done in time. At last, when searching online for other options, my husband came upon the auction program on eBay. Though the online pictures showed the outside cover only, he hoped there would be at the very least a small copy of the painting inside for me to frame. So with $25 and a prayer, he purchased what would become one of my favorite gifts, and the prompt for one of my favorite stories to tell visitors when they see it framed and hanging in my dining room, crease and all.
Matthew 6:21, the focus of today’s #LightTheWorld message reminds, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and is emphasized at the end of the video message with, “life’s true treasures can’t be bought.” Knowing that my husband heard my stories, internalized and identified with the things that were of meaning to me, and then spent his own time finding a way to express his interest in my life meant a great deal to me. He took the time to learn what I treasured, and found a way to speak to that through his gift.
With one-click purchasing and self-initiated wish lists it can be difficult to meet a culture of to-dos with meaningful giving. Imagine what our world could look life if we put ourselves back into the things we gave, showing the ones we love just how much we pay attention to their needs. Last year my husband and I hosted my aunt and uncle who were visiting from out of town. We’re a young, eclectic couple without a matching dish or fork in our kitchen. It tickled my aunt when I said jokingly, “This is our chapter of life; we don’t match here.” A few weeks later I received a surprise package from her: a complete set of flatware, matching only in style, but none were the same color. She sent a note saying how delighted she was at our current “chapter” and wanted to do something to say thank you for the meal. It delighted me that my aunt thought to do this for us, but it made me smile even wider that she kept with our obviously relaxed “unmatched” style.
I love the New Testament story of Christ feeding the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes and how it illustrates how to give meaningfully. Instead of sending the crowd of followers away for their dinner, He took the time to pause and break bread with them, giving them more of the time they so desperately hoped for, while also caring for their temporal needs. While we might not have the ability to perform the miracle of multiplying our substance with prayer, we absolutely have the capacity to give of ourselves with purpose.
What are some of the ways we can give meaningfully, you might ask? Well, here is a very non-comprehensive list of ideas that can be adapted to meet the needs of the people you love most:
- Read your teen’s favorite book. Discuss it over some hot chocolate. Showing interest in something your loved one enjoys is a surefire way to help them feel loved, heard and appreciated.
- Spend an afternoon organizing the hall closet or kitchen drawer where your dad always complains he can never find what he’s looking for.
- Coordinate with your local in-patient hospital units to provide a meal for their family kitchen. There are a lot of people who spend their holiday sitting at the bedside of someone they love. Having a warm meal within reach helps cut costs for what is already a mounting financial weight, while also bringing the feeling of home a little closer.
- Give a memory. This year we’re taking our toddler to see the all-ages Christmas event at our local symphony. He has shown a great love for music and interest in learning different instruments and their sounds. Experiencing something new with him will always be one of my favorite ways to show my love.
Giving doesn’t need to be grand. Gestures don’t need to be topped. Friends don’t need to be outdone. Giving meaningfully can be enough. And receiving meaningfully can be everything. Lowell Bennion said it best,
“Learn to like what doesn’t cost much. Learn to like reading, conversation, music. Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking. Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills. Learn to like people, even though some of them may be different…different from you. Learn to like to work and enjoy the satisfaction doing your job as well as it can be done. Learn to like the song of birds, the companionship of dogs. Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things. Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day. Learn to keep your wants simple and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.”