There is going to be a lot of gift-giving this Christmas, and trust me, I love giving (and of course receiving) gifts as much as the next person. But it’s always good to remember the gifts we don’t even have to pay for, already in our possession, that we can both give to others and also receive for ourselves.
No matter what you have or don’t have this Christmas—what you get or don’t get—the following ten unexpected gifts are yours for the taking.
1. The gift of imperfection
When you think about the story of your life, are there scenes you wish you could just delete altogether? Are there mistakes you’ve made that seem too big to recover from? Are there negative experiences you worry have changed you forever?
Do you ever wish you could just wipe the slate clean and start over?
The problem is we cannot run from the stories that have shaped us. They live inside of us and become a part of us and come with us, wherever we go. The good news is these pieces of our stories are precisely the parts that make us each so remarkable.
I love this quote from Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection:
“When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving. Our sense of worthiness—that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging—lives inside of our story.” —Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
What if we stopped wishing for a life someone else has and started embracing and celebrating the life that is ours? This beautiful gift is yours to use and shape and enjoy. There is no time left to be wasting it or complaining about it or wishing it away.
2. The gift of going without
I love the idea that, even when everything we think we wanted has been stripped from us—the job, the retirement plan, the marriage, the baby, the good health, the friendship—what we have left is the best gift we could ask for: ourselves.
In fact, often times discovering who we truly are requires having all the external things stripped away.
In his book The Gift of Being Yourself, David Brenner talks about how often we build a false self around external attachments, and even when they are really good attachments, we do so at the expense of what we most desire:
Becuase it is hollow at its core, the life of a false self is a life of excessive attachments. Seeking to avoid implosion and non-being, the false serve grasps for anything that appears to have substance and then clings to these things with the tenacity of a drowning man clutching a life ring. One person might cling to his possessions, accomplishments or space. Another may cling to her dreams, memories or friendships. Any of these things can be either a blessing or a curse. They are a blessing when held with open hands of gratitude and a curse when they are grasped in fists of entitlement and viewed as “me” or “mine”. —David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself
I don’t know about you, but I can identify with the feeling of grasping for things I believe have substance as if they were a life preserver, as if I will die without them. A person. A relationship. A new possession. An opportunity. An amount of money in the bank.
What is it for you?
What if not having that very thing is pointing you toward your most unexpected gifts?
3. The gift of unexpected change
Maybe you’re in a place right now where you’re facing a very unexpected change in your life. Perhaps you’ve lost a job, or a loved one has recently died, or you found out you’re sick, or someone in your life is really hurting.
Maybe the hurting person is you—and you just don’t feel like yourself.
When life takes a left turn, it’s natural to wonder: why? But what if, instead of asking, “why is this happening to me?” you asked, “why is this happening for me?” Seriously. What if you took out a piece of paper right now and starting making a list of all the reasons this circumstance could be happening for your good?
I love this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love:
God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout cookies (or however the old adage goes), some wonderful things did happen to me in the shadow of all that sorrow.
Not everything about your circumstance will be good. But don’t let this season pass you by without recognizing the incredible gift change can be.
Life is not static. It was never meant to be. It is always changing. So if you’re in a place that seems tense or confusing or sad or dark, the good news is it will not be this way forever. That is your great hope. Hold onto it.
4. The gift of fear
Fear is something we, as a culture, talk about often. We want to overcome our fear, get rid of our fear, punch our fear in the face. But fear is not only a natural, normal part of life, it can also be one of many incredible, unexpected gifts—if we’re willing to accept it.
Fear can warn us, it can protect us, it can speak to us, it can answer our deepest questions. But not if we try to avoid it or wrestle with it or pretend it doesn’t exist. What if, instead of resisting or resenting our fear, we could walk up to it and talk to it, knowing it was powerful and wise and had no control over us?
Here’s what Kate Northrup has to say about fear in her book, Money: A Love Story:
Within your deepest fear lies your deepest knowing of where your brilliance would best be utilized next. And that’s why you’re so freaked out. There’s a new horizon available to you. It’s calling your name, but right now the way you’re hearing it is through the lens of fear. That’s okay, you’re doing great.
There’s a wonderful Fritz Perls quote I heard via Gail Larsen, at her Real Speaking workshops, and it goes like this: “Fear is excitement without the breath.” Gold lies in the places where big emotional charge comes up for us, especially when that emotional charge comes in the form of fear.
Did you catch that? Fear is only one expression of energy. Another expression is excitement. Which means fear and excitement are often intertwined. When you pay attention to the gift of your fear, you also might find what you most desire.
Breathe. Listen to your fear. It is whispering you secrets.
5. The gift of losing everything
Sometimes the very best thing that can happen to us is what we would call the “worst” thing that could happen to us: we lose everything. Everything we’ve worked for, everything that has been given to us, everything we believe makes us “worthy”. Because what we have left over, when all of that is gone, is hope. What an incredible, unexpected gift.
Recently I read an article by Christena Cleveland that discusses the connection between hope and privilege—and how the two can be mutually exclusive.
Here’s a short expert from that article:
My friends are right. My privilege—my access to power, influence and agency due to my social location—clogs the pipeline between me and God, reducing my ability to receive the always present, always powerful flow of hope, comfort, and empowerment. When faced with a tragic injustice, I have the option of turning toward other things that will bring me temporary solace: Netflix and Jelly Belly binges effectively numb my pain; and a victory (of the bargain variety) at Nordstrom Rack goes a surprisingly long towards boosting my (false) sense of power.
What if the very things you think are the elements of the life you desire are actually blocking you from the thing you desire most: spiritual awakening?
The feeling of being alive.
Pay attention for the ways that you are going “without” this Christmas and then remind yourself how those open places are just spaces for you to encounter and experience and enjoy what you have always wanted—pure Love—a closeness and intimacy with God.
6. The gift of friendship
I’ve been going through a hard time lately and I would not have been able to make it through without my friends—who have cooked for me, texted me, checked in on me, listened to me, let me vent and cry, and even come over to my house and helped me get a Christmas tree up and decorated.
When I think about how thankful I am for true friends in this time, I’m reminded of this quote by Henry Nouwen:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.
How can you receive and give the gift of friendship this holiday? It’s perfectly free.
7. The gift of happiness
Most of us are looking for happiness and peace outside of ourselves. We’re hoping some new relationship will come along, some opportunity, some amount of money, some promotion, some person or event to validate us and make us feel happy.
You already possess all you need to be genuinely happy. The way you reach that awareness is through an inner journey that brings about an emotional, psychological, and spiritual transformation. A deep inner shift in your reality occurs, aligning you with the creative energy of the Universe. Such change is possible when you invite Spirit to open up the eyes of your awareness to the abundance that is already yours. —Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance
I like to think of happiness like a garden. Some of us have, long ago, planted the seeds of happiness and contentment in the garden of our spirits, and we are reaping the results of that garden today.
It’s a big, flourishing garden that is producing food we can pick and eat.
But if I never did plant my garden, it’s easy for me to look over to my neighbor’s house and say, What? Why does she get such a beautiful garden when I don’t have one? If I would look, I would see I have the seeds and the soil, just like my neighbor. I simply haven’t put them to use.
Plants grow with love, nurture, care, food and water.
How are you growing your own happiness today?
8. The gift of knowing the truth
I’ve been thinking a lot about truth lately—and how truly painful it can be.
It is painful to hear, for example, a true criticism of something you’ve worked hard to accomplish. It’s painful to hear “you’re fired” or “I’m furious with you” or “I want to break up.” This is why you hear it said “ignorance is bliss”. Because not knowing can feel fairly peaceful, while knowing the truth cuts right to your heart.
But without truth, we live on shaky ground—all the puzzle pieces of our life sort of making sense, but not really adding up.
The truth is what sets us free.
If you are holding a secret to yourself—something you’ve known you needed to say for a long time, but haven’t been able to muster the words—give the gift of truth to the person who deserves it today. You are not protecting anybody by keeping secrets. You’re simply prolonging the pain.
And if you are facing some hard truth that you don’t want to accept, know that accepting the truth is your only path to freedom. The truth is all you have. The truth is your lifeline. It is your way forward. What a gift.
9. The gift of pain
I’ve been taking yoga at a studio recently, and this is the first time in my life I’ve consistently practiced (unless you count with laptop on my living room floor). I’m being pushed and challenged and my body is screaming at me, at points—quite literally shaking and boycotting the pain I’m putting it through.
And yet I know that pain is not always a bad thing, no matter what it feels like. In fact, some pain is just a part of life. And even the pain that is unnatural, or that I should never have had to suffer, does have a lot to teach me.
Where would we be without it?
In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor points out what we might be missing if we work our whole lives to avoid pain:
The way most people talk about darkness, you would think it came from a whole different deity, but no. To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up. To want a life with only half of these things in it is to want half a life, shutting the other half away where it will not interfere with one’s bright fantasies of the way things ought to be.
If we run away from darkness on principal, doing everything we can to avoid it because there simply is no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running from is God?”
No, pain does not feel good. But in my pain I find perspective, compassion, growth, grace, humility, groundedness, and even God.
10. The gift of breath
This past week I held my little baby niece for the very first time. She was not even one week old. One of the things that struck me as I held her was how well her little lungs were working, even though she was so new to the world. She didn’t have to think about breathing. No one taught her. She just breathes. And breath is the very thing keeping her alive.
How amazing is that? Just one of our many unexpected gifts.
When we are hurting, or surprised, or terrified, our first instinct is to hold our breath. It’s almost like, for a moment, we’re not sure we want this gift we’ve been given. But breath is the very thing that makes our life manageable.
It is what guides us through the pain and what points us back to ourselves.
And no matter what we have or don’t have, no matter where we are, no matter what is happening in our lives, we can always, always breathe.
What an unexpected gift.