Receiving His Gift When We Have Nothing to Give in Return

You know that feeling when someone hands you a Christmas present and you didn't get one for them? What if that illustrates the true meaning of Christmas?

By Liberty McArtor Published on December 23, 2020

You know that feeling when someone hands you a Christmas present and you didn’t get one for them?

It’s awkward. You wonder if they expected a gift from you, and if their feelings are hurt that you don’t have one. Moreover, it’s humbling. Someone did something generous for you, and you gave nothing in return.

Why does this make us so uncomfortable? Many times, we don’t want them to think poorly of us. We don’t want them to think that we can’t afford it, or aren’t organized enough.

We don’t want to be outdone.

A Gift We Can’t Repay

A few days ago as I reflected on a gift I’d just received from a friend (I actually did order her a gift in advance and it truly hasn’t arrived yet), I realized these moments perfectly illustrate the meaning of Christmas.

God didn’t come to earth because of anything we could do in return. Just the opposite. He came because we sinned, and literally couldn’t redeem ourselves. We needed Jesus, and he gave himself — freely.

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It isn’t up to us to “pay Jesus back.” We don’t have to prove to him that we have our lives together enough to offer something amazing in return so he’ll be impressed. It’s up to us to accept his gift, to be thankful for it, and to love him with our whole lives.

Checking Our Motives

Too often we act as if it is up to us to prove something to God. We run around frantically trying to do as much good as we can, as if volunteering for one more thing will build up our points in Heaven. Or we try to be “our best selves” without actually inviting his Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out.

In our hearts we forget — or ignore — what his Word says about his unconditional love for us. We neglect the throne of grace, afraid he’ll decide he doesn’t love us anymore.

It isn’t up to us to “pay Jesus back.” It’s up to us to accept his gift, to be thankful for it, and to love him with our whole lives.

The Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive. But when we become obsessed with doing something because we feel guilty, we’re not truly giving out of love — pure, selfless, unconditional love for God and others. We’re hoping to receive ­— affirmation, acceptance, a sense of superiority.

If we “give” with these motivations, we aren’t really giving at all.

There’s nothing wrong with planning thoughtful gifts for all the people in your life. In fact, I am trying to do a better job at not forgetting people I’d really like to buy gifts for.

But I’m not going to become embarrassed anymore if I receive an unexpected gift and have no gift to give in return. I’m going to accept it with love and genuine gratitude. And instead of worrying what the giver will think of me, I’m going to think of Christ’s unconditional gift to us all.


Liberty McArtor, former staff writer for The Stream, is a freelance writer in the great state of Texas, where she lives north of Dallas with her husband and son. Follow Liberty on Twitter @LibertyMcArtor, or learn more about her at

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