Our Savior teaches in many places in the scriptures the value of giving. At this Christmas season it is interesting to contemplate that for everyone who gives there must also be a receiver. Is the receiver any less a Christian or any less Christlike because circumstances may have put him in a position where he cannot give but must be prepared to receive? Many others who do not need to receive will also have the blessing of receiving. To give or to receive in a Christlike way demands gratitude—gratitude for great blessings if a person be the giver and gratitude to the giver if one is the receiver.
Through the years it has been my experience that those who are on the receiving end have a great responsibility. It is far more difficult to be a Christlike recipient than it is to be a Christlike giver. It is so easy to offend, to say or do something that cuts the giver to the very center. We, as General Authorities, seem to be constantly on the receiving end. The Saints in the Church are so respectful and complimentary. We realize that much of what is being said is due to our calling and not to us as individuals. We graciously say, “Thank you,” and are ever aware of the statement: “Compliments reflect not what we are but what we should be.”
Let me share with you some great examples from my experience. Two Christmases ago we received a phone call on Sunday evening. The caller did not identify himself, rather he asked if we would be home. My son said, “Yes,” but before he could tell him it was our family home evening, the caller said, “Fine, then tell your folks to expect a visitor about 9:00 P.M.” Family home evening was held and the caller forgotten. Then refreshments were served, and right in the middle of the activity, the doorbell rang. Our son answered the door and, lo and behold, there was Santa Claus. Now I know this was the real Santa Claus because I looked at his boots. He had real boots on, not vinyl coverings. He came into the living room smiling and laughing. He shook hands with everyone; then he had each of my children sit on his knee, and he visited with them. Then he turned to me and he said, “Bishop, will you come over here?” So I went over and sat on the floor Indian-style in front of him. He said, “Santa Claus wants to do something.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope and he said, “I want you to give this to some needy person this year.” Tears came to his eyes as he passed me the envelope. I opened the envelope and there was a fresh, crisp $100 bill. Then Santa said, “I’ll come back next year and give you another one and see what you did with the first one.”
I took the $100 bill and put it in my wallet. Everytime I opened my wallet I was reminded to search for someone to whom I could give it. I went to many cities and countries, always watching and praying that I would give it to the right party. I saw many in need, many who could have used it, but I never felt impressed to give it away.
Then at the area conference in Sweden, I met a good friend of mine, Hakan Palm. I asked him if he knew anyone who needed this money. He told me of a lady whose husband had passed away. She lived way up in the north of Sweden above the Arctic Circle. She worked at a hotel as a cleaning woman to support herself and her two children. The missionaries who labored in that community knew she could never afford to go to the area conference without help, so they wrote home to their fathers. They told of the plight of this faithful Latter-day Saint who lived in such humble circumstances. The father of one of the missionaries wrote back to his son and sent enough money to get this woman and her two children to the area conference. It was an answer to her prayers. Now she could take her two children and the three of them could see the prophet, something she hadn’t even dared to hope would take place in this life.
She and her children traveled to Stockholm in pure faith. She did not have the slightest idea how they would get back home or what they would use for food and lodging while in Stockholm. Hakan Palm said $100 would take care of their meager needs while they attended the area conference and would pay their way back home. I think that a kind and loving Father in heaven knew her needs and put the $100 bill in its trajectory course (as Elder Neal Maxwell would say) to provide this family with the means to see the prophet.
In Boise, Idaho, several years ago I taught seminary. Our class decided to sub for Santa. We had one of the girls in the class prepare a quart bottle and a sign that would remind the class members to contribute. Then they selected a family, semi-active, who lived in the stake. This family had eight children. They weren’t doing very well financially; in fact, we were quite certain that they would not have much of a Christmas without us. We assigned each class member to bring suits, shirts, skirts, and blouses that they had outgrown but were still very nice. We invited them to bring toys and other gifts they would like to share. Our goal was to raise $75.00 to buy new toys for the children and food for Christmas dinner. Everything went fine until a week before school let out for the holidays. We had raised $65.00 and had it in a jar in our seminary cupboard at the ward. We met each morning for seminary at 7:00 A.M.
A week before school let out we went in one morning to get the quart jar and put it on the table, but it was not there. Someone had stolen it. These wonderful young students could not believe that anyone would steal it. I said to the class leader, “President, what are you going to do now?” He said, “We will start all over again and raise the money.” Then I saw a miracle take place. These choice young people who had been going without lunch once or twice a week to raise the first money now decided to go without lunch every day. They worked to earn money that last week, and by the Friday when school let out for the holidays, we had raised $73.00.
Arrangements were made by the class to meet Christmas Eve at 3:00 P.M. We were going to wrap all the clothes and toys and put name tags on everything. While some of us were doing that, several others went out in the nearby neighborhood and asked neighbors to contribute a can or bottle of food for a food basket. And the president of the class took his vice-president and secretary and bought a turkey and toys for the whole family. They drove across town to save 10¢ or 15¢ on an item so that every penny would be used to its maximum purchasing power. These things were wrapped. The turkey was placed in one of several food boxes, and then a panel delivery truck was loaded with the Christmas packages. One of the students had volunteered her father to be Santa Claus. He was with us. We drove over to the area where the needy family lived and then down a long, dark, dirt road to their home near the Boise River. When we got close to the home, we could see a woman and two children standing on the back porch. The porch light was on. The dog began to bark. We had three cars of seminary students, and all the car lights were off so no one could see us. The woman held her hands up to shade her eyes from the porch light and peered out into the darkness. I could see she was becoming concerned over the unseen visitors. I was in the first car, and I yelled across the lawn to the woman, “Don’t be afraid! It’s old Santa Claus who has come to see your family!” Santa Claus jumped out of the car and headed across the lawn. His bells were ringing, and he was saying, “Ho, ho, ho!” One of the little boys, about five years old, was standing by his mother and said, “It’s him! It’s really him! It’s old Santa Claus!”
Santa Claus went right in the house and into the living room. He later reported that the whole family was there. They had a scrawny little tree with a few decorations on it, half a box of oranges under the tree, and nothing more. They would not have had a Christmas had it not been for the seminary class. While Santa was inside, we began to unload all of the gifts onto the back porch. We each took two or three arm loads. One of the younger children could hear us out back, and he came out and watched us load the large, screened-in back porch with gifts. He signaled his brothers and sisters, and soon Santa Claus was all alone with the mother and father. The children were lined up watching us unload gifts and food boxes.
We went back to the car and waited for Santa Claus. When he came we drove in silence back to the chapel. When we arrived we stood on the church lawn and talked about the experience. The class president said, “When that little kid stood on the back porch and said, ‘It’s him! It’s really him! It’s old Santa Claus!’ I had a feeling I’ve never had before in my life.” The tears came to his eyes and he couldn’t say anymore. We all felt the same way. We stood together, offered a prayer, and then we went home. Many of our students had learned for the first time what it really means to give.
Were they blessed for giving? Of course they were. But what about the family who received? Were they blessed for their attitude of gratitude at being on the receiving end? Indeed they were, not only by the gifts of toys and food but also by a sweet Heavenly Father who would bless them for not offending those who gave. You see, the father of the family could have let false pride or lack of gratitude spoil the experience for the givers. He did not. He and his wife and the children accepted it with such childlike excitement and uncontained joy that it was a joyous experience for all.
In Act One by Moss Hart, the author tells of a particularly difficult experience he had one Christmas. His father was working several jobs, his mother had taken in renters, and still they were barely making it.
“Obviously Christmas was out of the question—we were barely staying alive. On Christmas Eve my father was very silent during the evening meal. Then he surprised and startled me by turning to me and saying, ‘Let’s take a walk.’ He had never suggested such a thing before, and moreover it was a very cold winter’s night. I was even more surprised when he said as we left the house, ‘Let’s go down to a Hundred Forty-ninth Street and Westchester Avenue.’ My heart leapt within me. That was the section where all the big stores were, where at Christmastime open pushcarts full of toys stood packed end-to-end for blocks at a stretch. On other Christmas Eves I had often gone there with my aunt, and from our tour of the carts she had gathered what I wanted the most. My father had known of this, of course, and I joyously concluded that this walk could mean only one thing—he was going to buy me a Christmas present.
“On the walk down I was beside myself with delight and an inner relief. It had been a bad year for me, that year of my aunt’s going, and I wanted a Christmas present terribly—not a present merely, but a symbol, a token of some sort. I needed some sign from my father or mother that they knew what I was going through and cared for me as much as my aunt and my grandfather did. I am sure they were giving me what mute signs they could, but I did not see them. The idea that my father had managed a Christmas present for me in spite of everything filled me with a sudden peace and lightness of heart I had not known in months.
“We hurried on, our heads bent against the wind, to the cluster of lights ahead that was 149th Street and Westchester Avenue, and those lights seemed to me the brightest lights I had ever seen. Tugging at my father’s coat, I started down the line of pushcarts. There were all kinds of things that I wanted, but since nothing had been said by my father about buying a present, I would merely pause before a pushcart to say, with as much control as I could muster, ‘Look at that chemistry set!’ or, ‘There’s a stamp album!’ or, ‘Look at the printing press!’ Each time my father would pause and ask the pushcart man the price. Then without a word we would move on to the next pushcart. Once or twice he would pick up a toy of some kind and look at it and then at me, as if to suggest this might be something I might like, but I was ten years old and a good deal beyond just a toy; my heart was set on a chemistry set or a printing press. There they were on every pushcart we stopped at, but the price was always the same and soon I looked up and saw we were nearing the end of the line. Only two or three more pushcarts remained. My father looked up, too, and I heard him jingle some coins in his pocket. In a flash I knew it all. He’d gotten together about seventy-five cents to buy me a Christmas present, and he hadn’t dared say so in case there was nothing to be had for so small a sum.
“As I looked up at him I saw a look of despair and disappointment in his eyes that brought me closer to him than I had ever been in my life. I wanted to throw my arms around him and say, ‘It doesn’t matter … I understand … this is better than a chemistry set or a printing press … I love you.’ But instead we stood shivering beside each other for a moment—then turned away from the last two pushcarts and started silently back home. I don’t know why the words remained choked up within me. I didn’t even take his hand on the way home nor did he take mine. We were not on that basis. Nor did I ever tell him how close to him I felt that night—that for a little while the concrete wall between father and son had crumbled away and I knew that we were two lonely people struggling to reach each other.
“I came close to telling him many years later, but again the moment passed.” (From ACT ONE, by Moss Hart. Copyright 1959 by Catherine Carlisle Hart and Joseph M. Hyman, Trustees. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.)
The greatest gift is the gift of self. Moss and his father both must have felt deep inside the need to give of self. It would only have required a few soul-filled words that would have meant far more than all the toys they could both carry back together.
Make an effort this year to give gifts of real worth. Tell your parents, brothers, and sisters how much you really love them. Not all together, but in a letter or a moment of time alone with each one. Express how you really feel about them. Thank your parents for the gifts they give, but let them know that the best gift God has ever given to you is to be part of the best family in the world, with the greatest dad and the sweetest mom. You will not give them a sweeter gift than this.
Bless you, my young friends, as you give the gift of self. Make adjustments in your life so that your actions conform to following in the footsteps of Jesus. Watch your family members, especially your parents, as you express to them your love. They will teach you how to receive, for tears will come to their eyes, and their hearts will swell wide and full, and they will be unable to speak out of gratitude for you.