Every Christmas, I make the effort to give gifts to my closest friends. Sometimes, it’s a mixed CD (yes, I still make those) or perhaps it’s my favorite highlighter pens. I like to make it personal, affordable and fun. Yet, there is always this awkward pause when I pull out the wrapped present. My friend’s voice jumps up an octave with a “wow, thank you” –their uncomfortability with the gift-giving impossible to ignore.

Perhaps they’re feeling:

  • anxious because they didn’t know gifts were being exchanged
  • guilty because their budget doesn’t allow them to pass out gifts to friends
  • responsible for giving something just so that “we’re equal.”

But even as a generous gift-giver, I can feel awkward, too. Does she think I am over-the-top? Does she not like the gifts I give? Is there any resentment over the gifts I’ve given her over the years?

When it comes to giving gifts with friends, it is important to

  • set expectations
  • and aim for connection over competition

Here are a few important clarifications before we move forward.

Love Languages are Not Limitations to Gift-Giving

At this point, you may be thinking of love languages.

“Well, gift-giving is not one of my love languages so it’s just not very meaningful to me.”

Though, in fact, almost all of the love languages are a gift. You are offering your best to someone because you love them. It could be offering your time to babysit their kids, or coming over and cleaning out their garage. Your gift could be a hug, a hand-written poem, or sending a song that reminds you of them. Giving gifts isn’t always monetary but it does cost us something.

The gift of friendship is summarized in 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Humility, generosity, and sacrifice are characteristics of true love.

Even if your love language may not be physical gifts, there can still be an imbalanced amount of who is doing more in the friendship even when it comes to acts of service or kind words. It’s important to remember, whatever you give can still create a weird tension that may need to be reconsidered.

Give Yourself a Gift-Giving Heart Check

So then, it comes down to our motivations for giving.

If you sense your friends are overwhelmed and you still continue to lavish on them…why? What is at the root of your giving? What’s the goal? As the generous gift-giver, you may start with one motivation but when your friend doesn’t reciprocate, do you garner bitterness? Do you wonder when it will be your turn to receive a thoughtful act of kindness?

And for those who find receiving gifts so uncomfortable, what is triggering you? Is it because you are showing a vulnerable side of yourself? Maybe you think receiving gifts is selfish, or you place self-imposed pressure to reciprocate. Or perhaps, you just wished you both had communicated ahead of time.

Putting in some self-reflection will allow you to come to your friend with more understanding of why the giving and receiving is causing tension in your friendship.

A New Perspective on “Rich” Friendships

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share… 1 Timothy 6:17

The best gifts are the ones that build connection. When you know what your friends really need, you’ll be better at giving appropriate gifts that matter. The money will matter less and the contest for who is giving more will dissipate.

In my current friendships, there is so much shared back and forth. Someone watches my kids while I run an errand and I pick them up a coffee. Someone sends me a Venmo for my favorite pastry. We invite them over for dinner so they don’t have to make it themselves after another busy day at work. Someone drops off hand-me down clothes and I send a text that I am praying for them. There is no counting of the score, but enough support that feels equally good.

We are to be rich, in what? Not things. But good deeds! Generous and willing to share. Sharing ourselves is probably the best gift we can give. The holidays are a great opportunity to acknowledge the gift of your friend. No matter how the gift-giving takes shape; it’s the seeing and celebrating of the investments made to the friendship over the years.

My dear uncomfortable receivers, receiving graciously allows you to receive life’s gifts and the heart of your friend. Enjoy! Be appreciative! Maybe send a thank you note or text. But really work with God to understand the value of your friendship isn’t in the giving; it’s in the sharing of life and love in all forms.