We hope this Holiday Season is being bright for you. As I started preparing this message a few months ago, I had no idea of the Church’s promotion of the “He is the Gift” video or of their initiative that was coming. I count it as a tender mercy that it reflects and influences the message I prepared for you. I hope that this with the Church’s campaign of #sharethegift will bring you further enlightenment and reflection upon this season and of the gifts we truly have from above.
Through President Henry B. Eyring, we can learn some true precepts from the giving of gifts. He accentuates the following from an addresshe gave at BYU:
“I’ve always had a daydream of being a great gift-giver. I can picture someone opening my gift with tears of joy and a smile, showing that the giving, not just the gift, had touched a heart.… But even the experts may share some of my curiosity about what makes a gift great.
“I’ve been surrounded by expert gift-givers all my life. None of them has ever told me how to do it, but I’ve been watching and I’ve been building a theory. My theory comes from thinking about many gifts and many holidays, but one day and one gift can illustrate it.
“The day was not Christmas, or even close to it. It was a summer day. My mother died in the early afternoon. My father, my brother, and I had gone from the hospital to our family home, just the three of us. Friends and family came to the house, and went. In a lull, we fixed ourselves a snack; then we visited with more callers. It grew late, dusk fell, and I remember we still had not turned on the lights.
“Dad answered the doorbell. It was Aunt Catherine and Uncle Bill. When they’d walked just a few feet past the vestibule, Uncle Bill extended his hand and I could see that he was holding a bottle of cherries. I can still see the deep-red, almost purple, cherries and the shiny gold cap on the jar. He said, ‘You might enjoy these. You probably haven’t had dessert.’
“We hadn’t. The three of us sat around the kitchen table, and put some cherries in bowls, and ate them as Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine cleared some dishes. Uncle Bill asked, ‘Are there people you haven’t had time to call? Just give me some names and I’ll do it.’ We mentioned a few relatives who would want to know of mother’s death. And then Aunt Catherine and Uncle Bill were gone. They could not have been with us more than twenty minutes.
“Now, we can understand my theory best if we focus on one gift: the bottle of cherries. And let’s explain our theory from the point of view of the person who received the gift: me. That’s crucial, because what matters in giving is what the receiver feels.(emphasis added)”
President Eyring’s words about the giving of gifts echoes an insightful quote from Mother Teresa, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving”. The gift of giving is something misionaries should embrace with each person they are in contact with. You have some valuable gifts from above which others are needing in their lives. These are gifts that will be vital to them and best received when given with love. Continuing with his remarks, President Eyring provides us with some essentials that should be assimilated into the giving of gifts:
“As nearly as I can tell, the giving and receiving of a great gift always has three parts. Here they are, illustrated by that gift [of cherries] on a summer evening.
“First, I knew that Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine had felt what I was feeling and had been touched.… They must have felt we’d be too tired to fix much food. They must have felt that a bowl of home-canned cherries would make us feel, for a moment, like a family again. And they felt what I felt. Just knowing that someone had understood meant far more to me than the cherries themselves. I can’t remember the taste of the cherries, but I remember that someone knew my heart and cared.
“Second, I felt that the gift was free. I knew Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine had chosen freely to bring a gift. They weren’t doing it to compel a response from me; the gift seemed to provide them joy in the giving.
“And third, there was an element of sacrifice. Someone might say, ‘But how could they give for the joy of it and yet make sacrifice?’ Well, I could see the sacrifice. I knew, from the cherries being home-bottled, that Aunt Catherine had made them for her family. They must have liked cherries. But she took that possible pleasure from them and gave it to me. That’s sacrifice. But I have realized since then this marvelous fact: It must have seemed to Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine that they’d have more pleasure if I had the cherries than if they did. There was sacrifice, but it was made for a greater return to them—my happiness. Anyone can feel deprived as they sacrifice, and then let the person who gets a gift know it. But only an expert can let you sense that his sacrifice brings him joy because it blesses you.
“Well, there is my theory. Great gift-giving involves three things: you feel what the other feels; you give freely; and you count sacrifice a bargain.”…
“And so what shall we do to appreciate and give a merry Christmas? “Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8.)
“I hope that each of us this Christmas season will be touched by the feelings of others and give freely, without compulsion or expectation of gain. I hope we experience the joy of sacrifice, of giving something of ourselves. If we do so, we will learn this final lesson about giving—that those gifts are truly great which are given simply for the joy they bring to another heart.”1
The following Christmas story, “The Gift of Giving”, illustrates a woman who found the true joy of giving and receiving even when she had so little:
It was the Christmas season of 1950 in Linz, Austria. During the years immediately following World War II, this city on the Danube housed large numbers of refugees from various countries, many of them huddled in ramshackle abandoned army barracks. There they lived in stark poverty as Europe began to slowly rebuild after the war’s devastation.
My missionary companion and I had come to love and feel compassion for these refugees, many of whom lived in a large camp about a mile from our apartment. We visited them often and were received with friendship and respect.
One especially dear lady was a member of the Church. Lydia Haslinger was a native German who lived in a small room in one of the oldest barracks. Lydia survived on meager earnings from sweeping up the fine sawdust in a camp woodworking shop. She had a severe bronchial cough that was aggravated by the dusty work environment. It didn’t help that she had only an old, brown, threadbare sweater to keep out the damp cold of the Austrian winter.
But Lydia didn’t complain or show discouragement. On the contrary, she did her best to bring a bit of happiness to her many destitute refugee friends with her ready smile and hearty laugh. Having had some nursing experience, she would try to help those who were suffering from illness. Since she had no money, it was all she could offer.
In my letters to my family back in Star Valley, Wyoming, USA, I had written often of these struggling refugees.… My parents spread the word among the members of their ward, who responded generously. It was an astonished postal delivery man in Linz who, over several days, delivered 22 large boxes to our apartment. They were filled with warm socks, coats, shoes, and other clothing for all ages.
Three days before Christmas we found Lydia at home, coughing and shivering, but happy to see us as always. “Sister Haslinger,” we said, “we have a problem. Could you help us out?” Puzzled, she assured us that she was willing. “We have many boxes of clothing for the people here in the camp, but we don’t know the people well enough to determine the needs of the families. Would you take charge of distributing these things to your neighbors and friends for Christmas?”
Lydia was thrilled. She set about organizing the gifts for the various families and delivered them on Christmas Eve. When we visited her the next day she was bubbling with happiness. “Never in my life have I been so happy!” she exclaimed. The recipients had wept with joy and thanked Lydia profusely. She in turn had quickly denied personal responsibility, saying the gifts had come from America. We were impressed, but not surprised, to note that Lydia had kept not one thread of that clothing for herself.
The next morning, my companion and I went to a downtown department store. Then we were off to see Lydia again. When she opened our package and held up the heavy, warm winter coat we had bought for her, she wept with gratitude.
As for us, we were happy that we could do something for Lydia that she couldn’t [or wouldn’t] do for herself. But we also knew that she had already received a far greater gift. She lived by the Savior’s teaching that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Lydia had been able to feel the real joy of Christmas by giving unselfishly to others. For her, giving had been the greatest gift of all.2
One of the greatest gift givers, Mother Teresa simply said, “Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” She also phrased this, “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” My daughter London wrote about a missionary who experienced being a recipient of a true gift giver while serving in:
La Familia Esquivel of Argentina. This family was recently converted to the church. Though they were rich in things of the spirit, they were extremely poor in things of the world, having next to nothing. Brother Esquivel, his wife, and his four children lived under meager circumstances to say the least. One day this family invited a couple of missionaries into their home. One specific elder had been attacked by a dog earlier that week. The dog started on his pant leg and ended with his shoe. The shoe was battered and torn. It still worked as a shoe and the elder was planning on having them fixed later in the week, but at the time it was in pretty bad shape.
Well, Brother Esquivel noticed the bedraggled shoe right off and expressed his concern to the elder, asking him what had happened and whether or not he had another pair to wear. The elder did have another pair set aside for conferences and meetings but, as soon as the young missionary had admitted his situation with the dog Brother Esquivel ran into another room. When he returned he had in hand some nice leather dress shoes from Spain. Brother Esquivel asked the missionary to try them on. The elder did, all be it, hesitantly. Much to his surprise the shoes fit perfectly. Brother Esquivel smiled and told the elder those shoes now belong to him. Hurriedly the elder took off the shoes and held them out to Brother Esquivel, saying he had more than enough money to get his own shoes fixed or even purchase a brand new pair. Still smiling Brother Esquivel said, “Please, don’t deny us the blessings that God has for us” and handed the shoes back to the young missionary. That young missionary is my brother.
The blessings that came from this Brother Esquivel’s perfect gift far outweigh the price of a pair of shoes. I call this gift perfect, not because the shoes were the most expensive in the world, or because they were brand new, but because they were the only thing he could offer to that missionary at that time and at that place. He offered them not as a means to show the world how righteous he was, but he gifted them in perfect love. That is how gifts should be given The missionary knew this and received the gift with the faith that Heavenly Father would indeed bless this family, and the elder made sure of that.3
We have been extremely blessed with gifts from above. Now what can we do with them and how can we gift them to others? The following words from Elder Robert C. Gay will provide us with some valuable teaching:
A fundamental question you should consider is this: “What am I going to do with the blessings that have been bestowed upon me?” Will you be like those of the world to whom the prophet Moroni says, “Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life?” (Mormon 8:39). Or will you rise like disciples to whom the Savior says, “Unto whom much is given much is required”? (D&C 82:3). Will you engage or be content on the sidelines? Will you lift others or think only of yourself?
God invites us to be agents of action and to be anxiously engaged in good causes (see D&C 58:27; 2 Nephi 2:26). It is easy to limit the impact of our love, our influence, and our blessings to only close friends, loved ones, and those of our own choosing, but the Savior asks more of us. “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?” (Matthew 5:46). Paul added this exclamation point: “[Without] charity, I am nothing.” Charity, he added, “seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:2, 5). We are to leave our comfort zones and bless those around us, including strangers, those who reject us, and even those who despise us.…
Let this one absolute truth from heaven sink into your mind and heart—you have the power within you to astonish this world.…
Seated on the podium the day I marched down the aisle in my Harvard graduation robe was Mother Teresa. She rose and delivered one of the most memorable speeches ever given at Harvard—a profound call to service and repentance. She expressed the hope that we graduates, “in going into the world, [would] go with Jesus, [would] work for Jesus, and [would] serve him in the distressing guise of the poor.”(Mother Teresa, “A Hunger for God” (from a speech given on June 9, 1982), in Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians, ed. Kelly Monroe (1996), 318)
She also shared the following story of a couple she had met just a few days before leaving Calcutta for Harvard:
“A young man and a young woman came to our house with a big amount of money. I asked them, ‘Where did you get this money?’ because I knew that they gave their money to feed the poor.… They gave me the most strange answer: ‘Before our wedding we decided not to buy wedding clothes, not to have a wedding feast, but to give you the money to feed the poor.’ Then I asked them one more question: ‘But why, why did you do that?’ That is a scandal in India, not to have a wedding feast and special clothes. And they gave me this most beautiful answer: ‘Out of love for each other, we wanted to give each other something special, and that special something was that big sacrifice, the wonderful something.’” (Mother Teresa, “A Hunger for God,” 317)
Here was one of the world’s genuine saints reminding us graduates that everyone—not just some fortunate few in the audience that day but even those in the poorest regions of the world with little to their names—has something to give, if nothing more than sacrifice and pure love for others. Mother Teresa taught us that sacrificing something as simple as new clothing or a meal or a cultural rite of passage could change a life.
I knew then, as I hope you know now, that everyone has something to give. God asks that we act courageously in giving of ourselves and sharing the gifts and blessings He has given us. Take the talents and skills you have developed and go out and be a positive force for and on behalf of our Savior.4
Elder Holland gave the talk, “Are We Not All Beggars?” on where he confronted us to be aware of the needy around us. Not just for those who are monetary poor but for the emotional and spiritual poor. Some of what he said is as follows:
“Given the monumental challenge of addressing inequity in the world, what can one man or woman do? The Master Himself offered an answer. When, prior to His betrayal and Crucifixion, Mary anointed Jesus’s head with an expensive burial ointment, Judas Iscariot protested this extravagance and ‘murmured against her’ (See Mark 14:3–5; see also Matthew 26:6–9; John 12:3–5).
“‘Why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work.…’
“‘She hath done what she could” (Mark 14:6, 8; emphasis added).’
“‘She hath done what she could’! What a succinct formula! A journalist once questioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta about her hopeless task of rescuing the destitute in that city. He said that, statistically speaking, she was accomplishing absolutely nothing. This remarkable little woman shot back that her work was about love, not statistics. Notwithstanding the staggering number beyond her reach, she said she could keep the commandment to love God and her neighbor by serving those within her reach with whatever resources she had. ‘What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean,’ she would say on another occasion. ‘But if we didn’t do it, the ocean would be one drop less [than it is]’ (Mother Teresa of Calcutta, My Life for the Poor, ed. José Luis González-Balado and Janet N. Playfoot (1985), 20). Soberly, the journalist concluded that Christianity is obviously not a statistical endeavor. He reasoned that if there would be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety and nine who need no repentance, then apparently God is not overly preoccupied with percentages”(See Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God (1986), 28–29, 118–19; see also Luke 15:7).
“In that regard, I pay a personal tribute to President Thomas Spencer Monson. I have been blessed by an association with this man for 47 years now, and the image of him I will cherish until I die is of him flying home from then–economically devastated East Germany in his house slippers because he had given away not only his second suit and his extra shirts but the very shoes from off his feet. ‘How beautiful upon the mountains [and shuffling through an airline terminal] are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace’(Isaiah 52:7). More than any man I know, President Monson has ‘done all he could’ for the widow and the fatherless, the poor and the oppressed.”5
I have another quote by Mother Teresa I want to include. It is, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” We can make a difference in someone’s life.
Now I want to share some missionaries’ stories emphasizing the importance of instilling the gift of giving. Sister Cutia serving in the Philippines relates this simple story while observing others:
So on Sunday morning right before the church services start, I always try to shake everyone’s hand in the sacrament room. When I came to Elder Kresge, a temple worker, he shakes my hand and passes me 500 pesos. He told me, “Give this to the man who drives his Jeepney every Sunday picking up members and don’t tell him who it is from.” So I did what he asked, and when I shook Brother Aquino’s hand he was so surprised. He asked what it was and looked to see 500 pesos. He was so grateful and kept saying thank you. I told him it wasn’t from me, and that he should thank the Lord, so that’s what he did.
Brother Aquino owns a Jeepney and makes just enough to live in a comfy little home and to buy some food. But lately his daughter has been having a lot of health problems, so his family has been spending a lot on medicine and causing them to run low on their budget.
Every Sunday, Brother Aquino drives around the area picking up members so they can come to church and he doesn’t charge them anything at all. He told me when we first met that it wasn’t a sacrifice at all, and since he has done this, he has received so many blessings. I know that the money Elder Kresge gave was an answer to Brother Aquino’s prayer. Elder Kresge thought his money would be used to pay for the gas, but it will be used for so much more. I am just really grateful I got to see the love of God in action.
I loved seeing God use one of His children (Elder Kresge) to answer the needs of another and not even fully understand the impact that his act of service, charity and love would have. I know God answers prayers, and it is through others that he often does so. So if there’s something you need. Just pray! If there isn’t, then be ready to help answer another person’s prayer. I love that we can always talk to God in prayer. It seriously is the best.6
Sister Beth Winters, serving in the Alps Mission, shares about being at the right place for others in her story:
We went to Schwester “L’s” for dinner, and brought “S” and “J” with us. Helping her in the kitchen we noticed she was so stressed, but it was beautiful. She told us her conversion story and she has such a strong testimony. Man, she’s an ANGEL.
During a part of her story, she said, “The sister missionaries stood in front of me and I thought as though angels were standing before me.” I had a strong feeling, which I’d actually had earlier in the day, that we as missionaries, especially as sisters, are angels in people’s lives. I don’t realize it always. I sometimes do and sometimes don’t feel the power of the Spirit that we bring into people’s homes, but it is a blessing and a privilege to be able to do so. I’m so grateful when I can—that I am doing what I need to, to be able to bring that to other people. And I want to do all I can to be that angel for other people, that Heavenly Father can work through me to help and serve and bless other people’s lives.7
Elder Spencer Lee serving in the Adriatic mission shared a similar story of being in the right place at the right time:
The big crazy thing that happened this week was on Sunday. We got to church early to try and help out the ward. But what ended up happening was that while we were sitting there a member named Tea came up the stairs (the church is on the 2nd floor) and rather intensely told us that there were some people down stairs that needed to talk to us about the church! Slightly worried, Elder Myers and I headed down and saw three people standing there.
It turned out that Tea had seen them looking at the sign for church we have downstairs. He had run to get us so we could talk to them a little bit and explain our Church. They stayed for all three hours and agreed to meet with us again to talk more about the difference our church is from other churches, meaning the Book of Mormon, and lessons about everything in general. They were absolutely prepared from the Lord. So that was an awesome experience.8
Here is a short experience by Sister Michelle Russon serving in the Philippines.
The other miracle I want to talk about happened while we were proselyting. We went to visit this lady that we had OYMed earlier in the week, however, she wasn’t home. … Well, we were trying to decide what to do when this man, a little farther down the road, gets our attention and wants us to come over. He held up a Book of Mormon. Apparently, he had been sitting there in the shade reading it. We were a little wary at first, because we were wondering if he was drunk or something. He wasn’t really talking, just gesturing, so it wasn’t a completely invalid assumption. We were outside and we could always run if we needed to. As we started talking to him, we discovered that he can’t talk, hence the gesturing and grunts. He had had a stroke and lost his ability to speak, but he was still there mentally.
The Elders had shared some things with him before, so we reviewed the Restoration with him and had a really great lesson. The spirit was so strong and was a really sweet experience. He has such a strong desire to learn and even accepted a baptismal date for Christmas Day! He is definitely someone the Lord has been preparing to listen to our message. It is so cool how the Lord works. If we hadn’t talked to the lady last Thursday and hadn’t followed up we never would have met Brother Alilain.9
President Eyring once said, “The spirit of Christmas puts in our hearts a desire to give joy to other people. The celebration of Christmas helps us keep our promise to always remember the Lord and His gifts to us. And that remembrance creates a desire in us to give gifts to Him” (President Henry B. Eyring, “How to Give Gifts to Christ”, Ensign, December 2012). May we all work toward following the council of our Savior and freely give of our time and necessities to help those around us this Christmas. To end with, here is an additional quote by Mother Teresa for you to ponder
The fruit of Silence is Prayer The fruit of Prayer is Faith The fruit of Faith is Love The fruit of Love is Service The fruit of Service is Peace
1. Henry B. Eyring, “Giving with Joy”, Ensign, December 1982 (also form “Gifts of Love”, Taken from an address delivered to the student body of Brigham Young University on December 9, 1980.)
2. Boyd C. Rich, “The Gift of Giving”, Ensign, Dec 2011
3.London Schade, “Offerings” from a talk she gave in one of her Sacrament Meetings.
4. Elder Robert C. Gay Of the Seventy, “Your Journey of Giving”, From a commencement address, “Continuing Your Life’s Journey,” given at Brigham Young University–Idaho on July 23, 2013.
5. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Are We Not All Beggars?”, Ensign, November 2014
6. Sister Jezelle Cutia, Quezon Philippines Mission, 26 October 2014
7. Sister Beth Winters, Alpine German-Speaking Mission, 20 October 2014
8. Elder Spencer Lee, Adriadic, South Mission, 3 November 2014
9. Sister Michelle Russon, Bacalod Philippines Mission, 2 November 2014.