By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
Dad was grateful for gifts he received and liked and he would let you know it. But Dad was never a man of pretense, and that often resulted in awkward responses he would make when he received a gift that neither suited him or pleased him.
At Christmas or other occasions — with our family of gift-givers and receivers around — Dad often opened a gift and said aloud, “I wonder whatever made anyone think I would want one of these!” Instead of our being offended at such a response, we all learned to laugh and know it was Dad being Dad.
Tarnish on the Golden Rule? The late Christian psychotherapist Paul Tournier wrote a book titled The Meaning of Gifts. In that book, he pointed out that many of us are guilty of choosing a gift we ourselves would like and then bestowing that gift on another as if they had chosen it for themselves.
Tournier would have smilingly understood my dad’s remark. Such mis-giving might be described as our putting tarnish on the Golden Rule.
An example of that in our family came when our parents moved toward their golden wedding anniversary. My siblings and I decided we wanted to give them a gift worthy of the years of their marriage, so we decided on a trip to Hawaii.
Their travels were mostly restricted to West Texas and neighboring states, so such a grand and costly gift seemed perfect to us siblings. However, when we tested it ahead of time with Mother and Dad, we found that they really didn’t want that gift. Mother was tactful, and Dad was silent.
Mother explained that they really preferred just to have family and friends gathered around them to celebrate this momentous occasion.
So, we avoided putting tarnish on the Golden Rule. Instead, we hosted an informal social gathering of family and closest friends to honor the golden anniversary of our parents. The celebration was perfect!
How to put a shine on the Golden Rule. Tournier also pointed out that the mature craving of gifts is not the desire of some object or experience so much as the yearning for affection.
In other words, the Golden Rule might be stated as giving or doing something for others they could not or would not do for themselves — yet would appreciate greatly.
I had the experience of putting a shine on the Golden Rule just this year. Phyllis, my better two-thirds for 61-plus years began to suffer from spinal stenosis.
The back pain started after the first of the year and grew gradually worse as gardening seasons approached. Her pain was strong enough to keep her out of her beloved garden. In earlier and younger years, she might spend eight hours a day in that garden at the back of our one-acre lot.
So, morning by morning as we ate breakfast on our screened-in back porch, I heard uncomplaining Phyllis bemoan the fact that she couldn’t work in her garden. We both had needed surgeries, but the nature of mine had to come first. Phyllis watched weeds and other unwanted growing things plague her garden. It was a daily pain to her that she couldn’t handle this year.
You might wonder why I didn’t decide to do her gardening for her. If you knew me very well, you would know that I’m practically worthless in the garden. I can do a little donkey work of digging a hole for a tree or a plant; but I don’t know some flowers and grass apart from weeds. In fact, once when Phyllis was out of town, I decided to weed eat one of her precious flower gardens.
When she returned, she nearly cried; because, I had weed eaten some precious flowers on the cusp of their once-a-year bloom. That was the end of my gardening. But it was not the end of my love or my desire to gift her in some Golden Rule way.
A Golden Rule idea. Phyllis had her surgery and some complications that are now behind us — thanks to God answering deep prayers and thanks to medical experts God provided.
But during the times of surgery and complications, I wondered how to get the garden cleaned with expertise and prepare it for the planting spring of 2018 as a gift for Phyllis. Money wasn’t in my mind as I thought about hiring professional landscapers. But I knew they would not have the garden heart or vision I had seen in my Phyllis — no matter how good the landscapers might be.
Then a brilliant idea of how to put shine on such a Golden Rule gift came to me. Just down the street from us live a couple named Louis and Mary. And in a walk around our neighborhood a year or so ago, this couple — who also share church membership with us — saw us walking and invited us to eat ice cream with them in the shade of their own backyard.
Their garden was grand enough to be envied. Louis and Mary explained that in their early retirement they had decided to take a “master gardening course” at a nearby college and became certified as master gardeners.
I dared to contact Louis and Mary and explain our situation and relayed my dream of a gift that I could not give but would gladly pay for. Our fine neighbors had glee in their voices as they gladly said they would do the project but wouldn’t accept a penny for it.
Now, as the year ends, the garden is both cleaned from all weeds and unwanted plants and is mulched and ready for spring planting.
While Phyllis was still in the hospital, I sprung the news of the gift I had wanted to give but which I had to depend on loving neighbors to put the shine on the Golden Rule gift. Tears of surprise and gladness came to Phyllis’ eyes as she wept with gladness.
After the project began and I had shared the news with Phyllis, questions came up about what Phyllis herself might want done in the garden.
Louis and Mary wanted the gift to be perfect for Phyllis. So, as questions came up, I simply put Louis and Mary on the cell phone for Phyllis to answer the questions that truly led to a shine on the Golden Rule.
What to do with a grace gift! Although I’ve tried to pay Louis and Mary, they would not accept any compensation.
They said giving the gift to Phyllis was gift enough in itself. I simply thanked them as graciously as I could — and over and over, I do that in words and thoughts and joy. Jesus cleansed 10 lepers, but only one of the 10 returned to thank Him.
God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to save us for our sins. We could not buy this gift, earn it, or repay it. But we can thank God for the gift of His Son and eternal life. And we can share that gift with others.
This is the best way to put a shine on the Golden Rule and not to give a gift that has tarnish on it. May we all put a shine on the Golden Rule!