By Natalie Q.
Well-known stories like O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi describe givers in a bind seeking the perfect gifts for loved ones. However, my favorite treatment of this theme comes from a lesser-known story that I recently discovered (thanks to a friend’s Instagram post): Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck.
The story describes how Rob, now an old man, wakes early on Christmas morning and recollects a meaningful present he gave his father fifty years prior. That year, teenage Rob decided that if God first offered the gift of his Son Jesus Christ in a lowly stable setting, then he, Rob, could give his father a special gift in a similar setting: the family barn. He steals out of bed extra early on Christmas morning to milk his family’s cows alone—a chore he and his father usually share. When Rob’s father discovers what has happened, he finds his son, embraces him, and says, “Nobody ever did a nicer thing . . . . The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live.”
Reflecting on this first gift of “true love” fifty years later, Rob realizes that he can give such a gift again—but this time, to his beloved wife. As the story ends, Rob goes to his desk to write a love letter, and the narrator observes, “Ah, that was the true joy of life, the ability to love.”
I appreciate how this story expresses a sweet but simple truth: the best gifts are given in love. Many of us are familiar with the Savior’s declaration, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This famous scripture reflects the significance of an event prophesied by Isaiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). That Son was given by God to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In a profound and metaphorical sense, God gave us the gift of his Son for the same reason that Rob wakes up so early to milk the cows alone in Pearl S. Buck’s story: to ease a chore—a quotidian burden— and to give a mortal rest.
I have often felt Jesus Christ ease my burdens by strengthening me to bear them and by helping me so I do not have to bear them alone. I am grateful that the Christmas season and this tender story remind me of those sacred and deeply personal occasions. With those recollections simmering on the back-burner of my mind, and with a keen awareness of this “best gift” given by a loving Heavenly Father, my thoughts are infused with a new question: instead of wondering what the best gift is, I am thinking about how I can give it.
How can I ease others’ burdens? How can I emulate Jesus Christ and be a source of rest?
To accomplish these tasks is not merely a Christmastime endeavor. But I am grateful for a season that acts like a reset button for my heart and my personal sense of purpose. Suddenly I’m no longer fretting if Amazon Prime will arrive in time or if my dad will really like another Warren Miller ski movie. Those gifts will be what they will be. I’m more concerned about the answer to this question: What and how will I give after Christmas?
I suspect that the gifts of my time and my compassion are what Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father most want me to bestow on others—every day, rather than merely on December 25th. Knowing that, there is just one present I’m going to ask of Them: the presence of mind to see what proverbial cows need to be milked and to know how early I need to get up to get the job done.
I know I won’t always be successful, but I’m willing to try, and I’m willing to love—and I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are willing to make up the difference. I also know that there is a sweet irony inherent in this effort to give “the best gift”: ultimately, the impact on the recipient will be far less than the impact on me. To love and serve is not just the best gift you can give others; it is the best gift you can give yourself. It changes you to be more like that gift wrapped in swaddling clothes and given “unto us” in a manger in Bethlehem.
I can imagine nothing more perfect.