After living together for forty-five years, the five Dominican Sisters of Hope in the Guzman Community have often turned to each other for gift suggestions. Sometimes, they give ornaments, books, or even donations to their favorite charities (theirs is the local pound) to their loved ones for Christmas.
Yet, as the community discusses their gifting methods, the words “wish list” or “exclusive” or “newest model” are absent from the conversation. Instead, the sisters make a concerted effort to connect with, and be present for, those around them throughout the year. Whether it’s providing comfort to a neighbor whose dog died, having people over for dinner, or giving time to a local organization, the sisters spend more time searching for ways to care than they do the perfect gift.
For instance, while Sister Francis Irene loves giving devotionals as gifts, she keeps in mind the needs of the recipient. Occasionally, when she’s reading for leisure, she highlights a specific passage that she feels will be useful to someone she knows. She then tries to connect the person to the passage.
“Sometimes, I’ll even xerox a page that I have and send it to someone who I think could really use it,” Sister shares.
Other times, the sisters will invite neighbors over for coffee and a chat.
“We really care for the kids we taught, for our neighbors,” Sister Barbara Hamilton shares. “We try to reach out to people without overstepping, just so they know that we really do care about them. You can come here and sit down and talk and have meaningful interests, and it doesn’t have to be hectic and crazy. Even the mayor will come down sometimes and just talk.”
This element of care, of spending time with people, of considering what people need and could use (a favorite recipe, perhaps? an excerpt from a book that is sure to be fortifying?) is a different way of gift-giving, but a powerful one.
In fact, the best gifts are often intangible. Sometimes, even a simple prayer can be the most meaningful present.
“We’re not afraid to let people know that we pray,” Sister Francis Irene says. “We need their prayers and we offer them our prayers.”
As the sisters are quick to point out, Christmas isn’t truly about gifts, it’s about being together and spreading Christ’s love. In various ways, they strive to do just that.
“It sounds corny, but, if you look at life from a religious view, Christmas is everyday,” Sister Francis Irene says. “Christmas is a joyous time. It’s a time of giving, and it’s a time of showing your love for God as He shows it to you everyday.”
The message is pertinent, especially as Christmas draws nearer. No doubt, it’s fun to see presents under the tree. However, this Christmas season, spend time considering how you can support and care for someone in a genuine, thoughtful way other than making a purchase. Even if it results in a humble gesture, it could well be the best gift you give this season.