“All perfect gifts are from above”
At Christmastime I love to recall a Bible verse that is close to my heart: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
These words so beautifully express what I’ve learned from Christian Science about the Christly spirit of giving and receiving. When a gift is inspired by unselfish love that stems from an understanding that God is the true source of all good, it brings joy to both the giver and the receiver.
But not every gift is a good one with pure motives behind it. Sometimes gifts are used as a means of controlling others, and they bring to the receiver not joy but a sense of oppression.
Before my marriage, I found that my mother-in-law-to-be had a tendency to dominate, and I often sensed there were strings attached to the gifts she gave. For instance, my future in-laws told me that, as a wedding gift, they would like to furnish the one-bedroom flat my husband and I would be moving into. They made a date to join us at the shops to choose the furniture.
On the surface this seemed to be a generous gift, but instead of feeling grateful, I felt imposed upon. I had been looking forward to furnishing our first home, and I worried that our freedom of expression would be encroached upon. Fear crept in as I thought of how different my mother-in-law’s taste was from mine. She always chose items that were elaborate and pretty, while I preferred things that were plain and tailored.
Yearning to find peace from the turmoil I was in, I turned to God with all my heart. What came to mind was the thought of two trees, an oak and a willow. Because the oak tree has only oak leaves growing on it, and the willow tree only willow leaves, it would be impossible to find even one willow leaf growing on an oak tree or one oak leaf growing on a willow. There is a law that maintains the individuality of each tree.
That made me think of a statement in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy: “The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal” (p. 70).
This calmed my fear. Just as I was certain that trees are individual and distinct, I could trust that God gives His children identities that are individual and distinct. This meant that my mother-in-law and I could not impose on one another’s identity. I realized with joy that our individual expression of God’s qualities is governed by divine Mind and is always safe from interference.
God did not make an overbearing person, so I needed to see my mother-in-law as God’s child, too.
The next day we set out to buy the wedding present. I felt such peace, knowing that God was in control of everything and was maintaining the individuality of each of us. As we looked around the shops, I fell in love with a lounge suite—and to my joy, my mother-in-law liked it as well. We all did! Receiving the gift ended up being a happy experience.
But soon, I again found myself harboring feelings of indignation at further offerings of gifts from my mother-in-law. They felt like an intrusion in my life and an attempt at control.
Then one day I read this instruction in Mrs. Eddy’s Message to The Mother Church for 1902: “The Christian Scientist cherishes no resentment; he knows that that would harm him more than all the malice of his foes” (p. 19).
I had to admit that cherishing resentment was exactly what I was doing, and it was only making things worse. I realized that to find my freedom, I had to let go of this negative attitude. But how?
Again I turned to God for an answer. I thought about the perfection of God’s creation as described in the first chapter of the Bible, which tells us, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Since there is nothing “very good” in being a victim or feeling annoyed, I had to conclude that this attitude did not truly belong to me as God’s child, and I prayed to be free of it. I also saw that God did not make an overbearing person, so I needed to correct my view of my mother-in-law and see her as God’s child, too.
I began to watch my thoughts and actions to make sure I wasn’t trying to manipulate or control others myself. For example, I decided to take each of my three little boys shopping individually when they needed new clothes, and let them choose their own outfits rather than me choosing for them. It was a wonderful experience, as each child picked clothes that suited his individuality. How happy and free we all felt! And how blessed I felt being led and governed by God.
My freedom from resentment toward my mother-in-law came one day when she arrived at our home to celebrate Christmas with us. I started to feel overwhelmed as the gifts being unloaded from the car never seemed to stop coming. They filled the fridges, the shelves, and the cake tins, and it wasn’t long before all my good intentions to watch my thoughts fell by the wayside. Again, I felt imposed upon.
With a deep desire to be free from the feeling of oppression, I reached out to God for inspiration. Quick as a flash, a question came to me: “What is your mother-in-law’s motive for bringing you all these gifts?”
I saw that God’s gifts could not include one iota of that which is not good.
Instead of attributing a selfish, controlling motive to her, I reasoned that as the spiritual expression of God, she could be motivated only by love. God was supplying every good thing to her, including right purpose and activity. Therefore, her gifts could bring only blessings. And I certainly did see that she loved us all and loved giving.
At that point, I recognized that these gifts she’d brought would free me from a lot of extra work and enable me to enjoy the holiday with the family. I felt humbled. All resentment faded and was replaced with love and gratitude. What a happy Christmas we celebrated together, just filled with love and joy!
However, there was another lesson I still had to learn. Eventually, instead of buying me gifts, my mother-in-law began giving me money to spend on a present for myself—but she would put a qualification on the gift. “You must buy something that you will remember me by,” she would say.
“Why can’t I buy something without a condition attached to it?” I thought. As I again prayed to find the truth that would free me, I gave deeper consideration to James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
Then I saw my mistake. I had been personalizing gifts—seeing them as things coming from a person. But now I saw that in reality, gifts are not material but spiritual—such as love, joy, peace, harmony—and that the true source of these gifts is God. Since God is good, His gifts could not include one iota of that which is not good, and they could bring with them “no variableness” nor “shadow of turning.”
With deep gratitude, I understood that my mother-in-law could reflect only Love’s impartial goodness, which supplies all our needs. I felt so released from the false belief that I was reliant on a person rather than divine Principle for what I needed.
The next Christmas, I took my mother-in-law Christmas shopping, and you will not be surprised to hear that we had a lovely day together, filled with happiness and companionship. As we walked past a carpet auction, I noticed a lovely carpet being auctioned.
“Isn’t that beautiful!” I remarked.
“Let’s just watch here for a bit” was her response.
The next thing I heard was “Gone to the lady at the back!” My mother-in-law had bought me something that I loved. Later she told me it would not have been her first choice, but she was happy that I liked it. Truly, it was God’s gift, and I felt nothing but joy at receiving it.
Now I am a mother-in-law, and I have found freedom when giving gifts by knowing that my husband and I are not the source of supply, the source of good. “All perfect gifts are from above,” as a hymn by L. L. Randall says (Christian Science Hymnal, No. 342).
How comforting it is to know that the one who gives is not personally responsible for another’s good, nor can the one who gives be depleted as a result of giving. Since all true gifts are from God’s abundant goodness, they bless both the giver and the receiver. And nothing can stop us from receiving what is rightfully ours as the children of God.