My brother came back from visiting two friends (not pictured ;-) in France the other day. They had sold up, moved over there with their kids and bought a tiny run down farm in the countryside. They live on/off it at pretty subsistence level with a few cattle to fatten and growing their own veg.
They had told my brother how, about 18 months ago they were so strapped for cash that they took the decision to stop buying any gifts for birthdays or Christmases. They were reflecting now on how, with the hard work and tough life in a 'foreign' country, that financial decision pretty much led to their marriage breaking down. It destroyed any sense of celebration, removed any possibility for generosity, no matter how sacrificial that was.
They've re-instated the gift now, and are altogether a lot happier and healthier.
At Vaux we used to say about worship 'where there is no gift, there is no art.' I think one could also say 'where there is no gift, there is no relationship.' This is what a relationship is: the free exchange our ourselves with another. Not paid for, as in a work situation, not commodified, as in a shop or restaurant. Giving and receiving gifts is part of making this invisible 'gift' visible. Whether it be time taken out to be with someone, or unexpected flowers, or something more special, gift exchange increases the potentiality in any relationship.
Exploring this in one Vaux service, someone came up with the idea of 'Petrol Station Flowers': you're driving to someone's house empty-handed and run into the gas station to grab a limp bunch of cellophaned flowers... No real thought has gone into the gift, and that's reflected in the relationship.
We reflected on how often our worship is no more than 'petrol station flowers'. Running in at the last moment, giving something lame. The divine gifts we have received in grace are much more than this, and on all relational planes we move in we need to consider our own gift practice in response to this.
[Connected Post: 'Gift Exchange and Terror' - "violence only breaks out when the parity of [gift] exchanges is broken". Reflections on Bruce Chatwin and Konrad Lorenz discussing ritual gift exchanges and the roots of aggression and warfare.]