ButterflyAn acquaintance reached out to me with the following words: “How can it be that I receive so much from you, and have nothing to give in return?”  The question shocked and intrigued me. What does this mean, nothing to give? From her, I receive attentive listening and frequent thanks for my words, the gift of letting me know that my words have touched her deepest being. To me, there is no greater gift than knowing I’ve been heard.

When my sons were small, they complained that they were unable to give me proper birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc. presents. I would reassure them that I enjoy the things they draw or make for me the most. The gift of their caring enough to prepare something special meant more to me than anything they could buy. When I moved to The Netherlands, I discovered that people here often give money in envelopes. The message is, I don’t presume to know what you really want, so I’ll give you money so you can pick out a gift yourself. Somehow to me, it seems to miss the entire point of gifting: the anticipation, the caring, the wish to show someone they matter. Isn’t that what most people really want?

I suppose we were taught by the stories of our culture, to value expensive gifts more than simple gestures. I mean, who can outdo frankincense, myrrh, and gold? Fortunately, these aren’t the only examples we have. Unfortunately, hordes of people still believe that things of value always have to cost a lot of money.

The shamanic teachers I had taught me always to leave a gift at a place where you have had a special interaction or experience in nature. The gift can be a pretty pebble, a flower or leaf, whatever seems like an appropriate gesture. Native Americans often leave the gift of tobacco. (I must admit, I prefer pebbles.) The gift is a gesture of thanks. Some people speak of an exchange of energy. To me, this is the same. It’s not about reciprocity; the gift does not need to have the same weight or value as the gift received. It is enough to show gratitude, to let The Other know they were seen and heard.

My call is to move away from this need for reciprocity and give small, simple gifts – words or gestures can be enough – that simply say, I hear/see you, I care about you, I’m grateful you’re here. That’s enough for me. One always has something to give.


  1. Maddi, if only more people thought as you do. Unfortunately, the message to buy, buy, buy is louder and more insistent than the message you’ve been fortunate enough to hear (and listen to). Even people with good intentions break down, I think, when it comes to the gift-giving season (Christmas, for instance). Inevitably, they feel there are people they’re obliged to give a gift to, and then, perhaps because of lack of time and pressures of various kinds, they run to the store and buy something, or, as happens here too, they give money. There are also people who find it very difficult to accept a gift without feeling that they must reciprocate – which makes it tricky for those who love to give and share (the non-materialistic things), simply because they want to do so.

  2. I love this blog, Maddi! Gifts from the heart are much more valuable than gifts from the wallet!

  3. Sambuzzard aka Shirley

    Your words have touched me many times. This is a message to pass along to our children. Keep up the good work. We can hear you.

  4. Wonderful words, Maddi! they resonate so well with me. When I give something it’s not because I want to get anything in return. There are no gifts that are more important than love, time, to be there when a friend or family needs you, to talk and to be quiet together. What’s most valuable does not come out of a wallet but it comes out of our hearts.

Leave a Reply