A month ago on Black Friday, shoppers rose early to purchase special gifts for family and friends.
A week ago, procrastinators and other well-intentioned-husbands-who-can’t-make-up-our-own-minds rushed to find THE gift before it was too late.
A few days ago on Christmas Eve, children were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of Nintendo Wiis danced in their heads.
Today, all the gifts have been unwrapped; their boxes, bows and ribbons set on the curb for trash pickup. Some gifts have already been returned, refunded, broken and forgotten.
We all mean well, especially when buying gifts for our children. But do our gifts have any lasting value?
Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote that he fears our children are being raised in a consumeristic culture that offers “false models of happiness.”
Perhaps we can all learn valuable lessons from the film The Ultimate Gift, released by FoxFaith Films. The film is an adaptation of the book with the same title, written by Jim Stovall.
Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller) is a spoiled rich kid, listlessly blowing through life and his huge trust fund. Despite all his comforts, he lives a bored, troubled life.
When his grandfather Red Stevens (James Garner) passes away, Jason thinks he’ll inherit a big check. Instead, he learns that Red has created a series of gifts for him. If Jason can persevere through all the gifts, he will get the ultimate gift at the end.
The Gift of Work
Without ever working a day in his life, Jason is transported to the middle of Texas where he has to work ten hour days digging and setting fence posts. Despite his slow start, he eventually learns the value of starting the day with a purpose, working hard and sticking with a project.
The Gift of Money
His credit cards, bank and cell phone accounts are all closed, leaving Jason homeless and destitute. Now that he no longer lives in luxury, he learns what money can and cannot do.
The Gift of Problems
Jason’s grandfather further explains to him in a video message that “Our lives should be lived, not by avoiding challenges, but by welcoming them as opportunities to strengthen us so we’ll be victorious in the future.” Despite being faced with some serious problems, Jason learns how to persevere and survive.
The Gift of Friends
Abandoned by his “friends” who only liked his money and parties, Jason is told he must have a “true friend” by the end of the month. He befriends Emily (Abigail Breslin), a young girl who visits the park often with her mother Alexia (Ali Hillis). Emily wholeheartedly shares her lunch and sticks up for her new friend. Jason finally learns the value of true friendship, without any attached strings or financial payoffs.
The Gift of Family
Jason is instructed to bring his extended family together for Thanksgiving. Despite their pampered lives, large houses and expensive cars, his aunts and uncles only complain that they didn’t get more of Red’s fortune. Jason actually learns more about being a family through his interactions with Emily and Alexia. Despite their hardships, a strong love exists between mother and daughter.
The Gift of Learning
Flown to Ecuador to help villagers, Jason rebinds books and drives the mobile library around town. The villagers are hungry to learn ideas far beyond their borders. Despite the hard work and poor conditions, Jason learns that his grandfather’s small gift of a library has affected so many lives. “Learning is a gift,” says Red in another video, “even if pain is your teacher.”
The Gift of Dreams
Jason never developed his own dreams, since his every need was met by his family’s riches. After he hits rock bottom, however, he realizes his life has no purpose. He focuses on Emily’s dreams, which are connected to her medical condition. Jason learns that even though he may not yet have his own dreams, he can certainly help others realize theirs.
The Gift of a Day
If you had one more day to spend on this earth, how would you spend it? How would our children spend it? When faced with that question, Emily wanted “to be with people I love, who love each other and they love me.” It was as close to a perfect day as could be.
The Gift of Gratitude
Through all his hardships, Jason learns that each moment, each day is precious. He begins to appreciate what his grandfather and others have done to give him all these gifts.
The Gift of Love
In the end, Jason realizes that he has received the ultimate gift – his grandfather’s love. Red cared so much for Jason that he set up a process through which Jason could live and learn all these gifts, each of which is so much more valuable than money or the latest and greatest toy.
This week we celebrated Christmas, remembering the ultimate gift that God our Father gave us – his only son. The love in this gift, not fully realized until Calvary, is bright enough to inspire us to greatness, yet also strong enough to wipe clean our sins. Unlike last week’s toys, when we are broken, we can be repaired. We are forgiven and not forgotten.
May we all learn from our Christmas gifts that “life is how you live it, not how you spend it.”
First published in the December 28, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio