How many times has it happened to you? Somebody who knows you don’t want God in your life gives you a God-themed gift anyway. Perhaps it’s a crucifix, or a Left Behind book, or if you’re lucky, a Shroud of Turin beach towel. Regardless, the message is the same:
You need God in your life. Without God, your life is less than it could be. Specifically, it’s less than the God Gifter’s life.
I have a friend whose mother-in-law gave her a book about stress-relieving meditations for mothers. In and of itself, this is a great idea. Mothers suffer from stress, and meditation has been clinically proven to make people ignore their surroundings, which in turn has been linked to reduced stress when children are a part of those surroundings. However, despite the fact there are literally dozens of books about meditations for mothers that aren’t about God, the mother-in-law made the choice go to the God route. Accident? Doubtful considering a previous gift from said mother-in-law, a book called “How To Raise A Moral Family”. That had to be a fun gift-opening.
When people of faith insist on getting faith-based gifts for people they know aren’t believers, the context of the relationship speaks volumes. When people have an open, honest relationship based on mutual respect, these kinds of gifts can represent the true evangelical impulse, a simple desire to help others enjoy life as they do. I once had a boss give me a God-themed book as a parting gift when I took another job. In fact, it was specifically about how to search for and find God. I wasn’t necessarily offended, because he and I had a good relationship and discussed matters of faith over our years together. Had it come from someone I hadn’t had a similar relationship with, I would have been deeply put off. He smiled and shrugged as he gave it to me, and I accepted in the same manner.
To date I have not searched for or found God, or used the book for anything other than a good laugh, but he gave it his best shot and I don’t begrudge him that. He wrote a nice message to me on the inside cover, and it’s that I remember more than his attempt to get me on the God Squad. To this day, we still have a good relationship.
Unfortunately, when the God Gift comes from someone with whom you don’t have a great relationship it puts it in an entirely different context, usually one laden with passive-aggressive tendencies, scornful judgement and more often than not, grandchildren. (Important disclaimer: None of this is an issue in my or Jane’s family. Jane’s parents and I respect and talk about our beliefs.) In these instances, I believe the giving of a God Gift can only be construed as a hostile act. How else to interpret receiving a gift the giver knows will be of no use to you, offensive, and judgemental all at once?
There’s no denying it: The God Gift is a declaration of war. So, what to do when you get the God Gift? The only real solution is to construct an honest, open relationship built on trust and mutual respect. Once that’s done they’ll either see where you are coming from and refrain from God Gifting, or you’ll better appreciate the spirit in which the gift is offered.
Unfortunately the chances of having an honest, open relationship built on trust and mutual respect, when that relationship started out the opposite way, are quite low. Because the ideal solution of a healthy relationship isn’t available to most of us when God Gifted, you may have to resort to other means to get God out of your life.
Allow me to help you avoid the light.
First, under no circumstances are you to confront the God Gift Giver, satisfying though that may be. Chances are you are forced to have a relationship with this person, and bringing your anti-God beliefs even more out into the open will merely feed the God Gift Giver’s instincts to save or humiliate you. Why do you think they gave the gift to you in the first place?
Second, you must not, under any circumstances, give any signal the God Gift was welcome or effective, unless of course it was, in which case you’ll probably be the one doing the God Gifting sometime down the road. If you encourage the God Gifter in any way, you’ll never, ever get God out of your life. God’s servants are persistent that way.
The best option for most people is Stony Silence. Pretend there is no God element to the gift, say a polite and restrained “Thank you”, and never speak of it again. Do not display the God Gift or call attention to it in any way. It must disappear forever and become “presenta non grata“. This will of course do nothing to improve your relationship with the God Gifter, but your relationship with them probably sucked anyway. If they persist, you persist. They’ll think they will win in the end because they have God on their side, but you’ll know that’s not true.
The final option, and a personal favorite of mine, is to return the favor and give the God Gifter a nice little something from a religion you know is not their own. Perhaps a Qu’ran or L.Ron Hubbard book might be just the wakeup call somebody needs to realize faith isn’t something you can wrap up and give to somebody.
But just in case, better practice up on Stony Silence and figure out where you’re going to put all the God stuff.