How often have we received a hideous gift only to comfort ourselves with the phrase, “It’s the thought that counts”?

One evening after I was jubilantly handed the a little gift bag that held, buried under colorful tissue paper and strategically placed raffia, probably the one thing I would never ever consider purchasing, much less using, I got to thinking… “If it really is the thought that counts, then what in the world was that person thinking when they purchased this for ME?” I went through an entire conversation in my head trying to convince myself that it was selfish of me to have this feeling of dismay and not a feeling of graciousness for the gift, and I found that phrase, “It’s the thought that counts” playing over and over in my head like a broken record. Then it hit me, the reason I was struggling was because I truly believe that it is indeed the thought that counts.

The story of Cain and Abel brings this notion of the importance of the thought behind the action to light. Both brothers gave good, relatively speaking, offerings. Cain, a tiller of the ground, “brought the Lord an offering of fruit.” Abel, a keeper of sheep, “brought some of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (Gen 4: 2-5). Why did the Lord have regard for Abel’s offering, but neglect Cain’s offering? St. Augustine tells us that what differed is that while Cain gave God a part of his goods, he did not give Him his heart. (City of God, XV.7) Abel gave God the firstlings and the best, and he gave his gift in faith. In essence, he gave with his heart. In the most basic of concepts, Abel put thought into his gift, thought that required time and it resulted in him giving God his heart.

Taking time to consider the good of another, reflects the heart. Have you ever been in the store trying to find that ideal gift that for that special someone, and found yourself standing in the middle of the aisle just thinking… intently?  Why do we do that? Why do we find ourselves deep in thought over a simple gift? I believe it is because the gift you give someone tells that person what he means to you. The thought, not the money, you put into something shows the other person what they are “worth” to you, because the thought you put into something reflects what is in your heart. When you take the time to give with your heart, you emulate Christ and live out of love. Giving a signed copy of “Bluebird” by Charles Bukowski to a friend who has a love of poetry will mean more to her than the Sponge Bob chia pet, because you looked past what would be simple for you and saw what is special to her. It is a gift from heart to heart.

If it truly is the thought that counts then the best gift you can give someone is your time –your time in thought, your time in prayer, your time in person. The busier we are with our everyday life, the more precious that gift is. When it comes to giving time, so often those closest to us get the left-overs. Life pulls us from project to project, task to task, deadline to deadline and in that tug-o-war of time we often neglect those we love most knowing somewhere in the recesses of our mind that their forgiveness will be awaiting. However, making time for loved ones and friends, whether it be time spent in thought of how you can meet them in their need or time spent being present with them, just sitting and listening, is golden. Robert Brault captured this concept well: “I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.”

The next time you get that giant frog shaped paper weight, be sure to smile and be gracious remembering that gratitude is the antidote to frustration, and take comfort knowing that God ultimately gave us the best and most thoughtful gift, the gift of life, now it’s up to us to determine how we spend the time He gave us. One of the best ways to spend our time is by investing it in others, be that in thought, in prayer or in person. It is always good to keep before us that it is indeed the thought that counts. So when the time comes to buy a gift for a loved one, put some thought into it and give them the best gift you can, give them a piece of your heart.

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