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Was that a gift?

Or maybe you meant to say contract?

In our "A Course in Miracles" group last Saturday (during a discussion about giving without wanting anything in return), the question was asked about what to do when a gift comes with expectations. With the holidays arriving soon, it feels like a good time to review the difference between a gift and a contract.

A gift, by definition, is given freely, without compensation. Gifts can come in the form of material objects for sure; but also in kind words, listening, sharing and so much more. In giving a gift, we have the opportunity to find joy in our ability to give, to enjoy another’s delight and to bask in the energy of gratitude (either from the other, or from ourselves for ourselves). For some, the joy is in finding the perfect gift. For others, no shopping is required.

A contract, on the other hand, to be legally binding, includes promises from both parties. I’ll mow your lawn and you’ll give me money.

I’ll pick your kids up from school today in exchange for you picking my kids up tomorrow. If there is no promise on the other side, the contract is not legally enforceable (from my business law class in college!).

So, what to do when a gift comes with expectations? Well, the first thing is to recognize that it’s not a gift. If it comes with expectations, it’s an invitation to enter into a contract. Then, ask yourself, “Is this a contract I’m willing to enter?” In the same way we can say “yes, thank you” to a gift, we can say “no thanks” to a ‘gift with expectation’ or what’s simply a contract in disguise. (a caveat - are there really expectations coming from the other, or is that a projection or assumption?)

I would invite you to go into this holiday season with an intention to give without wanting anything in return. And to receive graciously, as the ability to receive is also a gift we give to others.

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