Expecting Gratitude Makes Gifts Lose Their Giftness

Here is a problem I have run into.

A scenario happens where someone is given something. Maybe it’s a gift, or your time, money, a job. It doesn’t really matter. A gift is and can be a beautiful thing. However, let’s say in this scenario that this gift is squandered. The person wasn’t grateful for it, or they wasted what they had, or when given an opportunity they didn’t give anything in return. The question that we all will ask ourselves pretty quick, especially if the gift was from us, is why the hell we wasted our investment. Maybe we should have given the gift to someone else? Maybe we should have held onto it and made a better decision? We are filled with all sorts of emotions about the misuse of this gift.

Very quickly, when we are filled with these kind of emotions, it becomes obvious that this gift had strings attached. It might not have been known at first but it is clear at this point that in giving the gift there was a certain expectation on how the gift should be used. The expectation might have been that it was invested well, passed on and at the very least that the person was grateful for it. Maybe we just needed a little bit of acknowledgement that you gave this gift and that the person appreciated that and would give a gift back to you if they could.

This sounds like a text-book case of giving with strings attached. This I found though runs way deeper than surface level business maneuvers to scratch someone’s back so your itch is gone as well. I did this in one circumstance that didn’t occur to me until I had turned my gift into a debt that someone owed back to me. It ran so deep into my psyche that it took a good long while to see that I had become exactly what I was trying to fight against by giving the gift in the first place. The gift essentially turned the receiver into someone who was in my debt, but only really I believed that to be a reality. The receiver didn’t know what was happening in a moment’s notice when the opportunity arose I realized that I was frustrated because I was expecting certain things to happen because the gift was given.


I’m an idiot. I don’t think the strings were ever there at first, or at least I wasn’t aware of them. However, with what I perceived as my gift to someone else I also tied into that my expectation on exactly how that person should then live and act because of that gift. When this happens it ceases to be a gift and becomes a tactic of oppression and control. It’s not malicious oppression like we are used to talking about oppression. It’s rather a slow unconscious bubbling up of a system that at the root of it is manipulation and control. Which could be argued that it is even worse because the oppressor isn’t even aware of what he is doing. Hell, this person things he is a hero because he gave up something for the other person.

I remember back in high school and I heard Erwin McManus tell this story about some lady that needed help paying her rent. He helped her for a few months and then eventually had to stop helping her. When he told her he was stopping to help her she snapped on him, yelled a lot and accused him of a lot of things. The moral of the story? I think it had something to do with investing in people who are gracious and eventually will take what they have been given and when they can, will invest in others. A pay it forward kind of theology. At the time, this seemed like a wonderful story that easily supported my view of how the world worked. Why would you give money to people that are ungrateful and will just squander it and never help anyone else when they get a chance? Looking back on this story I can’t help but see that as a cop-out to get out of giving something without strings attached.

Expecting gratitude or absolutely anything is seeing gifts as type of currency. Which is the opposite of a gift. Therefore to expect anything, even a type of reaction, to a gift is to negate the very essence of its giftness.

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:24-36

8 thoughts on “Expecting Gratitude Makes Gifts Lose Their Giftness”

  1. “Expecting gratitude or absolutely anything is seeing gifts as type of currency. Which is the opposite of a gift. Therefore to expect anything, even a type of reaction, to a gift is to negate the very essence of its giftness.”

    How would you understand this statement in light of the gospel. Personally, I think it breaks down when we look at God, the gift-giver. In this case, expectations in gift-giving (such as, say, reciprocal love) seem to have more to do with opening one another to the giving and receiving of love. That is to say, gifts open one up to the possibility of life, or something like that.

  2. This fits well I think. If God is the gift-giver, I think the entire Christian story is kind of based on this idea of God refusing to ‘expect’ love as this sort of repayment for what he’s done (like a free will) and rather gave this gift expectation free to those that do reciprocate and do not. He opens himself up to rejection. Which I think is a gift in its purest form, that the gift would have been given even if it was known they wouldn’t care at all.

    But the paradox of it all is what you stated, gifts do open up people to the possibility of life, which is why I would push to hard to make sure that you gifts are actually gifts and not a currency of exchange so that you get some sort of result that you want. God didn’t create to get what he wanted, he created because it was in his nature to give and love.

  3. Troy, so are you suggesting that the acceptable string attached is ‘hope of an improvement’?

    Which is actually the opposite of what I’m suggesting. Which is why I wrote this post in the first place, because I think that a hope or expectation tied to a gift actually oppresses the person receiving the gift, especially when they are made aware of it.

    I think it’s the paradox of love, which I understand to be a gift of sorts. You don’t love someone to improve them, or love them with the hopes that they will love you back. Your love is a choice you’ve made to be selfless towards someone else, despite their reaction, improvement or gratitude. If we were to attached the hope of improvement to our gifts, or love, then what happens if the improvement never comes? Do the gifts stop? Does the love stop?

  4. Yes, an acceptable string is a hope of improvement.
    That’s why a gift would even exist, right? It exists way before the gift is even given.
    Further, love and gifts can be two different things. I don’t really see the point in giving a gift without at least some sort of hope that this gift will help the receiver. Its kind of like how you wouldn’t give a football to somebody who loves baseball. To even distinguish what the gift is, thinking in your mind what this person needs is already putting an expectation on it.

  5. Eloquently stated. I am now 57, however, I learned this lesson early in life. One Christmas when I was eight years old and belonged to a local brownie group, the plan was to take a gift basket to someone in need, knock on the door and sing Christmas carols.
    My father, who rarely put his foot down forbade me to participate in this activity. He said, if the basket was to be left anonymously that would be acceptable. He said to me to imagine how the impoverished family would feel, forced to thank a group of eight year olds…and that charity is given freely from the heart and no thanks required. I am very fond of Ralph Emerson’s take on success …”to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded”

  6. I came across this today after specifically searching for something written on the subject. Well said and well written. I’ve been in Christian ministry all my life, I’m in my 40’s. Unfortunately I have seen where others in ministry have freely given to others whether they are in need or not, but later on, you fine that there were “strings attached”. The pastor, or others in leadership gave, provided, etc, and were expecting for the receiver(s) to attend church or give back in some way. I have also come across people who do this to their own family members as well. The “givers” “freely give”, paying for dinners or showing hospitality of some sort to the point where later on, some how, some way, it comes back to bite the receiver. The giver then brings it back up, “I’ve always been supportive” or “the least they can do is…”. I have asked myself “how do you deal with people that give but then you know in the end their is usually an agenda attached?”. What is your take on this?

  7. I totally agree with this post. Especially in our culture wherein you are expected to be in debt with someone who’d helped you or given you anything, where something seemed to be reciprocated is kind of the norm. That when you are ungrateful or unappreciative then you don’t deserve the gift or help given to you. But isn’t gift giving means you gave something because “you wanted to” and not because “you expect something in return”.? It also goes with parents who expect their children to take care of them when they get old because they’ve given them the “gift of life”.

  8. I really appreciated this article because I was struggling with myself. I volunteer my time for a rescue and handle their website tasks and almost never have I received a thank you for the time I put in. I wondered, if I volunteer my time of my own free will then do I really need that Thank you? This article made me question whether my gift of maintaining their website is really a gift or was I unknowingly attaching strings to it? I realized after reading this, I was attaching strings. This article definitely made me reflect a lot and actually helped me to release the negative thought I was experiencing.

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