The day the Toys “R” Us catalogue arrives in the mail, things get a little nutty around our house. The behemoth Halloween candy pile is slowly diminishing, and the smell of the holidays is in the air: cinnamon spice candles, pumpkin flavors galore and Advent calendars ready to be ripped open.
Suddenly, my teenagers start emailing me lists of potential gifts with links and prices, and my normally content six-year-old is now holed up in a corner with a marker circling toys to be narrowed down to the all-important Santa list she will painstakingly create. For a few days, the Christmas list is all they can talk about – Shopkins, iPhones, American Girl Dolls – before my husband steps in and firmly reminds our children what Christmas is truly about.
In some ways, I’m partially to blame for my kid’s fascination with Santa, elves and presents. I love Christmas and enjoy every part of the season, from cookie making to watching old Rudolph the Reindeer movies. But more importantly, while I revel in giving my family good gifts, I also desperately want them to understand the true meaning of Christmas – to grasp both sacrificial giving and receiving.
In a culture obsessed with going into debt to out-give one another, I believe there are better ways to celebrate the gift of Jesus without compromising our finances and building entitled kids who demand the latest and greatest. But it’s not easy to stand against the tide of consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses; it takes a commitment as a family to celebrate differently.
Shifting Our Focus
When kids are consumed with getting gifts, it’s difficult to see the needs of others because they are so preoccupied with themselves. But when they are moved or captured by a greater purpose, their hearts change and allow for love to flow through them instead of getting road blocked in selfish desires.
We often try so hard to protect our kids from the realities of poverty; however, I believe we do a disservice to our children’s spirits in this. Only when our paradigm is disrupted by injustice in the world will we be passionate about making a difference. Most of us don’t live very far from poverty; we just choose to look the other way and not engage.
Fortunately, we have a beautiful model of sacrificial giving through the gift God has given us at Christmas: His son, Jesus. He gave His son as a gift because He saw it fit to be an advocate to us when no one else would. For that reason, we as followers of Christ can stand as families committed to serving the poor, standing in the gap for the marginalized and for those who have no voices. And although poverty doesn’t just show up at Christmastime, we can use the momentum of the season to begin to build a lifetime journey of generosity in our children.
There are many ways to give, but your time is a special sacrifice because it is so precious. I know we all have a million things we could be doing, but sometimes the best things, the “God things,” interrupt our busy agenda.
Last week, I led a team to walk in a race to raise support for Alzheimer’s (the disease I lost my dad to). It wasn’t convenient, and I had to put forth some effort to organize the troops. I also missed one of my kid’s soccer games, but I knew it was it all worth it when I heard my stepmom say, “It felt so good to have a mission and be on a team that stands for something.”
Heck yeah! Standing for something and making a difference in the lives of the hurting changes not only the people you help; it changes you. And your kids are watching and modeling what you do with your time.
So, what can you do as a family to help others in need this season? Is there a homeless ministry at your church serving the community or a Thanksgiving meal you can help prepare for a family? Can you deliver gifts or meals or spend time with a refugee family helping them to acclimate? My little daughter is making placemats for a Friendsgiving dinner with her friends to feed the poor in our city, and my middle daughter is adopting a family with her cheer squad this Christmas. What can you do with those precious minutes to serve those in need?
We all have gifts given by a loving God that makes us wonderfully unique. Another way of giving is using your own giftedness to bless another. Sometimes, we think our gifts aren’t the things people normally give, but you would be surprised.
My dad was an eye doctor and ran free vision screenings to our community when I was a kid. My husband, before he became a pastor, was in sales and marketing and flew down to Honduras to run business clinics for the impoverished. Accounting, finance, carpentry, teaching, nursing … you name it and your skills can be a blessing to someone in need.
When you get your kids involved in the process, it’s amazing to see their hearts soften. My own son spent time building houses in Peru this last spring, and he came back a different young man. He was impacted on a soul level by the relationships he made and the exposure to a different culture and the problems they encounter on a daily basis. Even kids can learn that they can make an impact in the life of another.
Last, consider giving your treasure (i.e. your money) this season to those in need, and talk to your kids about why you give. One way to get your kids involved is to include them in the process. Go fill a bag of groceries at the store and donate it to a family in need, or buy children’s gifts for a toy drive. If at all possible, try to engage in the relational part of giving. Attend the party where the kids get the gifts, or have a meal with the family you are helping.
More important than the things you give are the relationships you build. Teach your kids what it means to give and receive not only love, but support and assistance, too. Help your kids by modeling generosity and providing opportunities to celebrate this season differently.
What will you do to celebrate a little differently this Christmas?
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