The Christmas season has a peculiar way of bringing out the best and the worst in each of us. The arguments in our house begin at Thanksgiving with Black Friday. Every year, my husband graces us with a diatribe on the incivility of shopping on the heels of giving thanks to God for all the blessings He has given us.
I, on the other hand, defend those who are excited to use gift giving as a means to express their love to friends and family. And though no one in our family shops on Black Friday, arguments about giving, spending, worship and materialism stir deep conflicts in everyone.
I think that the tension we live with during the Christmas season is healthy. Advent is a time when we become more intentional about our faith. And when we do this, we struggle to find the fine balance between loving God and wanting to do our own thing.
The beauty of Christmas is that this tension becomes palpable. So if you are feeling the struggle this Advent, good for you. If you are a parent, don’t let the opportunity pass without helping your kids learn some important lessons.
First, our children need to learn that loving God means expressing love to family, friends and Him. We grow up in America learning that giving gifts is a means of expressing love, and personally, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Do the gifts have to be expensive and perfect for the recipient? Of course not—what matters is the heart of the giver.
So when buying gifts with your children, have them think about the person they are buying for and say a prayer for them. Talk with them about that person’s needs, personality and possible struggles. Let them know that what matters with the gift is the intention, not the price tag. It is never a substitute for love; the gift is simply an expression of it.
Second, if you really want to take the stress out of Christmas and have some fun, think birthday. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and therefore, gifts should be given to Him. This notion may confound adults, but not children.
Ask your kids (even teens) what they can give Christ this Christmas, and see what they come up with. Since they can’t buy Him anything, their creative juices begin to flow and they quickly learn that the best way to give is to serve. So get ready with a few ideas for them. Encourage the family to serve together and give Him a gift from the whole family. Find a few hours one afternoon to clean the house of a shut-in, go to a nursing home and take turns reading stories to the elderly, serve meals at a soup kitchen, or adopt a needy family and bring them a basket of food and clothing. Serving others not only makes God smile, but it also changes us and our kids.
A wonderful thing happens to us frazzled, stressed parents when we shift our focus even a little during the holidays. The balance between loving God and doing what we want tips just a little. Focusing less on spending and more on giving our time and talents as a family not only takes the stress out of Christmas, it makes us all get along better.
After all, it’s pretty hard to argue with one another about shopping and the cost of gifts when you’re giving the gift of your time and energy to people who really need it.
That, friends, is a fun Christmas.