As I scrolled through Facebook this morning, I was struck by the juxtaposition between alternating posts of people sharing gift ideas and talking about “stuff” and posts about people dying in or fleeing from Aleppo.
I was reminded again that there are children dying around the world, and we are racking up credit card debt on toys and things.
A teen recently told me about her friend’s house that has a hole in the ceiling and snow is falling into it, and radio DJs are talking about people fighting over Hatchimals.
I have clients who are terminally ill, totally isolated, and struggling to find food, and I’m griping about finding time to go Christmas shopping for my kids.
In Matthew 6: 19-20, Jesus told his followers: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (NIV).
I feel like perspective becomes really murky at this time of year. We think that gifts = love. We justify endless spending on things our kids don’t really need, as a way to show our love and connect with them.
But how many of us will be checking Facebook fifteen minutes after our kids open their gifts? How many of us will give our friends, neighbors and teachers gifts, but forget them the other 11 months of the year?
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with giving gifts. We were able to do a nice deed for some friends last night, and my 8-year-old daughter was quiet on the way home. I asked her if she enjoyed doing something nice, and she said, “Yes, momma. God gave Jesus as a gift to us, so we should make sure we give to others.” There is something valuable in teaching our children to be generous.
However, as I saw the pictures of those fleeing Aleppo this morning, it was a powerful reminder. Christmas should not be about things.
It made me wonder, what would happen if instead of “things,” we gave love instead?
What if with that gift card you gave your child’s teacher, you added a note saying you’ll be praying for them the rest of the year?
What if you gave a friend a coffee mug with a note that you can’t wait to meet them for coffee every month for the next year?
What if we took a percentage of what we were spending on gifts (does your child really need another Frozen toy or video game?) and bought chickens and a goat for a village in Africa through World Vision or donated to an organization helping refugees in Aleppo?
What if we committed to giving toiletries to our local shelters monthly, instead of a last-minute check to have a larger tax deduction?
What if we gave board games to our kids and committed to phone-free, game nights throughout the year?
What if we gave love? What if we helped people with resources, support, encouraging words and loving, positive relationships? And what if we did this year-round?
If giving gifts fixed everything, I wouldn’t have clients in January. All of those gifts and family time would fix disconnected families and children would be happy, so everyone would cancel, right?
Sadly, January is often one of my busiest months. Because now, all of the issues are still there (grief, frustration, mental health), but they are compounded by credit card bills and resentment. Did you know that the kids I work with can often barely remember what they got for Christmas by mid-January?
But…they will remember making tamales with grandma, watching football with their families, decorating the tree with their siblings. They will remember going to church, and looking at Christmas lights.
So, let’s focus on that. Give memories and support and experiences and love, instead of things. I promise, your kids will feel more fulfilled (even if they gripe and grumble at first).
This post is not meant to be a criticism, but more of a way to shift our perspective. Believe me, I’m just as guilty of getting wrapped up in gifts and stuff, but I do know that after working as a social worker for the past 8 ½ years, some of the happiest kids are the ones who focused on helping others and building family memories, not toys and games.
Jesus was not born so we could live in houses full of stuff. He was born to offer peace, hope and a long-lasting deep joy. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus reminded us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NIV).
Where is your treasure resting? Is it in love, Christ and family? Or is it in the hamster wheel of gifts and debt?
My hope is for all of us (my family included) that we can remember to keep our focus on the birth of Jesus, gratitude and focused time with family, not on things.