Parenting: Christmas and Beyond
The joy of giving is something we can instill in the hearts of our children and grandchildren from a young age. I learned of a family sponsoring a child whose son asked them, “Can you help me sell my game system on eBay?” The parents were surprised since this was one of their son’s most prized possessions. They asked him why. “So I can send our [sponsored] child a Christmas present,” he replied.
I’m sure the boy was happy when he originally received his game system. I’m also sure that when he gave a Christmas present to a truly needy child across the globe, his happiness was both greater and more enduring.
The way of loving generosity may sound like dutiful obedience to the uninitiated. But generous givers know the truth: the habit of generosity ultimately explodes into enduring happiness.
God Created Us to Give
Arthur Brooks writes, “Our brains are actually wired to serve others. When we give charitable money and service to others, our brain releases several stress hormones which elevate our mood and cause us to feel happy. Serving and giving help to others makes us happier, healthier, more prosperous, and therefore greatly blessed and more successful than non-givers.”
To voluntarily serve someone—to give of ourselves—is to show love to them. When we model this and include our children in our generous giving of time and dollars, we include them in our joy.
God has wired us to love and serve others, and to find happiness in doing so. We should give because it’s right, but also because it’s smart. When we give, God is happy, those who receive our gifts are happy, and we’re happy. Everyone but Satan wins.
I spoke at a Jesus Film Project missions conference and invited a farmer from my church to join me. People from all over the world told powerful stories about how God had changed their lives through this ministry.
After the conference, this normally reserved man told me with bold passion, “I want to give as much as I possibly can to this ministry!” Someone might have thought he’d won the lottery. Yet what excited him wasn’t winning money; it was giving it away.
This man had made money for years, and it hadn’t filled his heart with delight. What he was gaining now was purpose, direction, a deeper love for God’s work, and joy (as well as eternal reward, though that wasn’t foremost in his mind). All it cost him was money he didn’t need—money that, had he kept it, might have harmed him and his family.
God doesn’t expect His followers to live like monks in a stark cell, never feasting or celebrating or enjoying life. He is like a parent who puts specially selected presents under the Christmas tree and delights in watching His children enjoy the gifts He chose just for them.
When Giving Is Too Much of a Good Thing
It’s one thing to provide for our children. It’s another thing to smother them with possessions until they turn into self-centered materialists. An alarming number of children from Christian homes grow up grasping for every item they can lay their hands on. Children raised in such an atmosphere—which includes most children in America—are afflicted with a killer disease called “affluenza.”
Children raised in wealth show many symptoms of those raised in abject poverty, including depression and anxiety. They experience despair, sometimes attempting suicide. They turn to alcohol, drugs, and shoplifting. Their parents are often so busy making money and spending it that they have little meaningful time with their children. They give them everything that money can buy, but money can’t buy what’s truly precious.
Consider the typical American Christmas. When the annual obstacle course through crowded malls culminates on the Big Day, what’s the fruit? We find a trail of shredded wrapping paper and a pile of broken, abandoned, and unappreciated toys. Far from being filled with a spirit of thankfulness for all that Christmas means, children are often grabby, crabby, picky, sullen, and ungrateful—precisely because they’ve been given so much. “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6, NASB).
Things we would have deeply appreciated in small or moderate amounts become unappealing in excess. As a man who has gorged himself at a banquet finds the thought of food repulsive, one glutted with material things loses his regard and respect for them. The prevalent disrespect of children for their possessions and those of others is a direct result of overindulgence. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV).
Children who grow up getting most of what they want have a predictable future. Unless they learn to overcome their upbringing, they’ll misuse credit, default on their debts, and be poor employees. They’ll function as irresponsible members of their family, church, and society. They’ll be quick to blame others, pout about misfortunes, and believe that their family, church, country, and employer—if they have one—owe them.
Parents and grandparents who spoil children out of “love” should realize that by overindulging them, they are performing acts of child abuse. Although there are no laws against such abuse—no man-made laws, anyway—this spiritual mistreatment may result in as much long-term personal and social damage as the worst physical abuse.
How about a Field Trip to a Dump?
How can we teach our children the emptiness of materialism in a direct and memorable way? Try taking them to visit a junkyard or a dump. (The lines are shorter than at amusement parks, admission is free, and little boys love it.) Show them all the piles of “treasures” that were formerly Christmas and birthday presents. Point out things that cost hundreds of dollars, children quarreled about, friendships were lost over, honesty was sacrificed for, and marriages broken up over. Show them the miscellaneous remnants of battered dolls, rusted robots, and electronic gadgets that now lie useless after their brief life span. Point out to them that most of what your family owns will one day end up in a junkyard like this. Read 2 Peter 3:10‑14, which tells us that everything in this world will be consumed by fire. Then ask them this question: When all that we owned lies abandoned, broken, and useless, what will we have done with our lives that will last for eternity?
Is There Any Substitute for a Parent?
Every good financial perspective or habit is developed best by the example of parents. Children learn most effectively not only from what we say but from what we do. Sometimes our actions speak so loudly that our children can’t hear a word we’re saying.
Training our children about money and possessions begins at birth (Proverbs 22:6). For better or worse, we are their tutors, every hour of every day. Albert Schweitzer put it this way: “There are only three ways to teach a child. The first is by example; the second is by example; the third is by example.”
Giving gifts to children is often a substitute for giving them personal attention. Many children receive a playhouse, then a train set, then skis, then a motorcycle, then a car, all to compensate for the fact that their parents—often their father in particular—are not available to spend time with them. Anything we give our children is a poor substitute for ourselves.
I spoke with a Christian man who loves his wife and five children and wants the best for them. He works hard so they can have a beautiful house, lots of things, and enough money for the children to go to college. In fact, he works so hard that the last three years he hasn’t had time to go on vacation with them! This man’s children are growing up with plenty of material things. Tragically, they’re also growing up without a father.
Our children will not remember what we did for them nearly as much as they’ll remember what we did with them.
None of us, on our deathbed, will look back and wish we had spent less time with our children.
God Is the Ultimate Good Parent
He does not cater to our whims or submit to our demands. Yet He is a kind, gracious, and loving Father who cares for our needs and even has a place in His heart for our wants. He gives us surprising, delightful, frequent treats (if our eyes are open to see them), while not spoiling us with overindulgence or trouble-free ease.
There’s a play on words in 1 Timothy 6:17: “Command those who are rich . . . [not] to set their hope on riches . . . but on God who richly provides with all things for our enjoyment.” (NET, emphasis added).
Sometimes we take for granted God’s many wonders, such as the beauty of the hummingbird, the glories of a rose, or the taste of grapes picked off the vine. For me, late-summer bike rides in my hometown are highlighted by the scent of ripe blackberries and the warm sun on my face. Are these small things? Sure. But how encouraging that God has intended “all things” for our good!
In the middle of instructing those who are rich, Paul took a moment to comment on the character of God. He described God not as demanding or restrictive or begrudging, but as a God full of joy who provides all things with our delight in mind.
Paul wasn’t telling us “Stop enjoying life” but rather “Start enjoying the good life—the true and abundant life! Take pleasure in all God’s gifts to you.” He wasn’t telling us “Don’t care about treasures” but “Enjoy the superior treasures and joys of generosity.” Our Father doesn’t prize our misery or insist that we live a life of stoic sacrifice. Rather, the Creator delights in our joy. Who should enjoy God’s world more than God’s people, who know and love Him as their loving Father? The things we love are not merely the best this life has to offer—they are previews of the greater life to come. So we simultaneously feel profound gratitude for what He gives us now and great anticipation for the treasures He promises us in the world to come.
God’s generosity abounds. His gifts surround us—everywhere we look, and everywhere we don’t. Let’s make the effort to help our kids see those gifts. Doing so will pay eternal dividends.