Which is easier at Christmas, to help children be givers, or takers?
I’m learning that the easy, default setting for Christmas is to simply give children gifts, tell them it is more blessed to give than receive, and leave it at that.
Helping children choose or make gifts for others is time consuming. So is giving our time during the Christmas season. You have to start early if you want to teach your children. It’s not exactly early, but still, I want to be take advantage of the holiday to teach. What, then, should I be teaching?
Teach them to give
I’m growing more convinced that the way to teach children not to be selfish is to teach them to be givers. Not by canceling Christmas, not by taking away all their toys, not by eliminating allowances.
Now, parents can certainly overdo Christmas gifts, children can have too many toys, and the allowances that some children have are shocking. Maybe I’ll talk about that another day. Right now I want to think about giving, regardless of what our children own or are given.
I want to teach our children that love is primarily defined as giving. Giving and sacrifice are a part of the gospel, so I must make the connection between gifts and salvation.
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. I John 3:16
Notice also that Paul gives the practical solution for stealing, which is the height of selfishness, in Ephesians:
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Ephesians 4:28
I like that Paul recognizes the need to replace selfishness with giving. I might have suggested contentment, but that isn’t enough. Christian parents might want their children to be content without getting the latest gadget that all of their friends are getting, but really, giving is a better path to overcoming the selfishness. I think the contentment might be a caboose feeling.
I want them to know that we give what we have. They don’t have a lot of money, but they do have a lot of time. This year we’re making pillowcases. When flannel was on sale, I purchased a yard of fun flannel prints for each cousin. Then I let the kids push the sewing machine pedal while I guided it. It takes just a few minutes, and the kids are really excited about them. We’ll be finishing these this week and mailing them off next Monday. For the grandparents, the kids went looking for peach seeds, then we sanded them a bit, painted them gold, glued them in a circle, making a pretty flower shape, and then gluing a gold ribbon on them to make ornaments. For our neighbors we’ll be making candy this week, lots of it. I’ve got a single gal from our church who is coming on Friday to help.
All of this takes time, and hassle. Like I said, it would be easier not to involve my children at all with the giving. But it’s not so hard if I plan ahead. The pressure is merely because I didn’t think of it until I started rushing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and now I’ve got too much each day to do it really well. Next year, I might start in August!
Teach them to Be Thankful
We’ll probably also talk about thankfulness. I’d like to specifically talk about being thankful and content in the context of receiving gifts.
I want them to see that they are truly blessed materially, but really, I think they know that. Telling them about children who eat burned toast seems like an external manipulation, bypassing the heart issue: God gives us what we need.
Again, teaching children to be thankful is hard work. It takes time, and I’m not good at it myself. In particular, I need to do better at helping them write thank you cards. I need to show them that expressing thankfulness is as important as being thankful.
Teach Them to Be Joyful
I don’t want this month to be stressful and tense. I’d like to model the joy of the Lord for them. Last night I was tempted to leave a few things for the morning, but God convicted me that if I want to model the joy of the Lord, I’m going to have to work hard instead of indulging my flesh and being lazy. I’m sure it helped that I spend a good bit of naptime reading the Bible. I am now so happy to wake up with my path cleared for a profitable and happy day.
The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain. Proverbs 15:19
I will admit that it’s hard to be joyful when I make that decision and almost immediately they’re crying because I told them to put away the coloring books and make their beds. But I turned on the music and got to work myself. I praised them for joyfully working when they stopped whining and started working. It’s funny how much my getting up and actually working alongside them (even if on my own responsibilities) helps. Even baby, who doesn’t have much understanding of the season, recognizes my attitude and responds accordingly.
How else can I teach these things? Is it just a matter of keeping my focus on God, and not getting caught up in doing things, even good things? Or is it simply that I’m more organized this week, and next week I’ll be struggling to do right?