Christmastime puts parents in a tough spot. We love our children. We want to give them good gifts. We enjoy their eager anticipation and exuberant gift opening on Christmas morning. And yet as Christian parents, we know there is a dark side to gift giving: greed. All of the presents can seem little more than brightly wrapped packages of temptation. There are temptations to selfish delight or despair, depending on whether or not our children got what they wanted. Greed can take hold, turning what we intend as a blessing into what feels like a setback in our parenting.
So how do we give generously and squash greed at the same time? We girltalkers did some brainstorming and idea sharing and came up with ten ideas to get us all started.
1. Be Intentional. Greed won’t go away on its own; we’re gonna have to apply some parental elbow grease to this one. And it’s not a one-time thing, like “Do you remember the year we got rid of Christmas greed?” We’re going to be dealing with it for a while, so we have to resist the temptation to get angry or discouraged if it doesn’t seem like our efforts are bearing fruit right away.
2. Talk a Lot. Deuteronomy 6 is a great Christmas passage. We need to talk to our children about greed and gratefulness and what it means to glorify God at Christmas. It’s tempting to give up, because our instruction often seems to go in one ear and out the other, but we are called to be faithful.
My husband likes to have little Q&A sessions with the kids and throw in a ridiculous answer to make it memorable (broccoli often makes an appearance in these little conversations). Thus our Christmas Catechism sounds something like this:
Q. What is better than Getting?
A. Giving is better than Getting
Q. Why is it better than Getting?
A. Because that’s what Jesus did.
Q. What is better than Getting? (raise volume here)
A. Giving is better than Getting
3. Make Christmas Memories. Christmas traditions help direct a child’s anticipation toward activities and memory making and not only gift getting. This is one reason we love to celebrate Advent: it is a daily reminder that we are waiting for more than presents under the tree. Cookie baking, Christmas light viewing, and story reading all serve a similar purpose.
4. Make Christmas Giving Lists. In addition to Christmas lists for Mimi we have our kids make lists for what they want to give to family members. Then we let them loose in the Target dollar section to buy presents for their siblings and Daddy and Mommy. This is one of their favorite Christmas traditions, and it is fun to see their excitement channeled toward giving and away from getting.
5. Read Christmas Giving Stories. A great addition to Christmas story time: books that highlight the joy giving such as Little Women, The Gift of the Magi, If You’re Missing Baby Jesus, Christmas Day in the Morning and many more. Powerful stories can help awaken children’s imaginations to the magic of giving.
6. Give to People in Need. Involve your children in giving gifts to those who are in need or who are suffering at Christmastime. We enjoy buying presents for newly adopted children or contributing to a family’s adoption, but there are countless opportunities at Christmastime to give locally and around the world. Giving to others helps children take their eyes off themselves and understand how much they have to be grateful for.
7. Give the Gift of Experience. Along with toys, you can include gifts of experience under the tree: books, magazine subscriptions, memberships to a local museum, tickets to a special event, lessons for art or music, or (my favorite) a family trip or outing. Over time your children may come to anticipate these gifts most of all.
8. Minimize Temptation. In other words, hide the Christmas catalogs. Avoid spending long hours in the toy section at Target with your child. Limit exposure to holiday commercials. Redirect conversations that begin, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?” But don’t mess with the grandparents. Do the hard work of parenting so that Grandma and Grandpa can have the joy of being as generous as they desire.
9. Develop a Gift Opening Strategy. We like to open gifts slowly, one person, one gift at a time. This takes a while, but the slow pace helps restrain greed and promote gratefulness. We are training our children to pay attention when someone else is opening a gift and enter into their joy. And we also insist that our children give hugs and kisses and “big thank you’s” after opening each present. Having a strategy for gift giving that encourages patience, gratefulness, and a focus on others can counteract the greed that wants to own the day.
10. Cultivate Christ-like Character. We may have outgrown a childish greed for presents, but we as parents are still tempted to approach Christmas selfishly, for our own comfort or gratification. We need God’s grace to help us serve selflessly, give generously, parent patiently, and grow in passion for our Savior at Christmastime. As we grow to be more like Christ who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28) we will encourage our children to do the same.
I’m assuming you already know about these books from Andrew Peterson, but just in case one or two of you haven’t heard of them, I mention them here. My son has worn out books one through three and is counting down the days until the release of book four.
Are you finding it hard to be happy this Christmas?
Maybe you are lonely at a time when it appears everyone else has someone. Maybe you are dreading another tense and unpredictable family get together. Maybe physical suffering has drained your energy and enthusiasm for the season. Maybe, for a dozen different reasons, you are fretful and discontent.
So often we step into the holiday season on the wrong foot. We abandon the paths of comfort and joy so clearly marked out for us in God’s Word and pursue happiness in the holiday instead. We hope that cookies and carols will somehow numb the pain or distract us from everything we feel is wrong with our lives. Or we just grit our teeth, plaster on a grin, and pray it’s over soon.
But the way to peace and joy hasn’t changed because it’s Christmastime. Rather we have to be all the more intentional about seeking the Savior at a time when the distractions, and sometimes even the trials, are many.
So here are five habits for holiday happiness:
1. Contemplate the Incarnation
Consider the staggeringly glorious news that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
If we spend five minutes a day for the next twenty-odd days pondering the wonder of God become man to save sinners, we will be happy this Christmas.
We will be happy because we will have hope.
J.I. Packer, in his chapter on the incarnation in Knowing God, explains:
“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”
Christmas isn’t a temporary band-aid on the pain of life; it is the announcement of the cure for ruined humanity. The Christmas message is hope to the hopeless. Hope for sinners under the curse of the law. Hope for the orphan, estranged from God. And it is a timely hope and certain hope.
This is “the most wonderful message” of Christmas. This is “good news of great joy”! (Luke 2:10)
If we are finding it hard to be happy this Christmas, the incarnation reminds us that our Savior has already purchased our everlasting joy.
2. Consistently Practice the Spiritual Disciplines
Christmastime is a busy time. There are parties to attend, gifts to purchase, wrap, and deliver, cards to send, and cookies to bake. And that’s on top of all the normal stuff we have to do! Something has to give, and sadly, our spiritual disciplines are often the first to go.
We rationalize: “Things will settle down after the holidays. I’ll get back to consistent quiet times in the New Year.” But as the days move closer to Christmas, our hearts become colder toward the things of the Lord. And we wonder why we are so unhappy at Christmastime?
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we give first priority to God’s Word and prayer, we will find our joy renewed each morning. Joy that sticks in the midst of Christmas craziness. For as the Psalmist says:
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart...they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” Ps. 19:8,10 (emphasis mine).
So as things get busy, let’s keep the spiritual disciplines at the top of our Christmas to-do list. Only then can we experience true holiday cheer.
3. Serve Others
Christmas celebrations—intended to be joyful reminders of the incarnation—can quickly become exercises in selfishness. But selfishness is a one-way ticket to a Joylessville. That’s why the third habit for a happy Christmas is to serve others.
The tricky thing is, I often think I am serving others at the holidays. After all, I am buying presents and throwing parties for other people, right? But my lack of joy when things don’t go according to plan reveals that I’m actually just serving myself. I want everything to go my way, to bring me happiness.
I so quickly forget that the Christmas season is about the Son of Man who came: “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). True holiday happiness is found by rejoicing in his coming, and by his grace, emulating his example of servanthood and sacrifice. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty became rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
J.I. Packer again:
“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—-and not just their own friends—in whatever way there seems need.”
How can we make ourselves happy this Christmas? By making ourselves poor. By spending and being spent to enrich our fellow human beings. By seeking our own happiness in the happiness of others. If we are rich in serving this Christmas, we will also be rich in joy.
4. Commune While You Serve
Serving is essential for holding on to happiness this holiday season. But if we try to serve without relying on God’s strength, without meditating on His Word, without offering up prayers to Him, we’ll still be lacking joy. We must commune while we serve if we want to be happy this Christmas.
Remember Martha in the Bible? How easily we morph into Martha at Christmastime! All service and no joy. But our Lord did not rebuke Martha for serving; He rebuked her for failing to choose the best thing (as her sister Mary had done): to sit at His feet and listen to Him (Luke 10:38-42).
This doesn’t mean we are to leave the Christmas shopping unfinished and forget about cooking the big meal. We are still called to serve; but, as Charles Spurgeon suggests, “We ought to be Martha and Mary in one: we should do much service, and have much communion at the same time. For this we need great grace. It is easier to serve than to commune.
Martha experienced the consequences of not communing with the Savior. But we don’t have to be anxious this holiday season. By meditating on God’s Word throughout the day, joy can be ours, even amidst the chaos and the crowd.
5. Turn Gifts Into Adoration
Christmas is full of wonderful gifts, and not just those under the tree. We experience gifts of family and friends, food and fellowship, music and memories.
But we often fail to enjoy these gifts as we should because we fail to remember that “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
C.S. Lewis tells us how to turn presents into praise:
“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility….I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun….If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour” (as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper).
May every gift we receive this Christmas, every pleasure we experience, cause our minds to run back up the sunbeam to the sun. May we contemplate the glories of the Savior who gave His only Son so that we might enjoy all things through Him.
Happiness isn’t playing hide and seek for the holidays. It isn’t hard to find. Regardless of our difficulty or dread of the Christmas season, we can experience true happiness as we cultivate godly habits. That’s because our happiness is not found in the holidays, but “out of reach” of the holidays, in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, I achieved a personal best in the event, “Preparing for Advent Season.” I’m usually still in recovery from Thanksgiving cleanup when I realize it is the night before December 1 and time to go on an emergency hunt for our advent stuff. Last year, I never even found our advent devotional and had to share with Janelle. It turned up some time in August, so I’m ready this year.
Each morning in December we light the appropriate Advent candles and my husband leads our children in Scripture reading and discussion from one of The Good Book Company’s Advent devotionals. The kids meanwhile munch on a piece of chocolate (for breakfast!) from the Advent Calendar house that Mom-Mom bought us a few years ago
Then every evening we light the candles again after dinner and read a Christmas story together. Over the years I’ve collected our favorite stories and developed a schedule of readings. Here it is below in case you want to follow or adapt. We’re going to try a few new ones this year as well so I’ll let you know how it goes.
Also new for Advent this year is a gift for your kids—that you give to yourself. A Better December by Steve Estes is a one-of-a-kind book that helps you apply the wisdom of Proverbs to the craziness of the Christmas season. Simple, humorous, short, and convicting, it will help you lead your family with wisdom and grace through a Christ-centered Christmas season.
I’m looking forward to the Advent Season where we anticipate the celebration of our Savior’s birth!
In other words, how can I be patient, loving, and consistent as I exercise my God-ordained parental authority in the home (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4)?
There are many things could be said. But since change is in the details, here are three practices that Mom reminds me and my sisters of regularly.
1. Prepare our heart.
Sadly, my sinful tendency is to be permissive in areas that God has commanded (e.g. obeying completely, immediately and cheerfully) and impatient about things that don’t exactly show up in God’s Word (depositing dirty fingerprints all over the walls).
To realign my parenting priorities, I must go back to God’s Word. I need a healthy dose of the fear of the Lord, and a reminder of what is most important to God for me to instill in my children: obedience, respect, and truthfulness, to name a few.
Meditating on passages of Scripture that outline my responsibilities as a parent helps me cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord in mothering. Listening to a sermon, getting encouragement from a God-fearing mother, reading even a few lines of a good book or a wise blog post, all can be ways of preparing my heart to be patient and consistent in parenting.
And remember, this is a temptation common to mothers! We shouldn’t be shocked or give into self-pity. Rather, we should eagerly receive the gospel opportunity to repent, experience forgiveness, and grow in grace. Given the deep-rootedness of our selfishness we will probably fight these temptations until our children leave home. But God’s grace wont give out before then—it outlasts and all our mothering temptations and needs.
2. Prepare our plan.
Mom is always encouraging me and my sisters to pick one or two areas (max) to focus on with our children. With my younger kids this usually is an area of disobedience, disrespect, or dishonesty; or it may be a sin that is causing the most disruption in the home. If we take five minutes at the beginning of a day or week to prayerfully consider our biblical goals for training our children, this will prevent many temptations to permissive parenting.
Then develop a clear, simple guidelines. What are we expecting and what are the consequences? If we can’t answer this question clearly to ourselves it won’t be clear to our children.
Now it’s time to hold the line. No exceptions. For me, I often have to write my parenting priority at the top of my to-do list. And I pray throughout the day that God will help me to be faithful.
And don’t fret. We can’t eliminate every vestige of permissiveness in a single day. We won’t do it perfectly. Our children probably won’t respond immediately. But we’ll be more consistent and patient than if we had never tried at all.
3. Prepare for a happy family.
When we take a few minutes to prepare our hearts and our plan, this will go a long way to helping us to be consistent and patient as we exercise our God-ordained authority in the home. And the entire family will benefit!
If we are clear on our mothering goals, we will be more likely to resist the temptation to impatience. When we are focused on pleasing God we will be less likely to be permissive. We won’t be carrying around a load of guilt and irritation in our mothering. As a result, we will be more at peace.
And the more consistent we are, the happier our children are. Children thrive in the context of the gracious, consistent, exercise of parental authority. They love to know what to expect. When our children don’t have to worry that Mom is going to blow up about something one day and ignore it the next, when they understand they are being held to God’s standard and not the standard of Mom’s feelings, they feel happy and safe.
So consider, what is one way we can take a grace-enabled step toward faithful, patient parenting this week?
Q: I love having people over and find it a joy to serve and bless our family and friends. However, my husband doesn’t seem to be on the same boat when it comes to hospitality. In fact, he would prefer that we not have people over and spend time just us as a family. I know my first and foremost responsibility is to honor God by being submissive to my husband but how can I also serve in hospitality?
A: I so respect this woman’s desire to glorify God and honor her husband. Biblical submission doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and say: “oh well, my husband doesn’t want to show hospitality, I guess that’s that!” No, we must humbly, graciously, persevere in order bring about godly change in our home. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few ideas to prayerfully consider in light of God’s Word:
Pray. The hearts of husbands are in God’s hands. We must ask Him to give our husband a biblical conviction and desire to show hospitality (Pr. 21:1).
Ask. We must not rush to judgment as to why our husband is hesitant about hospitality, but ask him and be sure we understand. Maybe our idea of hospitality is different from his in terms of time, frequency, number of guests, menu, etc. Or maybe he has legitimate concerns that are behind his reluctance (rest, family time, budget, etc.). Maybe fear of man or laziness are temptations that keep him from practicing hospitality: He may find it difficult to talk to other people, or maybe he doesn’t prefer lots of children messing up the home, or perhaps he thinks hospitality is too much work. He might simply be ignorant of the Scriptural commands and blessings of hospitality. So start by asking, not assuming or judging (James 4:11).
Help. In each of these scenarios we need to respond with wisdom born of love and humility. Let’s consider: As my husband’s helper, how can I make it easy for him to show hospitality? Maybe we need to be willing to practice hospitality in a way that is different than we’re used to, but serves our husband. If he prefers a small dinner instead of a big party, or would like to schedule hospitality instead of being spontaneous, let’s consider how we can adapt to him. If our husband has legitimate concerns for our family’s well being, we should take them seriously. Maybe we need to work within a certain budget, or schedule non-negotiable family times, or come up with a better plan for preparation. If we think fear or laziness is behind our husband’s hesitation, let’s think of ways we can come alongside and encourage him to grow. Maybe we can create questions to help him engage others in conversation or assure him that we’ll take full responsibility for prep and clean up. Or maybe we can ask if he’d be willing to read and study the topic of hospitality together. Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch is a great place to start (Gen. 2:18).
Wait. If we’ve already encouraged and even appealed to our husband on this matter, but he is still resistant, it may be the time to wait. But this is a busy kind of waiting. We must actively guard against self-righteousness and bitterness. Let’s look for ways to encourage him and focus on God’s grace at work in his life. Let’s not withhold affection. And above all, we should continue to pray that the Holy Spirit would work in his heart. In the meantime, we can look for ways to practice hospitality that are agreeable to our husband such as having people over while he is at work or hanging out with friends at other locations. And wait expectantly—God is always at work! (Ps. 37:3-7a)
Trust. Ask God for wisdom to discern the time for another appeal. Maybe you can ask your husband if he is willing to meet with a godly couple in your church to talk about hospitality. But if he is still resistant after all these efforts, you must rest in God’s sovereignty. He has ordained these circumstances and He is working through them for you and your husband’s good (Rom 8:28).
We hope these simple suggestions are helpful. But our ultimate hope is in the fact that the Wonderful Counselor is eager to help you. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go” he promises. “I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Ps. 38:8).
We watched this at our Independence Day get together today and cried. Thank you to all of the American soldiers who serve our country, and thank you to the families of active duty troops for your sacrifice. May God richly bless you all!
As a mom with young kids, summer is full of endless possibilities and countless hours to fill, depending on how you look at it. I get excited about all the memories we can make and overwhelmed by all I think I need to accomplish for a truly “successful” summer. I’ve got to go berry picking and set reading goals and make popsicles and get out the sprinkler, and the list goes on.
I’m trying to learn from my mistakes. If I try to do too many things, I end up failing to do most of them. So I want to start with the most important summer mothering goal: training my children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Teaching and training our children in the ways of the Lord requires intentionality. And so, in addition to the daily devotions my husband leads at breakfast, I decided to choose one area that I wanted to focus on with my children. Thus, I’ve inaugurated the “Summer of Kindness.”
My goal—and check back with me at the end of the summer on this!—is to focus on this one area for the next two months, and hopefully cultivate a greater culture of kindness amongst my four children.
I am going to try to lead the children to memorize at least one verse about kindness together, to talk to them about kindness in Scripture, promote kindness through encouragement and even a kindness contest, and to be faithful to bring appropriate consequences for unkindness.
Now I’m sure my plan will morph over the next eight weeks or so, and it might even get derailed. And I don’t have any unrealistic expectations that my children will be perfectly kind to one another after this. But as one wise person once said, I’ll make more progress than if I had never tried at all.
And by targeting this one area for growth, I know it will help with all the other areas. So, I’m raising a glass of lemonade, and more than a few prayers to a summer of kindness.