It catches me off guard when people ask me what I'm getting my kids for Christmas. I don't have firm convictions about not getting my children presents. Honestly, I haven't really given it much thought, but I don't plan on buying them anything for Christmas.
Maybe it's because we don't have any money, or maybe it's because we already live in a house that is so overstuffed with toys that there's hardly any room for the people to exist. Both of these would be good reasons, but as I think about it more I think the real reason is that I know that presents would not make my children one eensy bit happier. In fact, I run the risk of teaching them the exact opposite. By spending lots of money, wrapping up big gifts, hyping up the moment when they will open them, oohing and ahhing, and taking pictures when they do, am I not teaching them that they should derive their happiness from material things? Don't I run the risk of teaching them discontentment, selfishness, and materialism?
Don't get me wrong, my children will be opening plenty of packages in the next two weeks. They have lots of family members who will spoil them. I will smile and make sure they thank the giver and hope that they enjoy what they are given, but for my part, I refrain from giving them presents. Instead I will recount for them, once again, the story of the missions trip I took to Guatemala when I was 16 years old. I will tell them about the little children I saw who lived in the Guatemala City dump in huts made from garbage, eating rotten food, with vultures circling overhead. I don't tell them this story to steal their happiness, I tell it to them to give them happiness. This experience was one of the best presents I could have received as a 16 year old. It taught me thankfulness and contentment, and I want my children to share in that present too. I will recount for them every way in which God has blessed us and provided our every need. I will remind them about how we live in a family where we love each other and care for each other, something many children do not share. I will be sure that my children know that this is what makes Mommy and Daddy happy, and that presents are only the tiny sprinkles on our cake of joy.
What do I want to give my children for Christmas? Christmas day is too small to hold all that I want to give them. I want to give them a childhood filled with unconditional love and acceptance. I want to teach them about the God who made them and who can give them hearts that love him and love others. I want to give them hugs and kisses and tell them I love them at least once each day. I want to give them the opportunity to let their minds develop creativity, logical thinking skills, and normal attention spans, free from the mind numbing chaos of television, noise, and over activity that permeates each corner of our culture.
I want to give them a worldview that can understand and even appreciate their medical challenges as gifts from God that make them uniquely beautiful, and present them with the opportunity to show the world what contentment, trust, and reliance on God's strength look like. I want to give them gluten-free, casein-free sugar cookies to take to school (even if I have to stay up all night making them) so they can eat them with their friends at the Christmas party and see that medical limitations are what you make of them.
I want to give them the opportunity to clean up their own messes and learn responsibility, to share in the chores and learn that work can be fun, to make mistakes and learn to apologize and be reconciled. I want to give them a chance to hear, "sure, go ahead and try, you can do it," instead of "stay out of my way, you're going to mess it up," to hear, "good job, I'm really proud of you," or, "Mommy and Daddy will always love you no matter what you do, but it makes us feel especially proud when we see you making right choices." I want to give them open arms and a kiss to run to when they are hurt, but loving hands that will set them back on their feet and tell them to try again. I want to give them the chance to meet someone else's need and feel the joy that comes from helping others.
I want to give my children a truly joyful childhood. I often fail, I lose my temper, I yell, I send them away when I'm busy. I am not a perfect mother, but these are the things I will strive to give them, and I am not so blind as to think that packages under a tree will replace the real joys that Matt and I have the responsibility to give our children. In fact, I have the responsibility to counteract all the selfishness, discontentment, and materialism that would be so easy for them to absorb this time of year. Sometimes this leads me to refuse things that well meaning people want to give my children. When the well-meaner counters that my children would "like it," I have a hard time finding the words to tell that person gently that just because a child "likes" something does not mean it is good for that child or that it will ultimately bring them joy. How do I explain to them that their obnoxiously loud toy will only slow down the brainwaves of my previously thinking child, and distract my child from the relationships and activities that would bring them real joy? Yes, it might entertain my child, but entertainment is often unhealthy and leaves one more stupid and feeling more empty than before, even though you mean well.
Strangely enough, my children do not feel deprived. Just ask the nurses who care for them, who remark that my children are some of the most calm, happy, thankful children they've ever seen pre-surgery. When they ask Naomi what she wants for Christmas, and she has to pause for a few minutes because she hadn't even thought about Christmas presents, then tells them that she'd like, "a couple new outfits," I think that speaks for itself. Outfits are needs, and they would be nice, but she's really looking forward to spending time with family, singing Christmas carols together, and maybe baking some more cookies. Which is great, because that's exactly what I intend to give her.