“Daddy, how can I possibly wait so long to open my Christmas presents?”
This was my four-year-old son’s question to me at 6:15 this morning, just a few minutes after he had gotten out of bed. He said it as he stared across the living room at two presents under the tree with his name on them. He has asked it several times in the last 24 hours. Now, he could be asking out of innocence, telling me that he does not know how to bear the feeling of wanting and not having, the act of waiting (especially on a surprise). But if he’s anything like his dad, he is also asking out of a heart best described by the song “Ill With Want” by the Avett Brothers:
“I am sick with wanting
And it’s evil and it’s daunting
How I let everything I cherish lay to waste…
The more I have, the more I think,
“I’m almost where I need to be,
if only I could get a little more.””
When my son asked the question, I was immediately struck with its importance and relevance for us all as we head toward Christmas morning. Because greed truly does make us sick: dissatisfied, always wanting more; ungrateful, thinking we aren’t getting what we deserve; anxious, always looking for the next fix. Greed perverts relationships – with God and people – into tools we use to feed our own gluttonous hunger for more.
In light of this, I decided to search the Scriptures for some help in preparing both my child’s heart and my own for this season. Here’s my working list of biblical ways to protect our families from greed and nurture a family after God’s own heart this Christmas. Make sure you read the Scriptures with the points!
1. Encourage your children to give their own gifts to the family (and if necessary, help them buy the gift and wrap it). Help them find pleasure in the anticipation of Mom’s face when she opens her gift from them.
- “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
2. Remember that sometimes our greed is not for luxury but for security (if I have a little more money, I’ll be secure). But whether for luxury or security, greed is idolatrous. Real security is found in the never-leaving, never-forsaking love of God.
- “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).
3. Let your children see poverty first-hand and participate in mercy. Go visit the Burmese refugee family down the street, let your children play with theirs, and let them participate in showing them mercy in personal and material ways. Don’t just talk about how people in Yemen are starving; personalize poverty for them.
- “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15-16).
4. Tell the story of Christmas as it really was – a poor, teenage mother who gave birth to a baby in the squalor of a stable, away from family and home, who was about to flee for her life as a refugee.
- “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
5. Each night in December, ask them to name three things they are thankful for. Help them to literally count their blessings, both physical and spiritual.
- “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2).
6. Teach them about the insatiable nature of greed in a way they’ll understand. I am thankful for the Berenstain Bears’ book The Green-Eyed Monster that has helped give our family words for the abstract idea of greed. “Don’t let the green-eyed monster in!” is more easily grasped by a child than “Don’t be greedy!” See also, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.
- “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Eccl. 5:10).
7. Toys break, Legos are lost, but the Word of our God remains forever. Let your children feel the transient nature of earthly treasures, that all things are cursed by the Fall. Don’t condemn toys as worthless (we are embodied creatures, after all), but model for them the superior and lasting joy of knowing Christ.
- “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
8. Tell them the Christmas story with an emphasis on how God’s people were waiting for the Advent of the Messiah. You could talk about how Mary waited and “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” You could talk about Elizabeth waiting for many years to become a mother (Luke 1). You could talk about Simeon waiting his whole life for “the consolation of Israel.” Your child is not the only one who has waited with great longing for Christmas Day!
- “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17).
9. Do an audit of your Christmas traditions to see if they are reinforcing materialism. Should Susie really write a letter to send to the North Pole, detailing her list of requests she earned by being a “good girl” this year? Are you going into debt each year to make Christmas bigger and better than the year before? Is Christmas morning a ravenous feast of children tearing into wrapping paper? Or is it the thoughtful giving of gifts to one another in honor of God’s gift to us?
- “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'” (Luke 12:15).
10. Help them long for and wait on the right thing: the Second Coming of Christ, when all the things that make them hurt and cry will be removed and replaced with a Joy that will never become boring, lost, or obsolete. A great way to help long for the right thing (and point #8) is with the practice of a family Advent each Sunday, leading up to Christmas Day.
- “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
11. Asking God for help, search your own heart for any flavor of greed. Where have you let the green-eyed monster in? It could be greed for intangible things like success, power, approval, and control. It could be greed for tangible things like books, cars, clothes, houses. In an appropriate way, confess your own struggle with greed to your children, as well as your repentance. If you do all ten things listed above but still have the Gimmie Gimmies yourself, don’t expect your children to do otherwise.
- “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
12. One final, very important point to conclude. While we are responsible as parents for the kinds of things on this list (a daunting thought!), we do not have the power to change the hearts of our children (much less our own heart). We must trust Him, both to forgive and to change the heart. If you think that it is up to you to change hearts, you will set yourself up for frustration and crush the spirits of your children. Why are you surprised that you children struggle with greed, like you? Be gracious with them, knowing your own desperate need for Rescue. And celebrate when you see the work of God in them.
- “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
What about you? Do you have any thoughts, practices, or traditions that keep you from being “ill with want” and help you cherish Christ during this season? If so, please send me an email with your thoughts – email@example.com. I need your help, too.