While Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s also one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. Often times, we rush around to decorate our homes, attend Christmas parties, make memories with our families, make and send Christmas cards, and buy gifts – all on top of our normally packed schedules. For those of us who lead in the church, from elder to staff member to dedicated volunteer, our service to our church family crowds our schedules even more.
We are just a few days away from Christmas and many of us are probably finding ourselves short on time to finish up our Christmas to-do lists,. The hope of making this year’s celebration meaningful and memorable seems to be a fleeting thought. Whether or not your children get their “must-haves,” there are a few gifts that won’t show up on their lists that may just be the most important.
THE GIFT OF YOURSELF
For kids, there’s nothing like presents piled high beneath a tree on Christmas morning. But even if you got them everything on their list and more, it’s far more important that you remember to give them the gift of yourself. It can be tempting to think that because we sought out, paid for, wrapped, and gave a bunch of great gifts that our parenting duties for Christmas are done. That is far from the truth.
As parents, we are called to represent the heart of God the Father to our children. He doesn’t simply give us gifts that we want because we want them. What He wants most is for us to enjoy Him, not the gifts He gives us. That’s what we really want and need, anyway – to be known and loved by our Father God.
Our kids, too, want something more than a new toy. They want to be known and loved by their parents, and to be secure in that love. And as you give them that gift of yourself, you are pointing them to their deeper desire to be known and loved by a heavenly Father.
So, after Christmas lunch, resist the urge to go take a nap, watch TV, or get some “me” time in. Take time to play with all the new toys that you just gave your kids. Watch your favorite Christmas movie with them, even though you've seen it ten times already. Get beaten at that new video game over and over again. Build a tower with their new blocks, watch them knock it down, and help them build it again.
By giving the gift of yourself to your children, you’ll be blessing them and yourself as well. And after all, the best gift that God ever gave us was the gift of Himself, as a baby boy on that first Christmas morning.
THE GIFT OF GIVING
In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus as having said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” As a new parent, this year will be the first year that I have the opportunity to stay up late on Christmas Eve and prepare the living room with Asher's presents. This is something I've waited so long to do; it will truly be much better to give than to receive this year. However, our children simply won’t believe it. Their Christmas lists are full of things that they want to receive, not things they want to give.
That means it’s up to us, their parents, to lead them to experience and understand this great truth. Find ways for your family to give to others together this Christmas. Talk to your Missional Community about any needs in the community, or simply make cookies to give out door to door to your neighbors.
I know of one family who wanted to serve children in the Dominican Republic over the summer, but they were having a tough time raising all the needed financial support. So, they decided to use most of the year’s Christmas budget toward their mission trip, and let their kids know about their decision. While it wasn’t the children’s favorite Christmas morning ever, after the trip, they expressed how thankful they were that their parents had made that decision. Their eyes had been open to the true joys of generosity.
As you lead them in generosity, you’re giving them the gift of joy. After all, Jesus Himself promised that it is more blessed to give than to receive, so it’s a promise you can count on.
THE GIFT OF KNOWING GOD
Only the Holy Spirit can draw your children to know and trust in Christ. However, there is a lot that we parents can do to point our children to the joy of knowing God and to their need for a Savior. One of the best gifts you could give your kids this Christmas is a renewed dedication to leading your children to know and follow Jesus Christ.
Leading your kids to know Christ as Lord starts with you knowing and loving Him yourself. Your children are learning from your example each and every day, whether you think they are paying attention or not. That’s why Moses, when he is telling Israel how to lead their children to know the law, starts with this statement:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6)
It is only after he says this that Moses talks about teaching your children diligently as we go about our lives.
For some of us, the greatest gift we can give our children this Christmas is a renewed commitment to pursue Christ. Perhaps our habits of regular Scripture reading and prayer have slipped in the holiday busyness. Pray that God would renew your passion to know Him, and then dedicate yourselves to growing in your faith. It will be good for your spirit, and good for your kids too. I pray that all of us parents would be able to say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Another gift you can give your children is leading them to know God themselves, not simply by your example. If every child in your home doesn’t have their own, age-appropriate Bible, then I recommend adding that to the gifts under the tree this year. The Jesus Storybook Bible is excellent at pointing our minds to Jesus throughout all of the stories of the Bible. Also, pray with your spouse about how you can help your children develop the habit of reading the Bible and praying daily, either as a family or individually.
Even though these three gifts – the gift of yourself, the gift of giving, and the gift of knowing God – won’t make any child’s Christmas list this year, I guarantee our children will be blessed on receiving them. I pray that we all will find time in this busy Christmas season to make these gifts a priority.