Last month the dreaded delivery arrived. The toy catalog was dropped on the dining room table nonchalantly and I watched my children instantly surge with a desire for every new toy and gadget produced this year. The markers came out, circles filled every page, a tug-of-war ensued, and it’s as if the whining was added on as a free bonus feature. I have to admit there is a part of this experience that is sweet. I love to watch their imaginations and interests come alive. The other side of the coin is like a mirror where I see the worst version of myself, desiring things that can never fulfill the true desire of my heart. Especially during this time of year, I want to prepare room in my heart for the coming of a Savior. I want to anticipate Christ and I want my kids to do the same.
This time of year might be the most challenging season to talk about contentment and gratitude. Our daily experiences set the table with opposing values. But instead of dreading the conversations (and should I say fights?) about the difference between “need” and “want” and the real "reason for the season”, I am choosing to embrace the opportunity to live out what I want my kids to know as adults, that Jesus is enough. It is the perfect time to get some good practice, to exercise our “no” muscle, and train our hearts to focus on His coming. As the ads and wish lists pour in, we have the opportunity to teach our children about contentment and gratitude, not through constant correction, but redirection. Ann Voskamp reminds us, “Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.”
There are a few specific ways that we have decided, as a family, to redirect our attention and be intentional with our focus.
- We tell the story. The Biblical history that builds to Christ’s coming as a baby, helps us anticipate His birth. We found an Advent book that works well for us. It comes with coloring pages that I print every year. It allows the kids to color while I read. Over the years, the retelling of the story has become familiar and especially meaningful to our family.
- We pre-decide how many gifts we are going to give our kids. There is not a magic number but we have decided on three. It causes us to be deliberate and restrained when the wish lists change (every. single. day.). We give one thing that they requested, one gift that is handmade, and one experience (tickets to a fun show or family adventure).
- Two years ago we started a new tradition that has had a notable impact on our posture: a “gifts we already have” wall. Each night after Advent, we all write or draw a gift we have been given on a large piece of butcher paper hanging on the wall. It can be a friendship, an experience, or an actual item. I have experienced my own heart soften as I thank God for the “already” gifts of marriage, clean water, and airplanes. I watched my kids’ hearts change as they thank God for family, friendships, and the many toys that fill our basement.
Contentment and gratitude will be values that our kids will work at for a lifetime! (Can I get an amen?!?) So as parents, let’s take the long view. Whatever you choose, form a habit that will convey your values over time. Share your personal challenges and how you choose gratitude when you feel like being selfish. And when they have dug the toy catalog out of the recycling bin for the third time, tell them that it’s hard for you too and that you don’t always get it right. The Good News is that Jesus is enough, even when we don’t value Him as such, and that He offers us an open invitation to recognize the gift of His presence.
Robin Whitford serves on the Family Ministry Team at National Community Church where her husband Mike is a Campus Pastor. The California natives make their home on Capitol Hill with their children Michaela, Rhema and Caleb.