In a child’s mind, the thought of Christmas often conjures up the anticipation of gifts—lots and lots of gifts. “Can I get ____ for Christmas? Which presents are mine under the tree? When can I open them?” While there should be a sense of excitement, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to give gifts to our children, too many gifts can serve as a great challenge to the heart. Scripture says,
Hebrews 13:5—Keep your life free from love of money [toys, games, gadgets, etc.], and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Luke 12:15—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 [toys, games, gadgets, etc].”
Matthew 6:21—“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Are we as parents and grandparents helping our children embrace these truths during the Christmas season? Or do the number and types of gifts we give feed an insatiable craving for more and better stuff? What will best point them toward true, lasting contentment? As parents, we need to be on the forefront of cultivating contentment in our children. Cultivating involves preparing the soil of the heart, planting the seeds of biblical truth, and praying for God to bring forth fruit. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for cultivating contentment this Christmas.
1. Cultivate an atmosphere that reflects the true meaning of Christmas with Jesus as the only means of true happiness and contentment. Many Christian parents are already doing this, but we don’t always fully appreciate the pull of the world on our children’s hearts and minds. That’s why we must be diligent and consistent in pointing them toward the immeasurable treasure of Christ. Consider using a Christmas-themed or Advent devotional (such as Why Christmas? by Barbara Reaoch, Prepare Him Room by Marty Machowski, or The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper). Fill your home with Christ-exalting carols and songs. Decorate with pictures and symbols that point to Christ’s birth and His redeeming work on the cross. By continually holding forth the greatness and worth of Christ, worldly treasures may diminish in our children's eyes.
2. Cultivate in your children a biblical view of possessions. Here are some basic truths to emphasize:
- Materials possessions are ultimately from God, belong to God, and are under God’s authority (1 Chronicles 29:12).
- God knows and graciously and generously provides for all of our needs (Matthew 6:8; 7:11).
- Possessions are temporary and cannot truly satisfy us (Matthew 6:19).
- The desire for possessions may become a dangerous snare (Luke 12:15; 1 Timothy 6:10).
- True, lasting contentment only comes through knowing, loving, trusting, and following Jesus (Philippians 3:8).
3. Cultivate wise gift giving. More is not always better for children (or for us), nor is expensive always best. Talk with your children about having realistic expectations. If necessary, consider “de-escalating” gift giving and/or emphasizing gifts that are relational in nature. For example, give books or games that can be used together as a family. Give each child a special event night with mom or dad. These kind of gifts build memories that last far beyond the value of a toy or gadget. Plus, they cultivate a sense that our greatest treasure is itself relational—the treasure of knowing and loving Christ. You may also need to broach the subject—in a winsome way—with grandparents and other relatives.
4. Cultivate an excitement for meaningful and generous giving. Use verses such as, “…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35),and “...God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) to teach your children about the joy of giving to others. For example:
- Look into your church's mercy ministries. Is there a family gift project you could pursue to fill a specific need? (e.g., the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Catalog)
- Use the time before Christmas for your children to do an inventory of their toys, games, etc. Encourage them to give a few of their things to a ministry-based donation center.
- Encourage your children to give homemade and/or relational gifts (e.g., help Grandma clean her house, wash the dishes for Mom for a week, etc.
5. Cultivate an awareness of the comparison monster and the means to slay it. It’s amazing how often I find myself content with what I have until...I see something better that someone else has. Our children are prone to this same kind of covetousness. In addition to helping them develop a biblical view of possessions, we need to help our children recognize the comparison monster when it rises up, and put it to death.
- Remind them of all the unmerited goodness and generosity of God in their own lives.
- Talk about the importance of thankfulness. (See “Raising Thankful Children.”)
- Pray with them, asking for the Spirit’s help.
Again, we don’t want to diminish the joy of giving our children wonderful gifts at Christmas. Generous gift giving can be a means of teaching about the generosity of our heavenly Father. But I know that my family and I are all far too prone to seek contentment in the earthly gifts we desire and receive. More than anything, I desire to cultivate contentment in the only gift and treasure that will truly satisfy—Jesus Christ Himself!
Want to explore this topic further with your children? Following are some discussion ideas:
- Read 1 Timothy 6:6-8, and ask: "Did you bring anything into the world? Can you take anything with you when you die? What does verse 8 say that we should be content with? Why is this hard for us? If you lived in a very poor country where many people were starving, would it be easier to be content with having food? Why? How can you have this same attitude without having to be in that situation?"
- Do you often compare what you have with what others have? Why? Do you feel that you need what they have in order to be happy? Why? If and when you feel this way, what are you saying about what you think will make you truly happy? Is this what God tells us will make us happy? Is God your heavenly Father? Do you trust Him to provide all that you need to be happy? Read Matthew 7:7-11 and ask, "What kinds of things do you ask God for? Why do you ask for these things? Do you believe that God wants to give you good gifts? Do you complain about the good things God has already given you? Why is it sometimes hard to be thankful? Is it because God is stingy? Or is it because our hearts are not grateful? How could you focus on thankfulness to God this week?"
- Make a “thank you” list to God for His many good gifts. Ask, "What should a list like this remind us of? When feelings of wanting more and more 'stuff' start to creep into your heart, do you stop to think about how generous God has already been to you? Do you thank Him for life and breath and everything else? How could stopping and remembering this list help you to fight against feeling discontent with what you have?"
- Is God able to satisfy your every need? Therefore, if He withholds something from you, like having your own bedroom or a new iPad, is it because He isn’t able to provide you with these things? Why might God choose to withhold something from you? What better thing might God have for you? Give a concrete example of this.
- Read Philippians 4:12-13. What is the "secret" of being content? Why does Paul say that it is a secret? Are secrets easy things to find out? No, they are to be "found out" by actively searching for them. Can you be content through your own strength? Why not? On whose strength must you depend?
- What is your hardest struggle when you think of earthly treasures? What kinds of things “feed” this feeling? What do commercials, movies, books, and store advertisements tell you is worth “laying up”? How can you protect yourself from this in some measure? Do you do this, or do you continue to feed your appetite for earthly treasures?
- Have you ever received something that you were really happy and excited about? Did you feel as excited about it a week later? A month later? Two years later? Why not? What does this tell you about earthly treasures and the happiness they bring? Will this happen to heavenly treasures? Why not?
(These discussion ideas were adapted from the Truth78 curriculum, To Be Like Jesus: A Study for Children on Following Jesus.)