Christmas break starts today for my kids.
The excitement is electrifying. Kids and Christmas just go together.
It’s time for hot chocolate and Christmas lights. Carols and nearly Christmas Eve candles.
It’s time to do something for someone else.
This Christmas we will give to those who can’t give back. We will empty ourselves of time and resources because that’s how we get full.
That’s how we will find the heart Christmas this year.
But it hasn’t always been this way for our family . . .
I’ll never forget the Christmas morning when my kids were six and four years old and there were piles of presents under the tree, dozens for each of them. I didn’t feel it was excessive because I was an organized deal shopper and had gotten most of the toys on sale months before. I was as excited as my kids, and I couldn’t wait to see their faces as they opened each gift in delight.
But it didn’t really happen that way. It was a blur of grabbing and tearing into gifts, and within minutes the room looked like a tornado had ripped through it. I watched my kids go from one gift to another, hardly taking the time to even remove all the paper. With piles of opened gifts and still more to go, they actually seemed tired from the exertion of opening so many.
There were some gasps of delight here and there, but with a room full of stuff, I don’t think I’ve ever felt emptier.
The nagging feeling stayed with me the rest of the day. I realized what bothered me that morning wasn’t just about having more stuff; it was about getting more stuff. And it was my problem, as much as my kids’. Maybe more.
Early in our marriage, Terrell and I didn’t have a lot of money, but I couldn’t imagine not opening gifts on Christmas, so we saved $100 to spend on each other. I shopped and searched and bought Terrell five gifts with the money.
On Christmas morning at his parents’ house, the extended family opened their gifts to each other, but I didn’t see any for me from my young husband. Meanwhile, he was opening his fourth one from me . . . a used Rook game off eBay. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)
The gifts were all opened and Terrell gave me a sly look. I was trying not to cry. He went over to the tree and pulled off a papier-mâché ornament. He opened the ball to reveal a beautiful pearl necklace inside. When he put it around my neck, I said thank you — and then I went to the bathroom and cried. I was so disappointed that I only had one gift from him under the tree.
Oh, boy. I had a lot to learn. I didn’t just want something; I wanted more. And when I became a mom, this attitude spilled over into my early parenting. I wanted my kids to have more, the best. I wanted them to have it all, too.
My buy-in to the notion that I needed more of the best for myself and my kids didn’t satisfy me. Its pursuit actually left me feeling emptier than when I had less. Things didn’t begin to shift for me until a couple of years later, when I traveled to Kenya, Africa, with Compassion International as a blogger. It was there in one of the world’s largest and poorest slums that I began to see my life and my own entitlement in light of how the rest of the world lived. It shook me to the core and flipped a switch inside me that made me stop and reevaluate what was happening.
Entitlement didn’t start with my kids. It began with me. I entitled them because I was entitled.
I saw just how big the world was — millions and millions of people, moms and dads with kids, just like my family, only they didn’t seem to be entitled to anything, not even enough food for the day or clean water to drink. I realized how small I was. I saw my glaring selfish tendencies and my spoiled nature, and I wanted to live differently. I don’t always know how to combat the struggle against entitlement in my life or home, but I need to try.
And as uncomfortable as it sounds, parents who want less-entitled kids have to be less entitled themselves, and parents who want to raise more grateful kids need to start by living more grateful lives.
I learned the hard way that having more doesn’t always mean being more. There are some holes that stuff just can’t fill.
This Christmas, no matter what’s under your tree, remember the key to a full Christmas comes when we allow the Gift of Christmas — Jesus — fill all the empty places in our soul and lives.
by Kristen Welch, We are THAT family
Excerpt from Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World
Cody Doll says
Wow. To be so transparent like you were is amazing. In a way I understand how you feel. Although I’m not like that with christmas, I was like that in another way. I wanted so much that I missed how selfish I was.I was so hungry for getting, that I missed holden opportunities. Thank you for sharing.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I am so excited to watch (via Skype) the children of Redeemer Christian School in Pakistan receive their one and only gift for Christmas tomorrow. I can’t wait to see the smiles on their faces. It will be, by far, my best Christmas gift. I am forever amazed at the gratitude and joy shown by those who have so little in life. But, really, they know they have the best gift of all – and that is Jesus – we could all learn from them and the simplicity of their joy!
Have a joyous Christmas,
Joanne Peterson says
Bev, I’m extremely excited you’ll be able to watch the children who attend Redeemer School open their presents! Enjoy this time! Joanne
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
It was pure joy!! Thank you for being so supportive, always, and being a prayer warrior for us!!
Joanne Peterson says
:). I find your work so gratifying to be part of by simply praying for all of you. This is such a pleasure to watch you grow, and be stretched and challenged. It shows! I can only imagine how much joy you experienced to watch your children open their gifts, (and they are your children) beautiful, beautiful…..Much love, Joanne
Beth Williams says
I pray you enjoy your skype time with the children of Redeemer School. May God richly bless you and your family this Christmas!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Beth, it was absolutely wonderful!! I wanted to step through my laptop screen and be there. May you and your family have a joyous Christmas as well!!
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Thank you for such transparent sharing, as Cody says. It was so serendipitous to read this, because literally just five minutes ago, as is my custom every morning upon arising, I drank a huge glass of water and thought, “How many people can’t just turn a faucet and drink fresh water?” I have literally not thought that before. Then I read your post. Perhaps God is wanting me to do something abut that, specifically. I have heard of organizations that receive money to dig wells for impoverished people. We support a child through Compassion in the Dominican Republic, but do so little beyond that (globally). And your thoughts on gift-giving are so meaningful. I think part of the problem is most of us conflate gift-giving (and commercialism) with the celebration of Christ’s birth. True, the wisemen brought gifts to the Christ child (though after his birth), but those gifts were to Him as an act of worship. I don’t think bestowing gifts to those we love is wrong. But lately I have thought about how then the focus is on us and not Him and that this custom really isn’t the point of Christmas. And sometimes it seems to me that much of the American economy is based upon buying stuff. It’s not a good feeling. For several years, my husband and I chose to give small gifts to each other on Epiphany, rather than on Christmas. We also started long ago to give modest gifts to our daughter–little things that she enjoyed (books, sheet music, that kind of thing). And she has never asked for much or seem disappointed. Gosh, this is a rambling post, Kristen! Sorry. I’m pretty sleepy. But you’ve gotten me thinking about this. I was feeling guilty about not having bought one gift yet. We’ve concentrated instead of musical celebrations that revolve around Christ’s birth . . . such as hearing Messiah (all Scripture and so gorgeous) at our symphony hall, the Bach Christmas concert I sang in last weekend, our church choir concert, etc. Tomorrow, we will host thirty-two women in our home for my annual Christmas luncheon, where I will give a devotional, and where we’ll sing Christmas carols and solos/duets, accompanied by piano and violin. Often, I will invite a women who doesn’t know the Lord to share the real meaning of Christmas. After reading your post, I’m thinking there is no need to head to the chaos of the mall for last-minute buying. I”m thinking that we are already quite full and satisfied. What more do we need than to lift our hearts in song and praise to the Lord for the gift of His Son? But I’m thinking too we need to give more to those in real need. Bless you, and again, apologies for the rambling nature of this. Merry Christmas.
Joanne Peterson says
You’re not rambling at all. You are being stirred to broaden your vision by the Holy Spirit. You already have a vision of Christmas is about Jesus and not the presents. There are many organizations who will dig wells, provide vocational training, bible instruction, food, shelter, schooling, women and children, family ministry, etc, etc. Some just to name a few are Open Door, Gospel for Asia, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, Compassion International, The Heifer Project, Redeemer School (the school Bev mentioned @ Walking Well With God) Mercy House, and there are many other organizations who do what you are starting to feel nudged about. It’s an exciting journey to be part of kingdom work. Blessings, Joanne
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Thank you so much, Joanne, for your inspirational response. I greatly appreciate it. We sponsor a young boy through Cmpassion, and need to do more. My heart grieves for refugees too. I also live in St. Louis, and my heart has been stirred about racial reconciliation. I am European-American, and I have reunited with an African-American woman whom I knew as a chld. We both longed to find each other–very long story is that we have. She happens to be the great-great granddaughter of Dred Scott (which I did not know as a chld), and I am amzed at how God is now using her….and right here in our city, and nationally. I want to be part of that. So you are so right about heeding His Spirit’s nudges. I’ve no doubt God is doing that.
Lynn (excuse typos!)
Joanne Peterson says
Lynn, thank you for letting me know part of your history, your story. It’s rich, and tender, and moving in the way God is breaking your heart with the things that break His heart. I always find it humbling and amazing the way Jesus will guide to the ways He wants you to serve Him. He will do the things through you, your friend since He has and is already preparing you for the work He is already doing. How very sweet He reunited you and your friend. I will read more purposely of Dred Scott, I’m a little familiar, but not enough. I’m so excited for you! Merry Christmas! Joanne P.S. Typos are charming and personal, and I like that.
Beth Williams says
I get your post and no it is not rambling!! I’m proud of you for having a “musical” Christmas this year! The Holy Spirit is stirring something inside of you. I get this because I have been dismayed at the commercialism of Christmas for many years now! I’m reminded of two songs: “It’s Called Christmas with a Capital C” by Go Fish and “Leaving Heaven” by Matthew West! Both songs point to Christ as the reason for the season!
Have a blessed Christmas!
Lynn D.Morrissey says
Beth, how very sweet of you to reach out personally. Thank you. I agree…the Holy Spirit *is* stirring something. I hosted a women’s luncheon for 32 in our home yesterday, and afterward gave a talk and a musical program. I love providing opportunities for women to worship and sing praises to Jesus. We sang carols and I provided “special music.” And my family and I will hear Messiah this week, and our Christmas Eve service filled w/ worship and music. Thank you too for these recommendations. When our lives are filled with praise the gift-giving can go much more by the wayside. Thank you for reaching out, and Merry Christmas!
Erin Smith says
Thank you so much for the reminder! I am always excited for Christmas as we get to celebrate Jesus….the coming of or Savior! However, it is so easy to get overwhelmed with what I can’t do for others….you know, getting everything. The things I now hold as the closed, treasured memories as an adult are not th big, many gifts that I got at Christmas. We didn’t have a lot and so there were only a couple of things but I would be so excited and thankful that I got something. I didn’t know we didn’t have much. We told the story of Jesus’ birth out of a different book of the bible each year on Christmas Eve and the next morning we would get several tiny, individually wrapped gifts (socks or underwear) in our stockings and a gift or maybe 2 under the tree. I am so thankful for those humble beginnings. Last night I was online wondering how I was going to have time to go get more today and if we would have time to get more gifts sent off to family…talk about missing it! Thanks for bringing my focus back to what is truly important. Jesus is THE most amazing gift and I want our children to grasp that even at 3 and 6…but it starts with us. I really can’t thank you enough!
Kristen, thank you for sharing a bit of your story. Such truth in your words! I grew up just wanting to be remembered, made to feel significant by being a gift (or more). Yes, with two other sisters, there was this desire to feel equal, to know we all got the same number of gifts.
Finally, at what’s probably the halfway point of my life, I’m living out the truth that gifts don’t add significance to myself or of myself in others’ eyes.
It’s so funny what gifts can mean to us . . . sometimes the meaning we search for is so different from the intentions of the giver.
We give our boys three gifts (or less) each. We’re trying to help them see the focus of Christmas is supposed to be on Jesus and His gifts to us, rather than on the gifts we get. Such a hard lesson to instill.
You’ve given me some great food for thought this morning. Thank you. May your CHRISTmas be a heart-full one.
I KNOW THAT FEELING OF WOW IT’S OVER IN A FLASH AND I WORKED SO HARD FOR MONTHS TO MAKE IT ALL HAPPEN. WE HAVE 5 CHILDREN AND EARLY ON WHEN THAT VERY THING HAPPENED TO US, MY HUSBAND AND I DECIDED WE WOULD FROM NOW OPEN EACH GIFT ONE AT A TIME WITH MY HUSBAND BEING SANTA AND PASSING OUT THE GIFTS. IT GAVE EACH CHILD THE CHANCE TO OPEN EACH GIFT AND APPRECIATE THE GIFT IN A MORE MEANINGFUL WAY. IT LASTED LONGER AND WAS MORE FUN. LATER IN THEIR LIVES WHEN THEY HAD CHILDREN OF THEIR OWN, WE TOOK THEM TO MEXICO AND BUILT A SMALL HOME WITH ‘HOMES OF HOPE’, (YOUTH WITH A MISSION) FOR A POOR FAMILY IN THE COLONIA’S, THE POOREST OF THE POOR. AN EYE OPENER FOR US ALL. NOT AT CHRISTMAS TIME OF COURSE. IT BECAME A TRADITON THAT WE DID FOR 10 YEARS BEFORE MY HUSBAND AND I HAD TO STOP BECAUSE OF HEALTH REASONS. IT IS A GOOD THING TO GIVE BACK BUT IT IS OK TO RECIEVE IN THE RIGHT SPIRIT. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!
Rebecca Jones says
I love your honesty. I’ve been learning myself, that I always had so much more than i thought in the Lord. Sharing Jesus with children has been one of those gifts. I’ve learned to rest in His love and then take care of others. And while they may want everything from every commercial, like you say go through gifts like a tornado, I’m making sure to instill Jesus into the thinking of children who would not otherwise know Him. He’s the best gift we can give a child.
Thank you so much for your post as we prepare for Christmas week. It’s a great reminder to take a step back and remember that if we don’t want our children to grow up to be self-entitled we must first model that behavior ourselves. It’s so hard in our culture, especially this time of year. I think a great way to do this is to shift the focus from getting things to giving things to those in need. Merry Christmas to you!
Danece Whitley says
Thank you for this, I feel I struggle with the same thing. I stress a Christ centered Christmas to my kids. A less is more, time spent with someone is more meaningful than gifts, and serving and giving to those less fortunate kind of Christmas. But it never fails as it gets closer to to Christmas day I have this guilt that I’m not getting my kids enough and I don’t want them to be disappointed during the comparison game with there friends. Sometimes the world has such a strong influence on us. This year I’m praying for strength to not cave to the worldly view.
Beth Williams says
In this very commercialized world it is so easy to get caught up in the buy, get, have more stuff. Like you said stuff doesn’t fulfill us only Jesus! Christmas for me is more about giving than getting. I usually sponsor 1-2 Angel tree children and give my Ninos de Mexico (orphanage) child a gift.
Back when I was in college I joined a hand bell choir for college students. For Christmas that year our director gave each of us something from Heifer Project. I got 1/2 chicken in my name. I treasure that gift because I know she is helping someone less fortunate than me. My goal in life now is to bless others so that I can receive the blessing back!
Have a blessed Christmas! 🙂
Meg Bucher says
Amazing sentiments on entitlement. I have been in the “I want my kids to have every toy on their list” shoes. One Christmas, I snatched myself back to a snippet of reality when I caught myself in a rush to find something my daughter added to her list last minute. “I must keep the magic alive!” That was my motto up until that moment.
It got rediculous.
They got tired.
I got tired.
All of my bargain shopping to get them more for less ended saving nothing of value.
Thank you for the reminder that the seeds of entitlement and gratitude are planted in our children by our motions.
Christan Perona says
THANK YOU for your honesty. Truly. You’ve spoken to my heart and, I’m sure, countless others. Merry Christmas.
Ouch!! that was me getting my toes stepped on and I cannot thank you enough for it! I have been complaining for a while now how entitled my kids are – especially the oldest one who is just barely 9 years old. I do a lot of that – complaining. Wondering how on earth this happened. How did my kids get so spoiled. I’ve read blog posts and books (I preordered yours and am eagerly anticipating the January release!!) and yet my kids are still spoiled and feel entitled. Because of me. Because I am spoiled and feel entitled and until I change my heart and attitude there is probably no way I’m going to be able to change my kids. So thank you for the much needed wake up call, the realization that it first has to begin with me.