I've got something to say
But it's all vanity, it's all vanity
I've got love pouring out of my veins
But it's all vanity, it's all vanity
- The Avett Brothers
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. - 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
You may have noticed the abundance of red and green, carols, news stories mentioning Jesus and Santa, all that sort of stuff. Every year we are inundated with Christmas. Our culture gives in to two extreme ideals in December. One option is to succumb to the rampant commercialization of Christmas, which makes you greedy and a heretic. The other option is to become holier-than-thou, seeing Christmas as just about giving to those in need and not getting. When taken to the extreme, you end up making people feel guilty for wanting to give expensive gifts to kids, instead of say, serving at a homeless shelter or giving money to charity.
Christmas is actually one of my favorite holidays, however, every year Rich and I fall into the same trap. We say we’re not going to buy gifts because we want to save money, but then we wind up buying stuff at the very last minute because we either feel obligated to because other people are getting us gifts, or because we still want to get stuff for one another.
As we approached Christmas this year, I was very clear with my husband that I did not want to exchange gifts with anyone, and only buy gifts for our nieces and nephews. If anyone wanted to give us gifts, we would prefer they donate to our adoption fund instead. It was all in the spirit of “saving money for adoption.” But again this year Rich came to me and said he wanted to buy me something. He had that look in his eye… the one he has every year. It says “I love you so much and you’re keeping me from showing you in this very specific way.” I felt defeated once again. I have been denying my husband the joy of giving.
A few years back we actually had a very unpleasant Christmas, which ended in an argument about how we don’t have any Christmas traditions as a family and it never feels like Christmas at our house. Last year we didn’t have to worry about that because we had a huge Christmas with my family in Florida, the first time we were all together for Christmas in almost a decade. It was wonderful, magical, joyous, and yes, tiring. But I’ll be honest, that is few and far between for Rich and I.
Maybe this idea that “spending money for Christmas is frivolous” is wrong. Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Another name for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus came down to earth to walk among people, to live with us, love us, teach us, and die for us. He gave us two important gifts, his presence and grace, undeserved and unmerited favor. I believe that is what celebrating Christmas should be about. We should take the time to be with our families, actually being present with one another, enjoying each other’s company, and reveling in just “being” together. We should also give generously and graciously. That means giving without any expectation of something in return. I still don’t believe you should buy a gift just to buy a gift, especially if said gift is something that costs a lot of money but won’t be used by the recipient.
For me personally, I would much rather someone donate money in my name, or provide me with a JetBlue gift card so I can visit my family instead of giving me the newest brand name electronics or new DVDs. But everyone is different. Christmas is about being thoughtful, putting others before us. We should know the people in our life and what matters to them, seeking ways to give that show we have taken an interest in them as people and know where their heart lies. I think that, more than anything, shows the meaning of Christmas: love each other and be present in each other’s lives enough to know what is meaningful in each other’s hearts.
Rich and I have been overly blessed with donations towards our adoption fund, yet I’ve been overly stingy with our personal budget this Christmas, unwilling to give much of anything to anyone (besides the kids) all in the name of “bringing a baby home.” I realized that I’m being a hypocrite, asking for undeserved generosity while denying others the same.
I’ll be honest, I love to give presents to people when it’s something I know will light up their face, something that will make them think: “wow, she really knows me and what matters to me.” In that sense, I do reject the consumerism of the holiday, and the need to get the biggest and best thing for the cheapest cost, when in fact people may not need those items.
So what will light up people’s eyes? Do loved ones have a need for something to be done around the house? Has someone been saving to take a trip but still can’t afford it? Is there a cause that’s very important to your family member or friend that they would love to give more generously too? There are so many ways to give to others without giving in to buying “stuff” for the sake of it.
Rich and I decided we need to establish a Christmas budget each year, so we can allow ourselves the joy of giving to one another and to family, friends, and our community. This will also allow us to establish some Christmas traditions for our family. Not every gift costs money, but, if we continue to make it to December without planning anything for Christmas, we’re just going to sink back into more debt. We are slowly but surely paying down debt we’ve accumulated throughout the years, mostly from buying stuff we don’t even use anymore. We’re a cash-only family now so budgeting is very important. But I need to allow room for giving, unadulterated generosity, and being present. The truth is giving often costs money. Who am I to deny blessings to others because I was selfish the first 10 years of my marriage?
So I confess… I’m sorry that I haven’t been generous with the blessings we’ve received from God.
I confess… I’m sorry that I haven’t thought of others first before myself.
I confess… I’m sorry I have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas is giving thoughtfully and sacrificially to others just as God did for us through sending His Son, Jesus, to earth to live among people, giving to others sacrificially through undeserved love and grace.
I confess… my goal in life is to love others the way God loves me and sometimes I do well at it and other times, not so well, but I’m thankful for a husband, family and friends who haven’t given up on me. I’m also thankful for my husband who has generosity and love in his heart for others. We have been blessed, so may my heart to be opened so I remember the importance of continuing to bless others, both at Christmas time and throughout the year.
Do you have a confession to make this Christmas season? Do the holidays bring out parts of you that you're ashamed of? Or do they bring out the best in you?