Citylights Church Children’s Director
Disclaimer: I am not a parent, nor do I claim to know what parents go through. I know I do not have all the answers, but I speak from my heart and what I have learned from the word of God. So when I use the words, “our children,” I am speaking from the heart of a children’s ministry director and an aunt. I have an influence on the children in my life and will do everything possible to point them to Jesus.
Salsa music playing in the background, the wonderful aroma of mom’s flan coming from the oven, and the hustle and bustle of her cleaning the house spotless because our family would arrive soon to celebrate- it was Christmas! There was an excitement in the air. My cousins were coming over to play and would be there all night. Oh the joy of getting to share a delicious meal with my favorite people, and laugh as we watched Home Alone. I loved watching our parents dance in the living room and occasionally interrupting them to join in. Christmas morning we were all so exhausted from the night before, but it was definitely worth it. Before getting ready to go to Christmas service, I ran to the tree. There was a beautifully wrapped present waiting for me. I was a child so how could I not be excited? But for us, gifts were just the icing on the cake. After we opened presents, we spent the rest of the day visiting family and making memories. This is what I truly looked forward to the most- and of course, eating the leftover flan for breakfast! As time passes by and life continues to happen, I find myself longing to be back as my 8 year old self on Christmas morning. These memories have become just that. That magical feeling I experienced every Christmas as a child has slowly slipped away into the black hole of consumerism.
The first Christmas night, God knelt down and placed his newborn son in a small barn on a bed made out of hay, with no heat and no electricity; just the stench of farm animals and the chill of the night. Fast forward a few thousand years and families are comparing who received the better or most expensive iPhone. Heck, why even wait till Christmas? Let’s just rush though our Thanksgiving dinner to prep all of the store ads so we have a game plan for Black Friday shopping. Materialism seems to have hijacked the true reason we get to celebrate Christmas. Spending time with our families and celebrating the birth of Christ isn’t the central focus anymore. I hold on to my childhood memories for dear life because I don’t want to be sucked into the vortex of this age. Those memories have kept me grounded in those moments when I lack judgement and I find myself stressed about shopping and buying the perfect gifts.
Here’s a double whammy- Not only are we being influenced to want more and never be satisfied, but so are our children. Their innocence has been infected with something I like to call “The Veruca Salt Syndrome.” If you’ve ever seen the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I’m sure you’re familiar with a character named Veruca Salt. When I watch the movie, I cringe every time she says, “Daddy, I want it!!?” I’m sure most of us watch this movie and say to ourselves, “what an ungrateful little brat!” Now, I know she was extreme, but it gives us a really good glimpse into the heart of the culture of our day. The media has played a major role in teaching our children that they NEED what they are selling. They make them believe that they simply don’t have enough and that getting one more thing will make them happy. Not to mention, they make it all look irresistible. All of these “things” are temporary solutions to an eternal need and will all expire one day. It will leave them with the desire for more, never fully satisfying their cravings. And to add to this, our innocent and heartfelt attempt to give our children everything we didn’t have, or to give them what they ask for to make them “happy” has helped in creating “Generation Entitled.” Some kids today don’t hope for many gifts under the tree, they expect it. They believe that they deserve everything they get and when they don’t get what they think they deserve, they lash out.
Now, before you scroll away to see how much longer this blog is and get antsy reading, trust me, it’s about to get really good and really real. Stick around!
I believe that this attitude of entitlement is something cultivated throughout the entire year, not just during Christmas time. I pray that my words don’t offend, as it is not my intention to seem judgmental or to say that the way you decide to raise your children is wrong. I am simply identifying a parasite that can steal from the ones we love and are called to teach and disciple. I’ve noticed that some parents often reward their children for behaviors or actions that they should already be doing, like obedience and helping to serve their family around the house. This is not wrong in of itself, but it is important to discern and dissect our children’s motives as they obey and receive our rewards. If this is the only manner in which we discipline our children, then we need to be aware that this could very well lead to them growing up with a sense of entitlement. I’ve also seen parents correct their kids for sinful behavior and later reward them even though their character that day didn’t warrant their reward; possibly out of guilt. Heck, I’m guilty of it. God is forgiving and merciful toward us all the time, even when we have fallen hard and turned our backs on him. We can definitely take some of those moments of sinful behavior to teach our children about God’s unwavering mercy and grace towards us. But this can be taught without opening our wallets.
A gift in itself is not sinful. In the Bible, parents are commended for giving good gifts to their children, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). However, gifts do not always have to be store bought. There are other types of gifts that will edify and build up our children and do not require you running to Target (which can also cause you to sin as you pick up a few gifts for yourself along the way. Get thee behind me!!) These “good gifts” can be valuable and precious and not cost you a cent! Some examples of such gifts are: hugs, spending quality time, encouraging words, family devotional time, and a good ole’ fashioned kiss. If our store-bought gifts are causing our children to sin, then they are NOT considered “good gifts.” Matthew 18:6 says; “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Yikes! Makes you think twice, doesn’t it? Obedience and service should be heart motivated with a desire to please God, as opposed to doing it because it leads to getting a gift or reward in return. Good fruit should be produced from a “good gift”: gratefulness and thankfulness. One of my biggest fears is that entitlement may trickle into their walk with the Lord. God forbid our children ever feel as though they deserve their salvation or God’s love- which is the complete opposite of the truth. We deserve nothing but have been showered with unmerited favor given by our loving Father!
I know many of us have taught the children in our lives about why we celebrate Christmas, but we forget to really emphasize it. Jesus should be on our tongues every day. There is a greater gift we should be focusing on during Christmas, not just the ones we buy. We need to teach our children that the only reason we get to celebrate Christmas is that Jesus loved us so much that He came down into this wretched world, took on our sin and died for us. He came to give and give abundantly- not to ask for presents. He came to serve humbly, washing the feet of His disciples and spending His time with the least of these. When these idols replace the rightful place of God in our hearts, we are in sinfully dangerous territory. We must make much of Christ, much of the cross, and much of His love. Our children place value on the things they see us place value on. We need to make sure our example is on point. And when we are not a good example, we need to use that moment as a lesson and ask our children for forgiveness.
I would like to offer a few practical ideas that could change the way our children view Christmas and gifts. I found some ideas online and also included some of my own. I hope that these not only help and encourage our children but also ourselves:
1. Encourage children to give gifts, not just ask for gifts. Don’t just ask your children, “What do you want for Christmas?” Make sure to also include “what would you like to get _____ for Christmas?” From a very young age, parents should be talking to their children about what others might want for Christmas and what they are going to make or buy for them. Make Christmas primarily a giving holiday, not a receiving one. Help them learn to wrap presents and make a tag for the top. Encourage their sense of joy as they watch others open the gifts they have prepared for them. Some ideas might be making cookies for others or doing something for their teachers, etc.
2. Do fun advent activities with your children to help them stay focused on Christ and to provide a feeling of expectation for His coming, rather than the expectation of “getting.” (I have provided you with a link for daily Advent devotions and a craft you can do as a family to bring those devotions to life!)
3. Have your kids make room for their new gifts. Give them a decent sized box and ask them to fill it with toys that are to be donated. Don’t hold them back. If they want to get rid of a toy you really like or spent a lot of money on, let it go! Maybe give it to someone specifically instead of throwing it in a donation bin, but don’t hold on to it. Give them the freedom to let go of their possessions. Now, if you have that one child that refuses to part with anything, have a talk with them first, maybe read a bible story together and prep their heart for the purge. Remember, you cannot change your child’s heart- it’s not your job. Your job is to point them to Jesus and let Him do the dirty work. Read and discuss Luke 12:33 with them: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
4. There are still a lot of people suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Encourage your family to give towards “Operation Noche Buena” at Citylights Church. We are putting together packages to send to children for Christmas since Christmas gifts are not a priority for families on the Island this year. We want to bring some joy to a community in Puerto Rico so have your children help you with this or even make it their project. Check out our post on our Citylights Facebook page for all the details or visit the ONB table after service.
Let’s take Christmas back! Let’s make it about our Savior rather than feed into consumerism. Let’s bring up children who are grateful, content and thankful. Submerge them in the word, pray for them daily and ask the Lord to guide you on this journey called parenthood.
Click here for family Advent family devotions:
Click here for the Jesse Tree craft: