by Meredith Wright
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
When my children were very small, I was determined not to go over the top with gifts. The costs mount up quickly, and many of those gifts will have a shamefully short life.
Of course, I also love giving my children gifts. The delight of our children delights us: a delight which reflects we’re made in the image of our heavenly Father who gives good things when we ask (Luke 11:11). Yet, a balance can be hard to strike. Here in the shopping culture of Australia, I have often fallen into a trap of giving more to my children than necessary. More toys, more games, more stationery. Big, low-cost department stores make it easy and even affordable. But with each celebration, the discomfort around this consumerist culture grows.
I want my children to be generous, not greedy, but to do that in a gimme-gimme-gimme world, is going to require an intentional approach. These five ways have helped me build a family culture of giving more than receiving (Acts 20:35).
Learning what makes each of my kids feel loved has been an important part of our journey together as a family. Children, like adults, crave time with the people they love. Time with your kids always outweighs gifts for your kids. Undivided attention and a shared activity are a gift to both parent and child in our busy lives. Instead of a wrapped gift, why not choose something simple you and your loved one can do together? Give a voucher (or book of vouchers) for how many times you’re going to build that fort, do that puzzle or go on that hike together. Presence > Presents.
I’ve learnt the hard way that comparison steals joy; it is the enemy of contentment. When it comes to gifts, we see other families and displays in the shops and gift-giving can feel like a competition. As adults we can model not comparing our lives to others while building a unique family culture. One where we remember that, ‘every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ (James 1:17)
I’m conscious I need to do this in lots of small ways throughout the year. Then if my kids are disappointed because little Sherie got more for her birthday, I can bring them back to our family culture of contentment and joy, gratefully remembering what we do have together rather than focusing on what we don’t or on what others have.
A trap I’ve fallen into, especially around Christmas when things get busy, is allowing gift buying to become a task more than a way to demonstrate love. I’ve learned that slowing down, tuning in to what makes each of my kids come alive, listening to their changing likes and dislikes, makes for much more meaningful gifts – and less of them – rather than the pile of last-minute bits and pieces that I grabbed because it was on my to-do list.
Every time I’m thinking about gifts in our family, I struggle with how much we already have. Most of the time no one in our house really needs anything. So, at Christmas, we’ve practiced a kind of displacement. We ask our kids, ‘if there are new things coming, what could you give away to make room for this new thing?’
Importantly, the donation needs to be something in great shape, not a legless Barbie or a 100-piece puzzle with 93 pieces. This gives them a chance to survey how fortunate they are and recognize they have more than they need. And from that place the hope is they give cheerfully, not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7). Where possible, we would hand these things on to families in our church so my kids could see the delight that comes from letting things go.
Finally, a great way to move kids away from an appetite for ‘more stuff’ is to champion a cause together. We learn together about the experiences of families different from ours. Weeks before Christmas, we start talking about how we’d like to serve others. What could we do to bring a positive change in our neighbour’s life, in our community, our world? If we approach this as a family, it results in time spent together – thinking, planning, serving – and this becomes a gift of quality time and solidarity as a team.
I know I won’t always strike the right balance. But it helps to recognize that one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is a sense of purpose. Unwrapping a pile of stuff on Christmas morning brings short term joy but ultimately becomes a burden – gathering dust and taking up space, rather than being savoured and enjoyed.
Helping our kids see they can make a difference in the world will stay with them throughout their lives. A generous life lived free from the burdens of comparison and competition is a gift of infinite value. And as Paul says in Timothy 6, ‘in this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.’ (1 Timothy 6:19)
Meredith Wright is a mother of three daughters and the Communication Lead for Baptist World Aid Australia in Sydney, Australia.