(This is part 2 in a series of posts I did in 2012 to speak about the intersection of what we value and what we feel we're supposed to value during the Christmas season. I'll post a new one up each week day until the 25th...Enjoy!)
(Today's disclaimer: I'm about to write about family memories of Christmas gifts for kids. This blog is not an endorsement or value statement about how many gifts we should buy, how much money we should spend, materialism, etc. I will try to address the "consumerism of Christmas" with Holiday Values Part 3...)
My parents did a great job balancing out the gifts between their three children every Christmas. If you had brothers or sisters, you know what "balancing out the gifts" means...
It means when the children rest from their tornadic flurry of shredding wrapping paper, and sit amongst the Yuletide shrapnel, there comes a moment when each kid looks at their plunder and compares it to the plunder received by their siblings and they think one of two things to themselves:
"I feel OK with the distribution of wealth in this place" OR
"I made out like a bandit. I'm clearly the winner this morning."
If parents can get each of their kids to think the kid version of one of those two statements then the gifts were officially balanced.
My mom was brilliant with the art form of balancing gifts, because it's not just about the volume of treasure, it's about knowing how each kid ticks and what they really want. Mom would make sure we each got a "big gift"or a "cornerstone gift" as I like to think about it, and then filled in the rest of the haul with a deft combination of toys we wanted (GI Joe and Star Wars figures) and some stuff we needed (underwear and socks). The trick too was that if Mom knew she wasn't going to get you everything on the list she would figure out what items would joyously counteract and dismiss any temporal disappointment you may have at not getting the previously desired item...
I remember the only time when I did have a little discontentment, albeit very briefly.
My brother and I were already merging our menagerie of figures and vehicles into one grand storyline--the GI Joe jeep full of brand new characters driving up to the Ewok Village--and were busy determining who who would be the "good guys" and who would be the "bad guys" in today's exciting episode when I glance over at my little sister's treasure trove.
It was the year she got the Play Kitchen, you know the walk-in play kitchen with the oven that opened, cupboards filled with dishes and a vast supply of plastic groceries? My eyes went from her kitchen to our battlefield and I began to run some quick plastic-to-plastic ratios and comparisons and quickly realized how much more gift volume-wise she had received.
Here my brother and I were playing with a little world and there she was playing in a world. I almost got up and went over and asked if I could put the pretend muffin tray in the oven but then I remembered Han Solo and Road Block needed to put the hurting on The Emperor and Destro and my momentary pang of plastic envy receded.
Unfortunately for many of us, we never get over the Plastic Walk-In Kitchen Envy I felt there for a few moments. We spend many days locked in mental bitterness that our plastic-to-plastic ratio is not fair or not what we wanted. During the Christmas season, it can be easy for our jealous eyes to lock onto the "perfect scenarios" that others have: from their income, to their families, to their traditions, to their seemingly drama free lives...
How do we combat this mentality?
I offer two brief thoughts:
1. Remember your Heavenly Father is way better than my mom at giving us what we need (and sometimes what we want!) and allowing us to know His goodness through His gifts. Gifts not made of temporary plastic but of more rich substance, the eternal elements of love, joy, peace, and hope. These gifts endure, unlike the ones we find cluttering up our attics and floors. I find the jealous and comparing eye I can be quick to have transforms into visions of gratitude when I seek to abide in the Vine and not my calculations. This is not a guaranteed dismissal from bad memories or painful circumstances, but a faithful promise of unfailing love.
2. After we three Orth children opened and played with our gifts for a while, we would pile up in the car and go to Grandma and Pappy Orth's house (of The Grandma Loop fame). The cool part was we could take our favorite toys with us and play with them there! So the gripping saga my brother and I had devised could go with us in the car. But guess what couldn't go with us? A big old honking plastic kitchen! When you look at others who "have it all" remember there is always more to their situation than meets the eye, more issues involved than just the illusion you see of the perfect life.
I'll leave you with Eugene Peterson's translation of Paul's concluding words to the church at Philippi:
I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.