I have spent this rainy December morning in front of my laptop in a quiet house. For the last 90 minutes I have been pondering, researching and massaging my children's Christmas wish lists. Although our children delivered their letters to Santa Claus Thanksgiving week so we could move on to other things, it is now decision time. How much? Which ones? It has left me thinking a lot about what place Santa Claus has in our family's celebration of Advent & Christmas.
We like Santa in our house. He is not a bad guy. He brings love, hope and a generous spirit--not to mention the FUN! There is nothing more exciting than watching the face of bed-headed children as they scramble down the stairs Christmas morning. It is the embodiment of the anticipation that Advent is about. There is an electric attitude of expectancy than we adults would do well to carry into each day God has given us.
But like all characters, Santa has his flaws. He makes vague promises and let's face it, his gifts are based on works. Christmas carols, exasperated parents and twinkly eyed strangers in the grocery store reinforce to our children that they better "be good" if they want gifts.
In our home, Santa brings three things to each child to pay homage to the three gifts from the wise men. However, when my children delivered their 4-6 item wish lists to Santa this year, they were delighted to hear him say "If you behave, I will see about getting you everything on your list." It is bad theology and in opposition to what I hope to teach my children about life, but you'd better believe they have clung to that statement from the jolly old bearded man. They are being set up for disappointment. When there are only three things under the tree will they believe it was because they didn't 'earn' the rest? Ugh!
And this is where I have been stuck for the last 90 minutes. My children don't need everything on their list--no matter how 'good' their behavior happens to be. Some of the items they are asking for are simply overpriced, gimmicky junk. I know them each well enough to predict which gifts will leave them completely bored and unfulfilled. I also know things that would thrill them to no end, and they haven't even thought to ask for them.
It reminds me a lot of the way God deals with me. I bring Him my list of things I have seen others possess, that I want. I make requests for what I think will make me happy. But He knows my heart better than I do. He gives me gifts based on His perspective, not on mine. Some delight me, while others leave me feeling confused and/or disappointed.
God's 'yes'es aren't in direct proportion to my good behavior and His 'no's aren't a reflection of His lack of love for me. He gives good gifts to His children--for our growth and His glory. Contrary to what many of us seem to believe deep in our heart, God doesn't exist to rubber stamp our wish list after a careful evaluation of our behavior. Which brings me back to Santa Claus...
The real problem with Santa is that he perpetuates the consumer driven myth that Christmas is OUR birthday instead of Jesus'. (Major props to my friend Cabell for passing along this phrase. I had never heard it before.) So much of the refrain is 'what do YOU want for Christmas?' If you try
to stop the cycle you are a Scrooge. There is such build up. So much time, money and energy is devoted to this month. It is fun to spend, give and make merry.
I love my children. I want them to be thrilled on Christmas morning. But every year when all the gift wrap is cleaned up, I look around my living room and feel a little nauseous and resolve that 'next year will be different.'
There are lots of programs, checklists and ideas already floating around the Internet about ways to lessen all the hype...but as I start to really think about implementing some of them the guilt creeps in. The month's schedule is already insane, I can't add another thing. Besides, this is childhood! It should be fun! Lighten up! It is just one month, you have eleven others to be serious. Don't steal joy from children who are too young to really get it! They will be old and overly analytical one day, for now just enjoy! And I wonder how much I have bought into it already. Why is it so hard to let go?
I don't have a neat 'bow' for this entry. I don't have an 'action plan.' But the longer I mull it over the more convinced I become that this is where God wants me...stepping back, being still, stripping it down in my heart, bringing it all to Him and allowing Him to give insight into how to keep the main thing the main thing around here. The bottom line is that it is Jesus' birthday and what He wants most is our hearts.