A few years ago, I noticed a pattern developing on Christmas morning. The kids would wake up far earlier than I ever felt necessary … with more energy than I thought possible. After being dragged from my bed, we’d pause long enough for me to get a cup of coffee, and then my kids would descend upon their gifts with wreckless abandon.
Wolves in the dead of winter, at the height of their hunger, chase their prey with less determination when compared to my kids on Christmas morning. Have you seen a hungry wolf chase a rabbit?
In a few hours after the last gift was opened, a terrible transformation would quickly take hold. Their attitudes would sour. They would leave behind joy and excitement and descend into bickering and discontent.
I imagine that some of this is due to natural immaturity and maybe even the natural aftermath in the release of so much anticipation. But too much of it came from a lack of instruction.
My natural response was to say, “You are so ungrateful!” I wanted (but didn’t) to take all the gifts and throw them in the trash. Maybe even start a bonfire (some people would consider me dramatic and reactionary…Maybe I just like to create powerful memories? #LameRationalization).
In this moment, I received a simple insight: I never told them to be thankful. Yikes. What a fatherhood failure. I knew I needed to make a change because I never gave them a pregame that would set them up to win.
Since then, every Christmas morning, before we open the gifts–when the excitement in the family room is nearly visible in the air–we pause while I share a few thoughts on contentment. This year, I took them on the following journey and said the following:
People are more important than things, and God is more important than people. Things never last and people will let you down, but God is dependable-always and forever.
More things will never lead to more happiness. Content is a problem for everyone, for people with lots of stuff and for people with only a little bit of stuff. It’s a myth that more things will make us content and give us peace. In fact, it seems like the people with more stuff have greater struggles with being content.
When we want more, we think getting more will solve the problem. But that’s not the way it works. Instead, our hearts need gratitude, not getting more stuff.
So. The gifts you get today will test your heart. Stuff isn’t bad, but when it keeps us from loving others and loving God, we have a big problem. Let’s choose to be thankful for what we have now, and let’s be thankful when we’ve opened up the gifts and have new stuff.
Let’s not let things keep us from loving people or loving God.
This is the fourth year in a row that I haven’t heard any complaining and disappointment and wanting more — all the things that spring from a divided heart that lacks contentment.
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” — Paul (1 Timothy 6:6)