If you’re like me, the greatest challenge of Christmas is not finding coordinating wrapping paper and bows; it’s not preparing the perfect Christmas dinner; it’s not even staying within my budget. It’s keeping perspective. It’s, as they say, keeping Christ in Christmas…keeping focused on the real reason we celebrate. It’s ever harder to train our children. For all of us, I believe, have been shaped by our consumer culture more than we think.
The reality of missing it hit home when my first born was 2 years old. He was the first grandchild and the gifts were stacked taller than he was. Waiting for the nod, he began ripping off the wrapping paper faster than I could keep up with him. I tried frantically to help him appreciate each gift…”Oh, it’s a truck! Tell Aunt Cheri ‘Thank you.’” “Oh, it’s a baseball hat, tell Uncle Glen, ‘Thank you.’” On and on it went. It was chaotic. Catching on to my cue, but so caught up in the process, he grabbed the next present, ripped off the wrapping, he held it up and exclaimed, “Oh, it’s a box!” and threw it aside. And in the same movement he grabbed the next available present. I knew we’d created a cute, little monster.
Mesmerized by the wrapping, he missed the gift hidden inside. The tragedy was…for the moment the wrappings satisfied him. And from that time on it has been an uphill battle to keep perspective in our home.
Richard Foster began his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, with this appraisal on the condition of the American culture: “Superficiality is the curse of our age.” Now 25 years later when asked in an interview, “If superficiality is the curse of the modern age, what’s the curse of the postmodern age?” His answer: Distraction.
Dallas Willard echoes this sentiment: “The condition of our hearts and our churches today…is distraction. And the fruit of distraction: we don’t go in any direction that’s worth going in.” Keeping our spiritual focus in the midst of so much is a premier discipline of the soul. Otherwise, we will discover one day how lost we’ve become.
“The word ‘amusement’ literally means ‘to not think.’ In other words…to be distracted. Like my young son, we become so caught up in the trivialities of our consumer culture with ipods, ipads, satellite tv, electronic games, we often miss from the real gift. Staying attentive in the spiritual life is one of the most difficult disciplines and requires a consistent training of our hearts.
The Lord repeatedly cautioned the Israelites not to forget him once he led them to freedom in a good and fruitful land.
Deuteronomy 8:11-14 – 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
We have the same heart-tendencies and it’s a very real temptation in our consumerist society: Rather than seek God himself we are satisfied with lesser things. Like my young son, we throw aside the One who along brings abundant life for temporary trivialities only to find disillusionment and disappointment as soon as there are no more gifts to open.
Am I against gifts at Christmas? Certainly not! The giving and receiving of gifts is part of the fabric of our homes and the love we share as families. Let’s just keep them in their proper place knowing our possessions do not ultimately satisfy the longings of our soul and often distract us from what really matters.