When our daughter was young enough to visit Santa, he was always confused by her list. After listening to child after child with lists as long as they were tall, our daughter’s list usually only contained two or three items. He was so befuddled, we had an incident one year when he told her he was bringing something she didn’t even want!
For most kids though, the holiday season is often more about getting than giving. Even if they make or purchase a few presents for others, the focus is on those post Christmas gift comparison conversations with peers.
There is a fun way for your family to switch your focus from getting to giving, without spending a lot of money. Gather your family and tell them you have a family challenge for all of you.
The challenge is for each family member to find a way to give every day between now and Christmas. The only rule is that they can’t spend any money (or give a very small limit) or give anything away without parental permission. You will probably want to spend some time thinking up various ways to give without spending much money. Don’t forget to talk about things like time, talents, attention, etc.
How you format the challenge is up to you. Your family may have more fun coming up with ideas and executing them as a family. Other families – particularly those with teens – may want to make it a friendly competition. Who comes up with the most creative ideas during the challenge period? Who implements an idea that has a ripple effect and has other people giving too? Or come up with your own competitive extras.
Spend time each day sharing your experiences with each other. Don’t forget to talk about what they are thinking and feeling as they go through the challenge. Add insight from scripture where it fits. Spend time in prayer about everything as a family. It’s a great family tradition to add to the list.
One of the first things many Christian parents teach their kids is to thank others for giving them something. If your kids are older, you may also have taught them to write thank you notes. As wonderful as those habits are, gratitude should go much deeper. True gratitude is active.
Teaching your kids active gratitude can also help them develop into productive Christians as adults. So what are the pieces of an active gratitude?
Saying thanks. Do your kids regularly and sincerely thank God for the many blessings He gives them? Are they even aware that every good thing is a gift from God? Thanking God shouldn’t become a meaningless ritual, but rather a constant expression from a grateful heart.
Being good stewards. Nothing is more frustrating to someone who has given a special gift than to see the recipient treat it carelessly. Teaching your kids to be good stewards of not only money, but every gift from God is important. Don’t forget to teach them to be good stewards of gifts like nature, their talents, their relationships and other gifts they may not necessarily connect to being good stewards.
Sharing with others. A huge part of gratitude is understanding that not everyone is blessed with the same gifts. Encouraging your kids to be generous with their gifts is an important part of helping them develop active gratitude. This is especially true for gifts that they may not realize can and should be shared with others.
Telling others about the giver. What is the first question people often ask when someone is given an amazing gift? They want to know who gave it. This is partially curiosity, but also because they are wondering if a similar gift may be given to them by that person. A crucial part of active gratitude is telling others about God, who gave the gifts. Of course the best gift God has given everyone is the possibility of salvation and spending eternity in Heaven with Him. Your kids should be as excited about sharing the good news of the Gospel message and God the giver as they would be if someone gave them their dream present.
Teaching your kids active gratitude can mold their hearts in such a way that they become grateful, productive Christians when they are older. It’s worth your time and effort.
Have you talked with your children about the kind of hearts God wants them to have? In today’s world many people call themselves Christians while having no intention of following any of God’s commands – especially if those commands keep them from doing what they want to do. Had someone spent more time explaining the parable of the soil to them, they might have a better understanding of the hearts God wants His people to have.
Their is a fun activity you can do with your kids to help them understand the many layers of the parable of the soil. You may have to grab a few supplies first, although you can also use paper cups, dirt from your yard and seeds from food scraps.
Grab your kids, a Bible and the supplies. Read them the parable from Matthew 13:1-23 (with older kids you can compare versions of the parable from Mark 4:1-20 and Luke8:4-15).
Explain that if they have never had a garden, this parable might be a little difficult to understand. Take your kids outside. Have them throw a few seeds on the sidewalk. Ask them what are some of the things that could happen to those seeds. Ask them whether or not they think those seeds will grow on the sidewalk to look like the plant on the seed packet.
For the next three “soils” you may want to allow each child to make one of each or make a couple of each for the family. If you can somehow make the parable “work” over the next week or so and show your kids the results, that’s great. If not, just explain what would probably happen if this were done in a real garden.
One cup should contain gravel. Your kids can drop in a few seeds. Another cup should contain dirt, and your kids drop in the good seed. You can be “birds” that then drop in grass seed to the same cup. For the last cup, use dirt and just the “good” seeds.
After all of the seeds have been planted, go back and talk about Jesus said would happen with each. With younger children, use a simplification of the explanation Jesus gave for the parable. Encourage older kids to think of concrete examples from real life of what each of those scenarios might look like in today’s world. Ask them to think of ways to make sure they are the good seed in the good soil.
Knitting is one of those crafts that the more advanced the project is, the more focused you have to be to complete it. If not, you can end up with a mess of stitches looking nothing like the sweater you thought you were knitting.
Christian parenting takes focus as well. You won’t believe this if your kids are little, but the old parenting saying, “The days are long, but the years are short” is very true. You may have every intention of helping your kids have a rich prayer life or treasure reading the Bible, but then someone gets sick, the game goes extra innings, standardized testing is happening and before you know it your child is headed to college. Very little of those well intentioned spiritual things ever happened and now there really is no significant time to change things easily.
Unfortunately, many young people raised in Christian homes have little more of a spiritual foundation than their peers raised in non-Christian homes. And often the faith foundation they do have is weak and susceptible to destruction when everyone else is encouraging them to abandon it so they can “have more fun”.
The best way to avoid this scenario playing out with your own children is to be proactive. Be that intentional Christian parent. When life gets you off track, work to get your family back to the spiritual basics your kids so desperately need.
All of that is going to require you to be focused – extremely focused. Satan is slick. He knows the worries and concerns every parent has. He will do everything he can to make sure you are distracted by your child’s future and what others think you must do so your child has a bright one. God, according to Satan, can wait until later.
Except later is often too late. For the next few posts, we will be giving you some tips and fun activities to help you maintain your family’s focus on important spiritual disciplines that can help mold your kids’ hearts, minds and souls. Just remember, never take your eye off of the prize – your entire family spending eternity together in Heaven. You will always be glad you kept that laser focus on what God wants for your family.
Have you ever paid attention to the words your kids choose when they talk or write papers for school? I was listening to something the other day, when the speaker made a comment that really resonated with me as a parent – especially as a Christian parent.
He was talking about the use of the term “hater” by people today. The speaker pointed out that in his youth, when someone disagreed with something you said or believed, they were called your critic. You were encouraged to research and hone your arguments in order to persuade your critics you were correct in your beliefs or in what you said or did.