5 THINGS WE CAN LEARN FROM OUR CHILDREN AT CHRISTMAS
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.
One Christmas, quite a few years ago, my then 3-year-old daughter was into staging plays about the nativity. “I be Mary, mama, you be Jofess,” she would instruct, and off we would go through the house on a wintry morning on our own journey to Bethlehem.
One day, wanting to gauge her understanding of the whole story, I asked, “But where’s Jesus?” Seemingly surprised that I didn’t know, she pointed to a spot right next to me and stated confidently in her tiny voice, “He’s right there!”
And I had a moment. It was as if I suddenly realized he had been travelling around the house with us all along. It was so palpable, I had a sudden urge to turn to the space beside me and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there!” The presence of Jesus standing next to me felt very real that day, through my daughter’s believing eyes.
With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good.
JESUS WANTS US TO LEARN FROM KIDS
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. In their simple faith, kids have not yet learned to doubt the truth. Become like children, humble yourselves, and you will inherit the kingdom, Jesus tells the disciples (Matt. 18:1–4). Bring the children to me, says Jesus, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them, and I want to pray for them (Matt. 19:13–15).
We too can learn to trust him, even though we do not see him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:8–9).
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children.
With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good, that he is for us, and as Emmanuel, he is God with us. We are not alone.
Though we cannot see him standing next to us, we trust in his presence and in the knowledge that he will not leave us. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.
1. EXPECTANT ANTICIPATION IS GOOD
As I talked with my teenage son, I learned what was meaningful to him about our Advent celebrations when he was a little guy. He told me the time we took to prepare slowly over days of lighting candles and reading stories allowed him to enjoy anticipating Christmas. He never doubted that Christmas would come, because every preparation we made indicated that it was, indeed, on its way.
When it did come, we took the time to open gifts slowly, savoring each one and allowing others their turn to increase the enjoyment of everyone. As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
2. WE CAN TRUST OUR FATHER
Things are not always as they seem. As parents, we have perspective our children don’t, because we see the big picture. They become anxious when an activity is over, when the treats are gone, or when it’s time to go home from the party. Many a meltdown is the result of their limited knowledge.
We know that the desires of their hearts will be met again, many times, and we are confident in our ability to provide it again for their delight. There is so much more to be seen that they do not see.
As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.
Romans 8:24–25 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Likewise, we can trust that what God says will come to pass, and anticipate the perfect working of his will with patience.
We are often the instruments that cultivate this good fruit of the Spirit in the lives of our children. Don’t freak out! Like a loving parent, God is faithful to reassure us that he will also meet our needs and desires in the best possible way.
3. IT’S GOOD TO DESIRE GOOD GIFTS
Now that they’re older, I have to ask my kids for their Christmas lists every year. When they were little they needed no prompting and proclaimed their desires with confidence.
I’ve saved some of those carefully printed lists from the days of asking for doll accessories, computer games, cars, and candy. Who doesn’t want to see their children’s eyes grow wide as they finally get to unwrap what you’ve been up to for their good?
God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.
Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11).
Did you know that your generous Father delights in hearing you ask, and longs to fulfill the desires he has given you? (Psalm 37:4)
4. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
This may seem counterintuitive, and no one knows it better than a kid at Christmas, even if they have a tummy ache. However, applied as a spiritual principle, it’s true. God’s resources are unlimited and never-ending. It’s not a promise of material wealth, but of everything we truly need.
Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God.
Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. How do we convey this generosity to our kids? One of our favorite family traditions in recent years is a trip to downtown Seattle to see the Christmas sights, do some shopping, and watch a movie. The first year, unable to decide which movie to see, we decided to see both. It was great fun to see the shock on our kids’ faces when Dad agreed to underwrite not one but two movies on the same evening! Now we look forward to repeating the experience yearly.
Similarly, there are times when God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.
5. CELEBRATION IS LIFE-GIVING
Kids love a good party. A healthy child’s desire for celebration reminds us that we need to take time to recognize our benefits. There is much about life on this earth that is commonplace and oriented around laborious effort, but we can easily lose our joy if we focus only on toil. Any parent who has tried to convince their child to complete their chores in a timely way knows this is true.
We build moments of celebration into our lives to nurture a sense of wonder and create opportunity for gratitude. Christmastime gives us the best reason of all for celebration—God’s lavish gift of Jesus, born to live and die to save us, is the reason that we celebrate by giving gifts to each other.
We rejoice in knowing that the one whose birth we honor is here: God with us, always, until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). The assurance of his constant presence affirms our trust even when (especially when!) we don’t remember he’s right there, next to us.