The glass doors slide open and you and your child are met by a tired, old woman. “Welcome to Walmart,” she grunts. You absently smile and walk into the store, drawing your little dear closer as people jostle past you. Where Autumn paraphernalia once hung from the ceiling or lined the impulse-buy shelves, you now see Christmas decorations and flashy toys. Quickening your pace, you make a move towards the pharmacy, but notice resistance. Cringing, you hesitantly glance down and see your child’s eyes fixed on the latest Sofia the First Magical Talking Amulet. With a quick prayer, you tug again. Nothing.
“Can I get that amulet, Mommy?” she asks, letting go of your hand while walking towards the shelf where Sofia’s deceptively innocent grin taunts you from the front of the box, as though saying, “Good luck. She’s mine!”
“Honey, you can’t get that today. Maybe we’ll get it for you for Christmas.”
“Maybe?” Sofia throws back. “This is a limited edition magical talking amulet!”
“But I want it now!”
“We don’t have the money today,” you say quietly. Then with more authority, “Come on, we have to get a lot of things and get home before your dad gets off work.” You grab her hand and begin walking. She follows while craning her neck until the amulet is out of sight.
“This isn’t over,” you imagine Sofia calling to you.
Looking down, you see your daughter frowning in concentration. “But, Grandma gave me five dollars for my birthday last month. Why can’t I use some of that to get the amulet?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Sofia mocks from the Sofia the First clearance Halloween toothbrush stand you pass on your way to grab some deodorant.
“Because you already used most of that to buy the Sofia the First Columbus Day Go Fish Cards. You only have fifty cents left.”
“Then what about that Sofia glow-in-the-dark chapstick?”
You feel a migraine coming on. “Not today. We’re too busy, and besides it’s…good grief $20 chaptsick?”
“Healthy lips are happy lips! Can you really put a price on your health?” Sofia winks at you and then blows a kiss to your daughter. She doesn’t notice.
“You’re mean.” She begins to tear up and folds her arms.
Certainly she wouldn’t throw another fit. Isn’t she tired out from the three she just threw in Publix? you ask yourself.
“Not when you give her my Sofia the First Super Star Vitamins every morning,” Sofia laughs.
You ignore the throbbing pain in your head and grab your daughter by the arm. “Let’s go, we’ve got to go get some groceries now.”
“But Mom!” she whines, trailing behind you. “I want that chapst…”
For a moment, the sudden silence comes like a wave of relief. But then you realize your fatal mistake when you see Sofia waving at you from the amulet shelf again. Why didn’t I take the long way around the store?
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Sofia replies happily. “I’m stocked in the toy, hunting, and craft departments too. Also, there’s a surprise waiting for you on the cereal aisle.”
“I want the amulet!” your daughter suddenly shrieks behind you, pulls away from your hand and throws herself on the ground. After making several wriggling motions, she ends up under the amulet shelves.
With everyone watching, your head exploding, and the growing realization that if you don’t give in, you’re very likely to experience what many psychiatrists are now calling Post-Sofia-the-First Psychosis, you grab the amulet and your flailing daughter and proceed to the checkout line.
The groceries can wait, you think, and then begin planning what to tell your husband about supper.
“It’s only food,” Sofia replies in comforting tones. “At least your darling little girl is happy.”
Let’s be honest with ourselves, even though this is fiction, we’ve all experienced the store tantrum at least once. Kids can be just as materialistic as the rest of us; and, with children being some of our biggest consumers, advertisers know who to pander to. In a given year, the average child is likely to see 16,000 commercials, and children under twelve influence $500 billion in spending each year. Coincidence? That’s doubtful, especially when we’ve got ads on our channels with slogans like, “Just do it,” or, “Obey your thirst.” Then, of course, there’s, “No boundaries,” “Got the urge?” and, “Get it your way.” Who wants to delay gratification when fun and attractive people are telling you to get what you want when you want it?
The materialistic side, however, is only part of the problem. In the story above, “Mom” was fighting a battle in the store, when in reality the fight had already been decided before they had left the house. Child rearing is hard, and everyone has an opinion. Sometimes it’s hard to sift through all the advice about parenting, and often, parents just wing it, giving in to their child’s demands because they are worried they will do something wrong to emotionally damage their child, or that their child won’t like them if they’re too strict. As a result, many children grow up with a self-centered, me-first mentality that is accidentally fostered by parents whose total focus has shifted to the care of their children. Then, when children begin demanding things because they expect their needs to be met on their terms, it becomes harder for parents to control their children with words, when more immediate rewards have been given in the past to pacify their desires. Eventually, many parents find that they give in not out of delight in seeing their child happy, but out of fear their child will throw a fit.
There is perhaps no other time during the year that we find ourselves struggling against materialism and self-centeredness than during the holidays. So, what should we do? The good news is that, just as commercials and worldly influence can impact our children, so, too, can positive, other-centered experiences teach them humility and wisdom. Here are a few very practical steps we all could take which will challenge you and your children this year.
- Volunteering: Ask anyone who’s gone on a mission trip: when met with true poverty and desperate need, it’s hard for our self-centeredness not to be challenged. While it may not be feasible for your children to go on a mission trip between now and the holidays, consider reaching out to a local program or facility and volunteering with your children. Most of the following have opportunities for children to volunteer: foster group homes, local missions, soup kitchens, and nursing homes. And let’s not forget there are usually elderly people living in our neighborhoods that would love help from anyone’s kids.
- Donating: We all have too much stuff, and kids are no exception. A common practice is to encourage children to go through their toys and sort out things they don’t want. Then, contact a ministry that will allow you to have face-to-face contact with recipients and help your child deliver the toys. On a more personal note, you may know someone in your church or community that is not being ministered to that would be blessed by your overflow. A poignant next step could be to inform your children that they will get only one or two presents from you, and that they will help you spend the remaining money usually budgeted for presents on needy people in the community. Again, a local group foster home is a good place to start when looking for needy children.
- Visiting: While I have emphasized the material giving aspect of rooting out self-centeredness, sometimes the hardest things to give are our time. Ask your children to “adopt” a widow, shut-in, or single parent family for the holidays (or longer) and ask them to help you come up with ways to minister to them. Some ideas for reaching might include: A) Invite your new friends over after church and have your children partake in serving them the meal B) Enable your children to do maintenance work (lawn or housework) for elderly friends or single women C) Ask your children to help you cook meals to take to shut-ins, and then spend time visiting with them after the delivery.
- Sponsoring a child or a family: There are numerous reputable organizations through which you can sponsor a child or a whole family for relatively little money a month. Or, if you are not able to pay monthly, consider a one-time gift that will continue helping the target family. For instance, Christian Relief Fund allows you to give money for families to purchase livestock such as chickens, goats, rabbits, sheep, and cattle—gifts that would continue feeding the family for years. These are relatively cheap and would be easily purchased for a fraction of the price we usually spend on gifts each year. Consider showing your children the gift budget compared with the list of animals, their prices, and the long-term impact it would have on the target family, then ask them to help you decide how much of the Christmas money they would be willing to send to help those who are destitute. To find a list of reputable organizations and their trustworthiness rating, you can go to www.charitynavigator.org.
Some young believers I know were recently faced with an opportunity to practice other-centeredness. Of their own accord, they decided to use their allowance money to purchase Gospel tracts for children in Romania. Such a gift resounds into eternity; for, whether or not fruit is produced in those receiving the tracts, the decision to give selflessly will certainly produce a deeper understanding of how to live out a God-centered life. So, why keep our children from experiencing such a blessing? In John 15:3 Christ says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” As the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, let’s be intentional about teaching our children to “lay down their lives” in service to others.