In a private moment some distance from a room delightfully “trashed” with discarded Sally Foster, couches askew, small piles of treasures left untended… we ask the same question every year.
“So how’d we do?”
We’re not measuring personal wealth, family status, or how well we made out under the tree compared to last Christmas. And for us, it’s not an awkward question which leads to an uncomfortable dialogue filled with either self gratification or loathing. We are a family who feels we’ve express-mailed more than our share from the One “from whom all blessing flow.” However, we are always prompted to evaluate how we manage the amount of gifts given on this particular morning.
For the question’s four simple words, the meaning behind them is as overstuffed as some of this year’s stockings. Unpacked, it speaks to a clarification of long held family values of humility and charity. The query seeks to understand the balance as to the spiritual truth of the holiday versus the marketing overwhelm that threatens to undermine it. Working for a Christian non-profit, whose primary focus is bringing life in all of its fullness to impoverished children and their communities, the question serves as a equilibrium diagnostic. Intentionally we want to be mindful of those I work on behalf of, for whom even a simple meal today will serve as celebratory.
Are we the only one that thinks this way? Are we the only ones that “admit” that we think this way?
Each year, we’ve gradually reduced the number of gifts exchanged. Some of this is due to the fact that our family keeps growing! From a nuclear set of two parents, two sisters and a brother to the addition of two brothers and sister in law. This simple math is further compounded with burgeoning families, often leading to pre-holiday clan gift giving arrangements to bring a level of sanity to the process. I’ve always marveled at those increasingly rare households that still hold to everyone aggrandizing all extended family members and even getting their Christmas cards out on time … Is it fascination I feel or a level of disdain like sitting next to an honor student when you’ve been delivered your average report card?
As our children have grown, so has their sense of security. Their own sense of need has diminished and been gradually replaced by a sense of joy in providing for others around them.
Although part of the natural process of maturation, I’d like to think some of this change has come from asking our simple diagnostic question every year. Seeding family holiday excursions with meaningful spiritual outings, family funds divided up to spend in the World Vision gift catalog, appropriate messaged movies, a service project that allowed us to hear the stories of our city’s low income inhabitants, a church service or two or three, creative reacquaintance with The Christmas Story (the real one found in the Bible … not the one with the lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg).
Simply put, as we close this chapter of Christmas 2011, did we come closer to the true meaning of celebration around the child in a manger or take a step backward. Did our rituals drive us deeper in the wonder of this Son of God who comes to redeem a lost planet or lose him in the marketing rituals that began in our neighborhood some time around early October.
So, how’d we do?
Of course no amount of our gift exchanges will add or subtract from the world’s larger issues. The fact our daughter received a pretty necklace won’t alleviate the hunger spelled Somalia, no XBox 360 controller for our son will take away the desperation of a flood victim in the Philippines. Gift giving is a wonderful way to express and receive love, but given the overwhelming need that exists anywhere near us, and our obedience to the one who beckons us to serve as his hands and feet, balanced perspective compels us to ask question our own process. Increasingly, our culture reminds us that an unchecked fascination to all things pop culture only brings a diminished view of our world. And so we ask the question again this year.
How’d we do?
This year, we all seem to have walked away with bigger hearts toward Jesus and our world. Good thing.
We’ll be asking the question again next year.