The pressure is on to buy your child the perfect Christmas gift. Every year, the latest and greatest gifts are in high demand and, yet, short supply. Among this year’s top picks are the LeapFrog Leap Pad3, Zoomer Zuppies Interactive Puppies, and “Frozen” figurines, including Elsa, Anna and Olaf. If you don’t place your order now, your disappointed darling will miss out on the best of the season. When my children were small; however, they spent more time playing with the 50 cent cardboard box than they did the $50 toy.
Are there other gifts we could give our children that will make for a more meaningful Christmas? Gifts that give more than 30 days (or 30 minutes) of excitement? While I am not trying to talk you out of spoiling your children with too much Santa Claus, I am asking you to ponder the greater gifts that will last a lifetime. Gifts that your children will never forget!
No. 1: Unconditional Love. This past August, I conducted a funeral for a man named Jerry Stafford. When I asked his daughter, Marilyn, to describe her dad, she said, “He loved unconditionally. He never expected anything in return.” “That’s unique,” I admitted. “I usually look for a return on my investment when I love.” The gift of unconditional love is to love like God loves. God’s love is a love without an “if.” No conditional clause. God loves us. Period. There is no place where you can live beyond God’s love. Only when we love our children unconditionally will they ever understand God’s love.
No. 2: Time. Social scientists John Defrain and Nick Stinnett asked 1,500 children, “What do you think makes a happy family?” The most frequently offered answer was “doing things together.” Your children spell love T-I-M-E. Ponder how you will evaluate your current use of time at the end of your life. While I have spent many hours next to death-beds, I’ve never had anyone regret time invested with his children. Our children grow from tots to teens in the blink of an eye. Treasure every day of their childhood as a gift.
No. 3: Listening. When my oldest daughter, Ryan, was a preschooler and she wanted to talk to me, she would take both of her hands, put them on each side of my head, turn my face directly toward hers and say, “Daddy, I’ve got to ask you something.” Noticing that she was developing this habit, I inquired as to why she felt like she had to have her hands on my head when she talked to me. “Because you don’t listen when you don’t look at me, Daddy,” she replied. Your children want to be heard, to know they have your ear and, thus, they have your heart. If you’re reading your email or sending a text when you’re conversing with your child, he will not feel heard. Listen, face to face.
No. 4: Responsibility. Unfortunately, many children do not hear much from their parents about how to live. They receive more messages from the world. Wise parents will not let the world tell their kids what to do; they will not be silent. Too often, we also try to rescue our children from the very struggles that were formative in our childhood. As “helicopter parents,” we rush to save our children from disappointment, suffering, rejection, hardships, and hard work. Ironically, by robbing our children of these valuable experiences, we take from them the very encounters that made us kind, humble, generous and self-sufficient.
No. 5: One Voice. Parents, even divorced parents, need to be unified in the guidance they give their children. Mothers and fathers must work together, putting their differences aside, for the common goal of the good of their children. When our little ones hear multiple voices, they begin to play one parent against the other. Living in two different households, with two different sets of rules, children will manipulate their parents and, ultimately, avoid instruction. As divorced parents compete for their child’s affection, they destroy the very child over whom they are fighting. No army can follow the command of two trumpets – one blasting “advance” and the other “retreat.” Likewise, no child can negotiate between conflicting guidelines from dueling parents.
No. 6: Faith. It is parents’ responsibility to form faith in their children. What is your ultimate goal for your child? To be a professional athlete? To have a successful career? To possess riches? While these are neutral in and of themselves, I hope that we have greater goals for our children. How do these sound? To grow up with a generous heart. To walk as a man or a woman of faith. To value all others as much as she values herself. To invest his lifetime in endeavors that will have eternal results.
Are we willing to re-evaluate the “top gifts” for 2014? As you search for the perfect present to place under the Christmas tree, remember the very best gifts can never be wrapped. After you survive the Black Friday frenzy or spend hours surfing the internet to order the season’s sensational toy, realize your child really needs gifts that come from the heart: unconditional love, time, listening, responsibility, one voice, and faith.
by Dr. Howie Batson
Howie is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Amarillo.