It’s Thanksgiving this week and I am thrilled! I love the unique combination of family, food, and football. There’s a lot to be grateful for. And if Thursday’s gluttony were not enough, we now have a second national festival of piggishness on Black Friday. Fuelled with turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie we become voracious shoppers. It’s time to fill the stockings and crowd the tree, and so we venture out into a world of color and lights, the Christmas season is suddenly upon us.
For Christians, this can be a stressful experience. And I am not talking about the nerve-wracking crowds or maddening traffic, while that is a gruesome business—it’s the choosing that undoes us. We long to act with generosity and yet we are constrained by our fears of extravagance. Dare we spend our money to bless our families when they already have so much, while other families have so little? And even after we have concluded what is reasonable, we live in fear that our choices will be scrutinized by those more zealous than ourselves. It’s a distressing business.
Let me presume to help. I can’t erase all the uncertainty but maybe I can guide you past the extremes. As a rule, I would suggest that you be as generous as your means allow. Careening off into debt is not generosity, it’s foolishness—so don’t do it. Spending all your reserves isn’t any smarter, but if you have the capacity to spend, do it freely. Naturally, some of your generosity should be directed outside of your family to those in need and those who serve the needy. During our Advent series we will highlight some worthy causes that deserve your support and I know that you will be generous towards them.
But what to do about those that live in our homes and share our names? How much should we give our loved ones? I can’t offer any specifics but here are a couple of truths that should shape your thinking.
1. Too much of a good thing is a bad idea!
Some spend too much on gifts because they are naturally generous; others do so in an effort to buy love. Neither is serving their family well. Excessive and expensive gifts are fun to receive, but they can complicate relationships with feelings of entitlement and obligation. Remember that Christmas is about God’s gift to us in Jesus and we should give in a like manner. Our gifts should demonstrate our love, and add value to our loved ones. If our giving obscures or overwhelms these goals we are missing the mark.
2. Impoverishment is not noble!
Some are miserly in their giving in an effort to prove their solidarity with those who are needy. Apparently it is nobler to be poor, but if you are not, you can always appease your guilt by acting it. The bible is full of lessons about generosity to the poor and we must live those out. It also teaches us that God gives good things to those he loves, and most of his gifts exceed what is necessary for survival. Giving gifts is a divine behavior.
My wife and I are an interesting case study in this matter. I grew up in a family where money was scarce. Christmas came with approximately three gifts under the tree, and most often, two of them were items of clothing. Kathy’s family was wealthy and their Christmas was an extravagant affair. Each child had a huge bag of gifts and socks were nowhere within. The impact of this is not what one might assume. It is not possible to say which of us loves Jesus better, but I do know that when it comes to generosity, Kathy makes me look miserly. Apparently, her plentiful Christmases did not make her cold towards Christ or others. And my skimpy Christmases did not make my heart any bigger or warmer.
I concede that the gifts we receive shape us, but I am convinced that we are shaped more by our giving. So approach this season with open hands, lay aside unnecessary guilt, and be as generous as your means allow.