It’s one thing to provide for our children. It’s another thing to smother them with possessions until they turn into self-centered materialists. An alarming number of children from Christian homes grow up grasping for every item they can lay their hands on. Children raised in such an atmosphere—which includes most children in America—are afflicted with a killer disease called “affluenza.”
Children raised in wealth show many symptoms of those raised in abject poverty, including depression and anxiety. They experience despair, sometimes attempting suicide. They turn to alcohol, drugs, and shoplifting. Their parents are often so busy making money and spending it that they have little meaningful time with their children. They give them everything that money can buy, but money can’t buy what’s truly precious (Hebrews 13:5).
Consider the typical American Christmas. When the annual obstacle course through crowded malls culminates on the Big Day, what’s the fruit? We find a trail of shredded wrapping paper and a pile of broken, abandoned, and unappreciated toys. Far from being filled with a spirit of thankfulness for all that Christmas means, children are often grabby, crabby, picky, sullen, and ungrateful—precisely because they’ve been given so much.
Things we would have deeply appreciated in small or moderate amounts become unappealing in excess. As a man who has gorged himself at a banquet finds the thought of food repulsive, one glutted with material things loses his regard and respect for them. The prevalent disrespect of children for their possessions and those of others is a direct result of overindulgence.
Parents and grandparents who spoil children out of “love” should realize that by overindulging them, they are performing acts of child abuse. Although there are no laws against such abuse—no manmade laws, anyway—this spiritual mistreatment may result in as much long-term personal and social damage as the worst physical abuse.
Focusing on the Divine Giver this Christmas
Can we change the pattern of materialism in our homes? Certainly. Take Christmas, for example. We can buy far less. We can hand make presents, set a budget, and buy presents in advance to avoid the unnerving jostling through stores. Any change is good if it helps us to focus on Christ rather than on ourselves. We can visit shut-ins or take food to the needy—to focus on giving rather than receiving.
As I share in my book Money, Possessions, and Eternity, my wife often staged a “Happy Birthday Jesus” party for our girls and their friends. Each child brought one gift personally made for Jesus. (After all, whose birthday is it?) One year, a few nights before Christmas, our family sat around a candlelit table holding hands. Then each of us shared what we appreciated about the Lord. After praying together and singing Christmas carols, we went around and shared what each of us appreciated about each other. It was an unforgettable evening.
If a child receives four presents, the gifts can be spread out on each of the four days before Christmas. On Christmas night, after reading Scripture and singing carols, each giver can present his or her gift in turn to the recipient. In the quietness and simplicity of the celebration, we can pray and express our gratefulness to God for his greatest of all gifts, the Lord Jesus. By taking our focus off the human receiver and putting it on the divine giver, Christmas can become a symbol of God’s giving heart rather than people’s grabbing hands. (This is only a beginning. You may wish to make more radical changes in your Christmas. Even if you still exchange presents, as our family does, you can make Christmas different.)
Nothing will interfere more with our children’s relationship with God—or even prevent them from having such a relationship—than a life centered on things.
Our greatest legacy to our children is to help them develop their inner lives, their spiritual selves, their hearts for God.
Although many parents will leave their children a big inheritance, we can leave them what really matters—a heritage of wisdom and generosity.
Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries