You want to teach your daughter generosity and kindness, so you have her pick out a Christmas gift at the store for her little brother.
Since she only has five dollars in her piggy bank, you go ahead and pay for the Tonka truck she chooses.
Maybe this scenario is not imaginary for you. Maybe all you have to do is change up “boy” or “girl,” and you’ve been there.
I totally get that parents want to instill generosity in their children and nurture love between siblings. After all, Jesus said,
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” –Acts 20:35
So we encourage our children to give Christmas and birthday gifts to one another, and that’s a good thing. We encourage them to get excited about the joy the gift-receiver will experience, and that’s a good thing, too.
However, when we allow children to pick out gifts which they can’t possibly pay for, we stray into teaching the wrong lessons.
We live in a consumer-driven society. Everything is about buying, spending, and getting more stuff. If we can’t afford something we want, we simply go into debt to acquire it.
In this context, we’ve developed a twisted notion about generosity, and even about love.
We think that generosity means giving lavish gifts to those we love, whether or not we can actually pay for those gifts. We feel like stingy people if we don’t have a huge pile of gifts under the Christmas tree each year.
This is not what the Bible teaches about love and work and giving.
The Bible teaches sacrificial giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). The Bible teaches that the borrower is slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). The Bible says we should work hard so that we have something to share with others (Hebrews 13:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:12).
Put these principles together, and you realize that saying little Johnny’s Tonka truck is “from” Susie is not helpful to your children’s character development.
Here are three reasons why:
1. First, in this scenario, Susie learns nothing about the relationship between labor and value. She does not feel the sweat equity of earning the dollar amount of the gift she wants to “give.”
If she does not learn the relationship between an item’s value and the work she has to do for it, then the concept of cost will remain abstract and will not be reality to her.
2. This leads to a second concern, namely, that Susie gets set up for credit card debt later in life.
Since she has not experienced the reality of “this much labor equals this much pay, and that’s all I have to spend,” what’s to stop her from pulling out a credit card in order to be “generous?”
3. Third, contrary to what our consumer culture says, extravagance without sacrifice is not real love.
Consider the world’s greatest example of extravagant love –God gave up his only Son for us. Did his extravagance come without sacrifice? Of course not. It is inextricably linked to sacrifice.
In the same way, our children need to understand that real love is willing to pay a real price. Giving often hurts a bit. We labor, we save, and then we must be willing to part with some of our earnings for the sake of love.
On the receiving end of things, telling young children that their lavish gifts are “from” other children sends a confusing message. A four-year-old is smart enough to know that his infant sister has no capacity for “giving” him a gift.
Let’s not confuse the issue by giving credit where it’s not due. Let’s not make generosity something painless and magical and, well, fake.
Instead, let’s encourage genuine giving by connecting labor, value, and sacrificial love.
May your family live out true generosity this Christmas.