joy in giving with presents
Holidays,  Home & Garden,  Spiritual Growth

5 Ways to Teach your Children the Joy in Giving at Christmas

I’ve been thinking about finding the joy in giving lately. Are you wondering why? Because it feels like giving has become a lost art. Instead of giving being selfless, it has become a social protocol that dictates that when we are given to, we give something back of the same value.

“And Mary pondered all of these things in her heart.” Luke 2:19.

Had Mary been a different kind of modern girl, I could see her possibly tweeting, “Look who showed up today? THESE guys!” with a GIF of three men in crowns and silken robes kneeling before her and her toddler son, presenting their carefully wrapped gifts.

“Mystery kings bring strange presents to 2-year-old boy” the news headlines would read; the internet blowing up as millions tried to identify the prestigious visitors and figure out why the child was so special.

These days, “going viral” is a buzz phrase on social media. Some of my favorite viral videos used to be those with young kids doing good deeds, or the police officer who gave his shoes to a homeless man.

But now?

Now, part of me cringes when I see these viral videos on Facebook. Yes, they are uplifting and encouraging and heart-warming, evidence that people are still out there doing good in the world.  But I worry for our kids, and for myself, and for our nation – are we teaching our society and our children that kind acts are only worth doing if someone else is watching? Are we setting ourselves up for a false goodness when we do an act of service for another only because it’s an opportunity for a viral video? Are we encouraging jealousy and resentment when one’s good deed goes viral while another’s goes unnoticed?

In our world with its emphasis on viral videos, likes, and selfies, Christmas is a good time to step back and recalibrate our focus and the true joy in giving.

joy in giving

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The Joy in Giving in Secret

True character, John Wooden said, is who you are when no one else is watching.  Jesus suggested as much in His sermon on the mount when He exhorts us to act “in secret.”

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:3,4 NIV

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6

“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting my not be seen by others but by your father, who is in secret. And your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:17, 18

With today’s pervasiveness of smartphone cameras, when it seems that someone is always watching – or could be watching, it is even more imperative that we hear the weight of Jesus’ words.

It is hard – impossible! – for our hearts to remain humble, open, and kind when we are seeking recognition for ourselves; when our focus is on the sacrifice, we are making rather than on the ones whom we are called to serve.  This holiday season, there are lots of opportunities to serve others in our communities.  There is joy in giving when we serve others.

There will be toy drives and food drives, meal service, jacket donations, and Angel Trees. All of these (and more!) are lovely ways to share Christ’s love with others.  But I want to encourage you and your families to practice some truly anonymous giving this year: leaving cookies or breads on the doorsteps of your neighbors; dropping a box of wrapped gifts on the porch of a family in need; leaving a gift card or a $20 bill on a bus stop bench… Doing an act where you do not know – and may never know – the identity or response of the recipient, and they will never know you.

I want my kids to deeply understand the joy in giving “in secret.” I want them to know that we can find satisfaction, success, peace, joy and excitement in giving of ourselves even when – and especially when – only God is watching. The beauty in anonymous giving is that we get the JOY but only God gets the GLORY.

However, I wish that my excitement and conviction of the importance and deep satisfaction of giving “in secret” wasn’t just for those outside my home.

There is more Joy in Giving than Receiving

As moms, there is so much we do every day that goes effectively unseen. I’ll be honest and say that sometimes, it is easier for me to joyfully give to a stranger than it is to sacrifice for my own family.  When we commit a random act of kindness, we let go of the expectation of a certain response in return. But giving to our families? That often comes with strings attached.

At Christmas, in the glorious chaos of holiday parties, recitals, and shopping, us Mamas can get burnt out. Usually, we are the ones with the lists and the calendars and the wrapping paper and the hostess gifts and the cookies and the cards and the cleaning to-dos. For myself, more than anything, I want someone to SEE ME.  Someone to be watching and keeping record of everything I am doing to make this a beautiful, meaningful season for my family and friends. I want to know that I’m appreciated.

The discontent begins to stir in my heart as I am up late baking or wrapping gifts.  I am doing all this work, and for what?? Will anyone even notice? Does anyone care that I’m doing all of this? There is joy in giving, even as we trudge through Christmas in motherhood.

We know that God sees us, sees our efforts. But is that enough? It is – it can be – if I take my eyes off myself and turn my heart back to Him.

The word “secret” used in those verses from Matthew is derived from the Greek word “Kruptos.” Kruptos means hidden, concealed, secret… but the word has the added connotation of maintaining the value of the thing being hidden.  In layman’s terms, our efforts are not only SEEN in secret by God, but they still carry the full weight of their meaning and importance.  If something is done in secret, it doesn’t make it less valuable or less worthy or less noticed. In fact, Jesus tells us that this secret giving is so incredibly valued by God that He will reward us in Heaven for those acts of service and worship we do when no one else is watching!

As much as I rely on God’s promise, sometimes I need a friendly reminder for why I’m selflessly pouring myself into my family and our holiday celebrations. My go-to book is Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s Life-giving Home.”  I love Sarah’s perspective on why we do all that we do…

“How easy it is to miss the beauty woven into this work.  We… in the kitchen were the makers of all that our family loved most at Christmas… I was a keeper of life’s riches… my oh-so-ordinary work helped weave the extraordinary celebration of Christmas.” (pg. 230)

You, Mamas, are the keepers of life’s riches! It is our privilege to humbly demonstrate God’s love, grace, and goodwill in our celebration of Christ’s birth. When we focus our hearts on Him, and not on our own recognition or acknowledgement, we create space for a freeing joy as we release others from expectation and obligation, and find contentment knowing that God, alone, is glorified.

5 Practical Ways to Teach your Children the Joy in Giving

Be intentional this year about giving. Here are 5 practical ways to teach your children the joy in giving.

  1. Have each child give a gift in secret this Christmas season.
  2. Explain that sometimes gifts don’t have to be physical. Have each child do an ‘act of service’ for a family member or friend.
  3. Depending on the age of your children, go to a homeless shelter and volunteer. Or participate in a gift drive.
  4. For little ones, have them do some Christmas coloring pages and give them away as gifts.
  5. Have your children go through their toys and give away some that are not used and some that are valued. Teach them that sometimes giving is a sacrifice.

This year, let us our give our best in secret – both to strangers and to our families. May our lives and our gifts hide themselves in Christ, embracing HIS promise of eternal rewards, that we might also experience the immediate joy that comes from placing our service and our trust fully in Him.

Let those that are united to me in tender ties be precious in thy sight and devoted to thy glory. Sanctify and prosper my domestic devotion, instruction, discipline, example, that my house may be a nursery for Heaven.  

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About Karen Holmes

Karen lives in New Mexico and is the homeschooling mama of 3 wild boys. She’s sailed across the Pacific Ocean in a little 40-foot boat, yet is still afraid of the dark.  Determined to make the most of this life, she writes to encourage women to choose faith and courage over fear. She also binges on self-help books and believes that knowing your deepest self, as viewed through a Christ-focused lens, will illuminate God’s purposes and plans for your life. She and her husband discuss the adventuring life at www.southwestfamilyadventures.com  and she shares her heart at www.inspiredtofaith.com.