My favorite Christmas memory took place when my family was very poor. As a young teen, I was painfully aware of how meager our own Christmas morning had been compared to that of some of my friends who seemed to get ‘everything.’ We had a large family and my dad was a school teacher, so I understood why we didn’t receive much. Although I didn’t get new jeans to replace my holey ones, or new shoes, or other practical items I dearly needed…I was happy with my box of cherry chocolates and dime store knickknacks.
My mother visited a refugee family from Nigeria in our neighborhood later that morning and returned to tell us that they had absolutely nothing for Christmas…not even a little tree. They had a large family like us, so she asked each of us to pick one gift from our small pile to wrap back up and give to them.
I’ll admit…I didn’t have a very good attitude. Though I didn’t openly complain, I looked at my small gift pile and mourned the fact that I would have to give any of it away. Bitter thoughts rolled through my head. We had hardly received any presents ourselves. Why should we be the ones to give something away? Why couldn’t a more affluent family help them out?
But I obediently (though grudgingly) chose an item. I was too immature to pick my best gift at that point, so it had to have been the poorest gift of the poor. I wrapped it up, and reluctantly drove over with mom to deliver our Christmas to the needy family.
That’s when the magic happened.
We gave those children our gifts, and mom and dad gave their parents some food and a small assortment of decorations. Now remember, none of these gifts were big. They were dollar store items and a simple meal we could spare.
Yet their family bubbled over with joy and excitement as they opened their rewrapped gifts.
Like the Grinch, my heart grew that day…so much so that I’ve never forgotten that magical morning and the happiness I felt. I internalized the lesson that it wasn’t what you received that mattered, it was what you gave of yourself that brought lasting happiness.
Never since have I experienced such a financially meager Christmas…yet that one stands out because what we gave was like the widow’s mite. It wasn’t much, but to that family who had even less, our small sacrifice might as well have been a king’s ransom for the joy they felt.
The magical part was, it brought me even more joy. Me…the grumpy teenager who reluctantly parted with my least wanted gift out of a sense of duty. I definitely didn’t deserve joy…but I received it still the same.
If I’d kept my inexpensive gift, it could never have brought the joy I received that day by sacrificing instead. Even if it’d been an expensive gift of my dreams, keeping it wouldn’t have come close to duplicating that magical experience.
In our world of flashy toys, electronic devices, and numerous entertainment options, it’s easy to consume happiness instead of generating it. That meager Christmas of my youth taught me the value of the latter.
To give is better than to receive. That’s the magical formula for generating true and lasting happiness.
I don’t mean to Boo on the gift parade, especially as Christmas is in a couple days. However, I hope we’ll be grateful for the gifts we do receive—not only from our family and friends, but from the greatest Giver of them All…Our Heavenly Father.
No matter how rich or poor we may be as to the things of this earth, we are abundantly rich with the things of heaven if we seek God in our lives.
He gives us the gift of life, for which we can never repay Him. Yet, even with us in His debt, He still desires to give us ALL that He has if we will be faithful.
He gives us the gift of love. No matter how undeserving we may be, His love is ours for the taking. There is no sin, vice or weakness that makes Him love us less. Those things might make Him grieve, as He knows we could be happier on a safer or happier path; but no matter how smooth or painful the road we choose to travel, He loves us because we are His sons and daughters. That doesn’t change.
He gives us the gift of experience. This life is a test…a chance to grow and rise to our potential. I’m so grateful for this Christmas experience of my youth. It seemed tough at the time, but I learned through my meager, reluctant sacrifice how to attain joy. This lesson has stuck with me, and I’m so grateful for the experience of growing up poor…and for a wonderful mother who taught me that we still had plenty to give.
With the heavenly gifts we have, no one is too poor to give.
No one is too destitute to feel the magic of sacrificing a part of themselves for others.
Let us commit to generate happiness instead of only consuming it. In other words, let us be joyful.