When I was a kid, Christmas was the most magical holiday imaginable. Presents would suddenly appear under our tree. Empty stockings would be stuffed full, with both enough candy to feed an African village for a day and toys suited to each of us children and our interests. For my part, I strongly suspected Mom and Dad's hand in this, but you couldn't convince me that Santa, or maybe even God, had some hand in making it all happen in just the way it did.
I don't recall there being much comparison of how many each person got, and certainly there were no calculations made as to the relative retail values of each person's hoard. Instead, there was simply joyful celebration of what you had received and the knowledge that your gifts were evidence that you were fully known and deeply loved.
What I have learned since is that my parents (and my mother in particular), both of whom are consummate gift-givers, had put a vast amount of thought and planning into the event. They carefully planned out how much to spend on each child, trying to make sure that each one got not only gifts suited to his or her interests and personality, but even that there approximately the same number of packages to open. All that effort and thought made Christmas morning memorable every year.
Since then, I have grown up and gotten 4 children of my own. I still try to make Christmas just as magical for them as it was for me. We have even kept back a significant portion of the presents, hiding them about the house until Christmas Eve comes (shh!!! Don't tell them!), and they can wake up to more than they remembered being there the night before. And just like my parents, Karen and I take a lot of time selecting gifts appropriate for each child, and trying to ensure that everybody has a similar number to open. We're hoping that this Christmas will be great and that our kids will long remember this year's celebration.
I recount all of this because I learned something yesterday as I wrapped all the presents. I was thinking about how silly it was to try to make sure that everybody has the same number of packages. I sighed to myself, wondering when the kids will grow up and realize that not everyone has the same interests, not everything costs the same, and so in an effort to give perfect gifts for each person, the number might not come out even. Then I reminded myself that while they are getting older, they're all still just kids, and it's still pretty tempting to compare.
In that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me as clearly as He ever has about something in my heart. He said, "When will you grow up and stop comparing what I have given you with what I have given others?" I had to confess right then, because though I am well past the point of wishing I had four boxes of Legos instead of three, I am still prone to comparison and discontentment. I can still look at my wonderfully blessed life: a wife who loves me, 4 growing, healthy kids who still think I'm Superman, a church family to shepherd that loves me in spite of my flaws, a loving extended family, good friends, a warm, dry house, and on and on and still see instead all the things I don't have but wish I did. In that holy moment, I realized that God, as the ultimate Good Father, gives His gifts according to His will, but according also to what is well suited to the person. Just like I would hardly give Polly Pockets to my Nerf sword loving son, or books about space ships to the girl who loves Anne of Green Gables, so God gives His gifts in a way suited to the person. The choice I have to make is whether to receive them with joy, because they are perfectly suited to me, or to compare and wish for a different set, more suited to someone else. This Christmas, I hope I will make the right choice, and then continue making it.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, in whom there is no darkness or shifting shadow. ~ James 1:1