On My Mind Lately… {long}

The other day, I posed two questions about music. Then I shared this article on my Facebook page in which the author describes her frustration with the way our culture currently “celebrates” holidays. I totally concur… and apparently, based upon the amount of comments and likes it got, many of my friends do too.

So this leads me to another question… Are we really paying attention to what we’re bringing into our homes? In other words, are we practicing what we preach?

Last year, I challenged myself to be intentional. Part of that challenge included being intentional about my home – decorations, cleanliness, possessions, daily activities, and the atmosphere in general. I’m amazed by the number of things I take for granted or easily overlook that my boys notice and ask about. Their little minds are constantly absorbing new information, and while I don’t want to shelter them by avoiding difficult conversations or making them believe that this is how everyone does life, I do want my home to be a safe place. A place where my children are comfortable asking tough questions. A place where they and their friends can hang out. A place where what we practice matches what we preach so that when they leave this place and go out into the world, they have a solid foundation upon which to stand when they’re faced with a mirad of choices.

Above all, I want my boys to understand that God is the number one priority in our lives. We aren’t perfect. We fail everyday, in one way or another. But God loves us anyway, and wants nothing more than our whole heart… and our home should represent that, even (and especially) during the holidays.

It would certainly be simpler to just go along with the majority… to give in, because it’s easy or trendy. But as believers we’re not called to take the easy road, we’re called to stand for what is right and encourage others to do the same. Romans 12:2 says “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT)

Like most of America, I have my favorite holidays. But I have been challenged over the last few years to determine exactly what holidays will look like in our home… and I can look back now and see that God has definitely been changing the way I think. So I’ve had to ask myself:

~How do I teach my children the true meanings of each special day?
~How do I create lasting traditions we will all look forward to year after year?
~How do we make it through the busy seasons without becoming overwhelmed, and losing our focus?
~How do I keep my boys from feeling entitled to piles of gifts?
~And how do I do all this without completely ostracizing them from a culture who seems bent on celebrating materialism and self-gratification instead of the real intention of each occasion?

I think the answer to that last question is to help them understand their true identity in Christ, above all else. When they’re secure in who they are – who God created them to be – they won’t feel the need to defend what they do (or don’t do!) to anyone else, as long as it follows God’s will.

In no particular order (or more truthfully, jumbled altogether), my answers to the other questions are as follows:
First, let me say this… I realize that we’re lucky because God is putting this stuff on our hearts now (while our children are still very young), instead of a few years from now, when they’re teenagers and have some crazy expectations we’d have to adjust. Even with this advantage, we’re still up against the clock, trying to set the bar before society sweeps in and causes too much commotion.  Also let me say that this stuff is what works for our family… and we reserve the right to our own opinions and to change them from year to year.  Sothere.

We’ve worked hard over the last couple of years to simplify our lives in general. We routinely get rid of stuff we don’t need or use. We’ve learned to anticipate busier seasons (whatever the reason), and have gotten better about saying “no” to requests for our time if we suspect we may be overwhelmed… even if it means missing out on something super fun. (Sometimes it’s just not worth the stress or the sacrifice of our already minimal time together!) And with regards to holidays, we are even revamping our celebration menus, opting for the “less is more” approach and foregoing an overabundance of decadent treats in favor of healthier options. Less time in the kitchen means more time with family, and healthier options mean less guilt afterwards.  All this simplification helps set the example for our boys that although we are very blessed, acquisition and excess aren’t good goals.  They lead to stress, greed, and discontentment.

We’re still working on developing traditions of our own. Some of the ones we grew up with don’t really jive with our adult preferences or convictions, and although we remember them fondly, we’re not interested in sharing some of them with our kids. Others, we haven’t started yet because we’re waiting till they’re a bit older and can really understand and enjoy them better. I’m still fumbling around with the rest, trying to decide whether to continue them, tweak them, or get rid of them altogether.  Easter baskets and Christmas stockings fall under this last category.

As far as gifts are concerned, birthday gifts are carefully chosen and limited to one or two special items.  I’m sure this strategy will need some more concrete parameters as the boys get older and their gift requests become more expensive.  For Christmas, we’ve adopted a system suggested by our pastor.  Jesus got gold, frankincense, and myrrh… and so do we.  Our gold gift reminds us that we’re God’s royal heirs, so it’s the “big” gift.  The frankincense gift reminds us that Jesus was pure, and God wants us to know him better, so this gift is something to aid in spiritual growth (a new Bible, or some Christian music for example).  Myrrh was a spice that was placed on the body during burial preparation, so this gift is something for the body (new clothes/shoes, lotions, accessories, etc.).  This tradition helps eliminate the “he got to open more gifts than I did” or “all I got was underwear” arguments.  Everyone’s on an even playing field, the number of gifts is limited so that our focus isn’t on greed, and with each gift, we’re reminded of the reason for the celebration.

I have become very selective about the decorations I use.  My credibility would be totally shot if I preached all things Jesus, but cluttered our countertops and walls with Easter bunnies and Santa Claus and Leprechauns.  We don’t make a huge deal about any of the traditional “characters” that most of society links with the holidays, but we also don’t disallow talking about them, or reading a fun book here or there.  We equate Santa, the tooth fairy, and all the other holiday helpers to other familiar made-up friends like Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear.  They’re not real people, but they sure are fun to watch or read about.  Instead, I decorated with shamrocks for St. Patrick’s day (historically, they were used to teach about the Trinity).  I use crosses and eggs around Easter time.  This year, I made a canvas with a love-themed Bible verse on it for Valentine’s Day.  I use a lot of pumpkins and other “real” things during Halloween time to stay away from witches and ghosts.  Being selective not only helps me keep my message straight, but also saves money (since I’m not buying every single cutesy thing I see), and cuts down on clutter and the amount of junk I have to store.

Mmmmkay… apparently this is the world’s longest post ever, and it’s kinda going nowhere (but since it’s my blog I can go nowhere if I want to :)).  All I’m sayin’ is that it’s our responsibility as parents to make sure that how we live matches what we’re trying to teach our children.  Whether we’re talking about entertainment choices, decorating styles, holiday traditions, or whatever else… pay attention.

Your kiddos certainly are!

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