When my daughter was six years old, she had this best friend. I mean, they were every sense of the term: best friends, besties, BFFs. However you say it, they were always together. They lived across the street from each other, were assigned to the same seat on the bus, played at recess together, and had regular play dates outside of school. If one of them signed up for an extracurricular activity, the other one was a few steps behind. They even had a little key ring of friendship charms hooked to each of their school bags. They shared their first sleepover together, and it was there that they pinky-promised to be “best friends forever and ever, even in Heaven.”
You can imagine my surprise when one day we were talking about friends and my daughter announced that this particular friend wasn’t exactly her best friend. I stopped in shock, and a part of me started to worry about what fight had occurred between the two of them. “She’s not your best friend? What happened?” I asked. Her reply has stuck with me ever since, “Well, Mom, she’s a great friend, but my best friend is always Jesus.”
Ouch. Should’ve known that one. I was so caught up in the worldly definition of friendship that I had taken my mind and my heart off of the big picture. Good thing my six-year old had perspective. As always, I could stand to learn a few things from my child.
During the Christmas season, there are so many things that vie for our attention. This month the world will scream its definition of Christmas, while God will whisper, “Remember Me.”
We have to remember what our children already know. In the midst of shopping lists and package wrapping; there is a savior who came to this earth to die for us.
In the decorations and festivities; there is a promised peace that passes understanding.
In the long lines, endless letter writing, and overly stressful to-do lists; there stands your best friend just waiting for you to remember His love for you.
If you’re like me then this is where you roll your eyes and say, “Great, now I feel guilty, and I have to figure out how to add even more to a season that already demands too much.” That is far from the intention. The real challenge here is to replace what is temporary with what is eternal. So many activities during the Christmas season seem great on the surface, but if we say yes to too many of them, we leave ourselves burnt out. It’s truly about taking a step back and holding each activity up to the light and saying, “Does this represent the temporal or the eternal? Will this activity build a Kingdom impact in the hearts of my family, or will it be another time sucker that comes and goes?” Our list should contain far more eternal items than temporal. We should have room in our schedules and hearts to say yes to what draws us closer to God and have the wisdom to say no to too many activities that places our focus on worldly ideals.
I don’t write this to heap guilt upon you. By all means, enjoy. Get lost in the look of joy on the face of your child as you watch Christmas lights. Celebrate at the parties and plays. Participate fully in the baking and decorating. Cherish your family get-togethers. Be completely free to store it all up in your heart. However, truly look at all that you have planned and see what can be replaced with something more Christ-centered. It may mean that your home looks a little different than what the world says is Christmas. Some people may not understand when you have to tell them no to an invite or request, but just like all the other areas of our family life, we have to be willing to fight and draw boundaries around the intentional spending of time.
Here are 10 intentional and eternal ideas that you can swap into your plans this season to keep Jesus, our best friend, at the center.
1. Give “birthday gifts” to Jesus
Wrap a box in colorful wrapping paper, and cut a slit in the lid. Place it in a prominent place in your house with some slips of paper and a pencil next to it. Throughout the season, when someone has done something for Jesus, they write it on a slip without writing their name, and place it in the box. On Christmas Day, open the box and see what presents the family has given Jesus for his birthday. When you first introduce this box, you may need to talk about ideas for what a gift to Jesus looks like (sharing with a sibling, doing something kind for someone else, having patience, staying calm instead of reacting in anger, etc…).
2. Focus in on the manger scene
Get a manger scene for your house. When you set it up, talk about each character and what they bring to the story. You can keep it simple, or you can go online and find a more intensive lesson or book, like Countdown to Christmas from Lisa Appelo, that will guide you through each character. With younger kids you may have to do one character a day to keep their attention. You might also consider buying an interactive manger scene for kids, something they can play with throughout the season without the real one getting broken.
3. Bake a birthday cake for Jesus
Have your children help you decorate a cake for Jesus for his birthday. Sing the birthday song aloud and enjoy eating the cake together.
4. Set a place for Jesus at the dinner table
When you have Christmas dinner, set a place at the table for Jesus as a visual for your family about who this meal is celebrating. In our family, this is done at our Christmas Eve meal when it is just the six of us. We use the nice dishes, make our favorite meal, light all the candles we can find, and turn off the lights. The intimacy of the meal makes it a special time to add Jesus to our table. This is also when we serve the birthday cake we made for Him.
5. Attend a Christmas Eve church service
There is nothing quite like a quiet Christmas Eve church service with Christ-centered Christmas carols, candlelight, and loved ones. It is the perfect way to take a deep breath and focus on Jesus before the loud excitement of Christmas morning.
6. Read Luke 2 together as a family
Curl up with a warm blanket, hot chocolate, maybe even a fire in the fireplace, and read the Christmas story together from the book of Luke. If you have other Christmas stories you like to read during this time, that’s great too. Just be sure to make intentional time for the real story to be shared.
7. Limit commercialism
Consider only three gifts, just like Jesus received the three gifts from the wise men. I know we struggle with wanting our kids to have everything they wish for, but just remember, we create the Christmas expectations our children have. The memories will far out last the presents.
8. Pray over the Christmas cards that arrive in your mailbox
All those cards you get at Christmas, the ones with the pictures of the smiling families you love, hang those up and gather as a family to pray for each of them. We hole punch the cards we receive and place them on a giant ring. Then, we pray for one family a week throughout the rest of the year. It reminds the kids of the people we love who live all over the country, and it keeps the reminder of Christmas with us all year.
9. Remember advent through a Jesse Tree
The Jesse Tree is an advent activity where you add one ornament to a tree each day of December until Christmas. The ornaments are specific images about the Bible and how everything points to the arrival of our Savior. You can spend as little or as much time and money on this as you choose. Most people keep a separate small tree just for this activity. It can be a paper tree on the wall, an actual tree, or something in between. The ornaments can be printed from the Internet or purchased from the store. There are many websites that explain the Jesse Tree as well as give devotionals and activities to do with each ornament. It’s a simple activity to do each night before bed and you can choose if it takes five minutes or 30 minutes.. If you want to invest more into this activity as a lifetime family tradition, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp’s version. She has two books and a tree with ornaments that you can purchase. They are all under the title of The Greatest Gift and can be found at www.annvoskamp.com
10. Focus on serving as Jesus did
Bring cookies to a nursing home, adopt a family in need, pack a shoebox of gifts to send overseas….the list goes on and on. There’s no need to stress over doing everything, but you can certainly choose one thing and do it well. Let your children experience the joy of serving others.
In the end, it’s all about perspective, and the perspective is never greater than this:
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11
This Christmas season don’t forget to point your child to Jesus, their true best friend.