Materialism is bad.
Material things are not.
This distinction gets a little fuzzy when birthday season rolls around.
Last week, my firstborn turned nine. (Nine! She was three when I started writing these devotions. Do you realize nine is halfway to college? That dawned on me the night before her birthday, and I nearly sobbed into my pillow.)
We celebrated on Saturday with a fabulous art party at a local studio downtown. A dozen girls designed geometric paintings, bedazzled their first initials, smacked their lips on loads of buttercream frosting, and giggled and chattered the way third graders do. Everyone was sent home with their masterpieces plus a fun goody bag of art-themed treats because I love to give generously to our guests.
Receiving, on the other hand—well, I’m not so good at that.
Which is why I planted the seed in my daughter’s head weeks ago that perhaps this year, instead of presents, we could ask her friends to bring a donation for charity. You know, canned goods for the food pantry, gently used shoes for third world missions, or toys for the domestic abuse shelter. Something that says we care more about others than we do about ourselves. We are selfless! We are holy.
So imagine my disappointment when my sweet girl came to me a few days later and said, “Mom, I thought about my choices for the birthday party. And I want the presents.”
Whaa?? My daughter, a glutton for material gain? Is she not mature enough yet to deny herself for the good of those less fortunate? Have I not taught her to give? Where did I go wrong? How did I fail her???
Uh, hold on a second.
That’s a little harsh, mommy dear.
Because, first of all, she’s nine—not nineteen. She’s still very much a child, and children like gifts. They think cake and presents are the reason birthdays exist, for crying out loud. So I had to ask myself—am I motivated by true selflessness or by a twisted need to appear selfless to the other moms, even at the expense of my daughter’s joy? I’m still afraid to answer that question.
More importantly, I dug into scripture and discovered another crucial point. Although the Apostle Paul did tell us Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Holiness is only for the givers, not the takers.”
In fact, we could argue holiness begins when we take what God brings to the party.
“And all need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:24, NCV).
Do you have a difficult time believing God loves you unconditionally? That he cares about every hair on your head, every moment of your existence, every tear that leaks down your face?
You’re not alone. One of the most common stumbling blocks to faith is our human inability to accept the fact that we are so stinking special to God, he would willingly displace himself from glorious heaven to live on this dirty planet as one of us and die a horrible death for all of us.
My daughter believes this with no problem.
Of course Jesus loves me, Mom. Why wouldn’t he?
He wants to give me heaven.
I’m taking it! Oh yeah!!
Maybe she has the right perspective on this birthday present thing after all.
“The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one who makes himself humble like this child” (Matthew 18:4, NCV).
Giving is good. But so is learning to receive. We Christians train ourselves really well to do one and neglect the other, for fear of appearing selfish, immature or weak. Yet it takes a strong person to accept a blessing without shame.
Is there someone in your life who has been trying to bless you by offering help or gifts or attention? It’s not wrong to take them up on their offer. On the contrary, it just might be the right thing to do. Because sometimes the greatest way to give to others is to let them give to you.
“Whoever gives to others will get richer; those who help others will themselves be helped” (Proverbs 11:25, NCV).
So my new nine-year-old is now the happy recipient of Shopkins and Doodle Dice and crocheting kits, and I will not be ashamed. Because this was her turn—to smile and say thank you, to absorb the kindness of friends. And when she is invited to one of their birthday parties in the future, I will send her off with a big fat gift and a renewed understanding of generosity.
We were made to give. And we were made to take.
All to the glory of God.