5 Tips to Grow Generous Hearts in Our Families during the Holidays
Christmas and Advent
By Lisa Samra, Crosswalk.com
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
(Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)
“His heart was two sizes too small!” That is the diagnosis explaining the Grinch’s disdain for the holidays. The bitter, frustrated character in the beloved Dr. Suess book not only dislikes Christmas, but also tries to destroy the festivities for the whole town of Whoville.
While I laugh at the Grinch’s antics, I also recognize that sometimes my attitude at the holidays might be diagnosed as having a heart two sizes too small. I also notice it at times in my children who might be delighted to see their presents begin to pile up under the tree but lack a generous heart towards others.
When I am discouraged about hearts that seem to be too small, I find it comforting that the Bible shows us that generosity is something we cultivate or learn. Jesus repeatedly teaches his disciples about generosity. He honored the widow who gave at the temple because she gave even though she was poor (Luke 21:3-4). He encouraged his disciples not to store up possessions on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). Just as generosity doesn’t come naturally to our kids (and likely doesn’t come naturally to us), it didn’t come naturally to the disciples either. It was something they needed to cultivate.
The holidays can be a great time to help our families grow generous hearts because there are so many great teachable moments. Following are some suggestions that help grow generous hearts.
1. Generous Hearts Remember
To help grow generous hearts, first it is helpful to consider why we give to others. Giving is one way we reflect the character of God. We give because God gives. God gave us revelation about himself when he gave us the Bible so that we could know him. He gave us his Son, Jesus, so that we could have forgiveness for our sins and a relationship with Him. God gives us spiritual gifts so that we might be able to make a meaningful contribution to the life of our church community. Even more, Scripture makes it clear that everything we have has been given to us by God (I Corinthians 4:7). We don’t receive just a few one-time gifts from God, we are constantly receiving gifts from God.
Remembering how much God has given us can help grow generous hearts that want to give to others. In the days leading up to Christmas, consider asking your kids to share with you one gift God has given them that day. It might be as significant as the gift of a new baby in your extended family or as personal as peace during a tough test at school.
2. Generous Hearts Give
Generosity is an action, not just an idea or well-intended thought. When Jesus’s parents brought their firstborn baby to the temple as part of Jewish custom, a devout man named Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said, “my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30). Israel had been promised the gift of a savior, but Simeon rejoiced to have finally seen the gift that had been promised. He could touch the gift of Jesus.
To grow generous hearts, kids need the opportunity to actually give gifts. While it may require time and effort to help kids put generosity into action, remembering these are opportunities for teachable moments can make the time spent feel worthwhile. The list doesn’t have to be long for kids to put generosity into practice. Consider drawing names in your family to exchange gifts or help them to buy a gift for a grandparent or other significant adult in their life.
Don’t be surprised when you ask a young child what their grandmother might like for Christmas, if they answer, “a Batman costume” or “Paw Patrol video game.” Those answers reveal what they would like as a present. Teenagers may struggle thinking about the other person because they can be primarily focused on themselves. It can be helpful to talk about what their grandmother likes or a sibling’s favorite activities so that you have ideas before arriving at the store or looking online. A game plan can reduce the frustration that comes with shopping during the holidays.
3. Generous Hearts Delight
When the Bible tells us how God gives to us, it uses words and phrases like “lavishly,” “freely,” and “joyfully.” Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul encourages believers to have the right attitude when giving. He tells them not to give “reluctantly or under compulsion” but cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Kids often delight in giving gifts, and their excitement can even spill out when they announce what the gift is before it’s even been opened! When giving attitudes don’t exude joy, talking about why we give can be a way to reframe our attitudes and infuse joy into giving. A challenging task might be to evaluate if we model delight in giving. Do we give joyfully, or do we complain about giving gifts?
4. Generous Hearts Sacrifice
Our generous giving God gave a gift that cost him deeply. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world” (1 John 4:9). God’s gift to us cost him something.
To help teach our kids that generosity often involves giving sacrificially, it should cost them something to give gifts. Older kids can spend money made from a job, chores, or allowance. For younger children, you can give them a special chore or job to do in exchange for one present. It’s not about the dollar amount, sacrificial gifts can come from the dollar store. They become sacrificial if they are given in love and cost the giver something to be able to give.
5. Generous Hearts Act
While we might focus on presents at Christmas, generous hearts recognize that there are many things we can give. In addition to gifts, at the holidays there are lots of wonderful ways to grow generous hearts that don’t only involve gifts. Many churches and non-profits offer wonderful ways to give of our time to bless others.
Perhaps you could give of your time to help put together food baskets to distribute to needy families. If your children play an instrument or like to sing, a local retirement home might have opportunities for your family to bless residents with the gift of music. If snow blankets your hometown this time of year, give the gift of your energy to surprise shovel your neighbors’ driveways or sidewalks.
At end of the story, we know that the Grinch learned his lesson because “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!” Providing opportunities for our families’ hearts to grow in generosity will encourage them to reflect God’s giving, generous heart not just at Christmas but all year long.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Rawpixel
Lisa M. Samra graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas and earned a Master of Biblical Studies degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Lisa now lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband and children. She leads the Jerusalem Project at Calvary Church, a ministry focused on partnering with local churches, training people for ministry, and planting new churches. She is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Our Daily Bread, and her work has also appeared in a variety of publications and online sites. Lisa enjoys good coffee, running, and reading, just not all at the same time.