Strewn across our bed were the remnants of our toddler’s Christmas haul—stacks of new outfits, empty cardboard boxes, a tower of books, a stuffed reindeer. I turned to my husband and sighed, “That’s the last of it.”

“Our family was very generous this year,” he said, surveying the scene.

I flopped onto the only free space on the bed. “It’s wonderful, but it’s too much,” I said. “I don’t want Jack to grow up spoiled.”

My constant prayer is that our son will absorb our Lutheran values of grace, gratitude and generosity. We’re a family blessed with wealth and privilege, which is a gift and challenge. Jesus urges us to be wary of earthly possessions and extravagantly charitable. Though I aim to set a good example, I still struggle to live this gospel truth.

So did Jack. He hoarded goldfish and matchbox cars. He declared, “Mine!” with reckless abandon. I followed his Montessori teacher’s advice to practice sharing at home. I’d briefly take whatever he was busy with (mimicking his classmates), provoking a squeal. “Jack, I know you’re upset,” I’d explain, “but you need to share with your neighbors.” Next, I asked if he’d like to share with me. Within a few weeks, he was divvying up snacks and toys without prompting.

Moreover, I hope Jack understands the theology behind generosity. Before dinner we fold our hands and pray: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest; and let these gifts to us be blessed.” We talk about how everything we have belongs to God—and that God calls us to share our blessings with others. That’s why we tithe to our congregation and volunteer as we’re able.

A month later, at Jack’s second birthday party, we made presents optional and set them aside to open afterward. Near the party’s end, he flitted about our house, handing out goody bags, saying, “Here you go! Here you go!” in a sing-songy voice.

I smiled as I watched our little giver in action. Then he turned to me and asked, “Mommy, you want one?” I crouched and opened my hands to receive the cellophane bag of stickers and fruit snacks. Tears pricked at my eyes. Maybe this is how God feels when we cheerfully share our God-given gifts.

“Thank you, buddy,” I replied, hugging him. “I’m so proud of you.”

Practices

  • Incorporate in your family’s routine prayers or songs that teach generosity. (The Johnny Appleseed blessing is a kid favorite.) Take time to explain their meaning.
  • Mark special occasions like Christmas or birthdays with words of grace and fellowship with others. There’s no need to forgo gifts but try to remove them from the spotlight.
  • Lead by example. Let your kids see you sharing your treasures, time and talents with others, especially neighbors in need. As they mature, invite your kids to join you.
Erin Strybis
Erin Strybis is a content editor for Living Lutheran and member of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago. Find more of her stories on Instagram (@erinstry) and her blog, www.erinstry.com.

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