What I Learned From Not Buying Toys For My Kids This Advent

The Bubonic plague descended upon the house last week.  Five of my six children fell victim to this wicked sickness and we've been battling it as best we can. (Read:  many days spent in our pajamas and in front of the television.  It's called survival.)

All in all I'm grateful this happened before Christmas because I've stayed true to my resolve to not purchase toys for any of the kids this year, except for small stocking stuffers.  We are making good on the promise to take the kids somewhere special during the Christmas Octave and John and I are quite happy about it.

Let's hope the kids will be, too.

It's funny, though.  I thought I would find some kind of new peace this Advent without the added stress of securing gifts for all my kids.  While the decision to stave off consumerism did help me prepare for Christmas a little better, I still found myself chasing my tail.

I mean, there was a house to decorate and teacher gifts to acquire and cards to mail (though that never did happen) and cookies to bake and extended family to think about.

Incorporating these extra things to my to-do list into daily life ON TOP off the craziness that comes with raising and homeschooling six kids is stressful.

Although my decision to refrain from gift giving this year was rooted in my desire to offer quality time as a family with my kids and to lessen the emphasis on things this Christmas, I realized I also had a selfish agenda nestled into my decision.

(I can't escape myself even when I try!)

I also wanted to avoid the excessive hustle and bustle during Advent and the fact is, buying Christmas presents creates lots of hustle and bustle.

But guess what?  Even with removing shopping for everyone from my list, I still felt pangs of unrest this holiday season.

There was still a lot to do...

Family photo shoot with the Murphy cousins

Two youngest grandbabies

My extra responsibilities during this time of year didn't all go away so I could "perfectly" prepare for that little baby to arrive in the manager on Christmas morn.  I think I thought if I eliminated the extras, I would find peace easier.

But that didn't happen.

Every year I feel like I fail during big liturgical seasons like Advent and Lent--like I never get the spirit of either of these important seasons right.

(Pride.  I'm awash in pride, friends.)

Even though I find myself smack dab in the middle of a Really Holy Time Of Year, I still feel stressed out and lose my temper and fail in a million and one ways and I'm repeatedly forced to confront the brokenness of my humanity.  Don't even get me started on how I fail to help the kids prepare...

How do I achieve peace in the middle of such brokenness?

But what I realized this Advent is that I also covet a false sort of peace that isn't possible given my state in life.  I'm coveting the peace the world sells, not the kind Christ died for on the Cross.  The kind of peace presented in magazines that showcase perfectly organized homes with perfectly decorated living rooms and perfectly presented family dinners---all of which takes time, money, and many hands to create.

It's attractive, though. 

I picture a cozy Advent scene:  hot chocolate in front of the Advent wreath as we read the daily scriptures.  But, we all know what that scenario really looks like:  the hot chocolate gets spilled all over the wreath and there is fighting and someone uses a bad word--it may even be an adult!

Real family life is messy.  It's beautiful too, but it's messy.  And life with kids?  Messier still...it doesn't look like a magazine. 

(You should see my floors after an afternoon of "baking" with the kids.  It's b-l-a-c-k.  The girls "matching" aprons have stains on them I cannot possibly remove and their hair is falling in their faces, not pulled back in darling french braids.  But baking with kids in the magazines?  It doesn't look like real life at all.)

This Advent, I thought I could eliminate the stress totally, avoid it flat out so that I could find that elusive P-E-A-C-E... but that isn't how life works and it definitely isn't Christianity.

Yes, Christ did go to the desert to pray for 40 days but most of his life was spent in active ministry, not in hiding from difficult obligations so he didn't feel personally imposed upon.  I'm sure the constant giving and demands from others wore on his humanity, maybe he even felt stressed sometimes but Jesus still gave...even until death on the Cross.

This Advent, I was still required to give too.  I didn't escape it like I'd secretly hoped. 

This morning, John asked Camille what she was going to give to Jesus for Christmas. 

"I have nothing," she answered.

"That's not true!" John said.  "You can be more patient with Christopher.  You can also obey me when I ask you do to something.  There is a lot you can give Jesus for Christmas."

She shrugged her shoulders and walked off, but the small encounter between the two of them left me thinking.

I can see easily the thousand ways all my children can prepare for the birth of baby Jesus and it's usually in the giving of things that are hard for them, the things they don't want to do.

I'm the exact same way, I think.

Before I did this whole "I'm not buying gifts this Christmas" routine, Jesus could have told me what exactly he really wanted from me all along.  

He could have told me that what he really wanted was for me to embrace the imperfect, the messy, and the noise, to let go of the false sense of peace touted by consummerism. 

He could have told me give Him my stress, not avoid it altogether.  He could have told me he wants me to go to Him when I feel burden, not double down and work harder or better yet--look for a loop hole. 

He could have told me he wants me to tell him about all my troubles and concerns, not wring my hands in worry and then escape all together.

It turns out, my decision to abstain from buying presents for the kids was actually quite fruitful because I've realized--in a new and different way--that instead of avoiding the extra burdens I feel during this stressful time of year, I can actually wrap them up and give them to Christ with a big bow.

I think He'll take them.

Merry Christmas, everyone!