It was a simple, probably well-meaning question. “How many presents do you get each Christmas?” It was a pen pal letter written to one of our students. But in that one question I saw a sharp divide in our humanity.
I know as a child my parents worked hard for us to know the meaning of Christmas. We would read the Christmas story, make a birthday cake and even sing to Jesus. We hung a Jesus stocking next to our own and made promises like “I will use nice words” to put as gifts inside. But every year on Christmas morning, I, like most of America, woke way to early and ran upstairs to open gift boxes of materialism. Each shinning, gleaming toy was awesome, but what was more awesome was calling my best friend Cassie and telling her what I got. Then when school finally let back in all of us would sit around comparing Christmas gifts and we would feel loved based on how ours ranked. Our value came from objects. The amount of love we felt was based on pocketbooks.
I think this has carried over into our adult lives. I can say this honestly for myself. I love material objects. I do not hold them too closely, because here in Haiti if the kids don’t steal it, the mice don’t chew it or the dust doesn’t kill it then it probably wasn’t that cool to begin with. But man do I love them. Ask any one of my friends and they will tell you I love having the newest and greatest technology. I love my camelback hiking backpack. I love my Nike tennis shoes. I love all my Apple products. The problem is not the materials, the problem is the idol.
I struggle with materialism. I live in a country where half of the population is starving and I must have the newest ipad. I see kids hungry, in front of me, and I desperately want a couple of new shirts because all 6 of mine have tiny holes in them from where they are laid out to dry on sticks after being hand washed. Materialism runs deep. It was fed to us from the moment we could watch sesame street and the commercials in between.
Christmas has become a commercial affair. We ditch Thanksgiving dinner early to rush out to get the best black Friday deals. We plan and prepare and make up for the missed time throughout the year by wrapping shiny things under the tree. This is a scathing indictment of my own soul. I hate having little money because it means I cannot spoil my nieces and nephews like my sister can. I am terribly afraid they will love her more.
Yes my splurge purchases are few and far between. I have to live off of just a few thousand dollars a year so it is not like I can afford to be loose with my money. But the problem is not that, it is the making money my idol. Something I seek after, go after, and feel fulfilled in. Just briefly, for a moment, I feel content after a splurge purchase. And it is sad that I get any of my self worth based on material items. As if something on the outside could define who I am on the inside. Sure the commercials will tell you that buying this or that product is an outward display of who you are on the inside. But I think rather it is our sad attempt to buy the person we want to be. Darn it Apple, I want to be that clean modern house having, indie coffee shop going, technology handling person. She sounds pretty put together and awesome. I am a hot mess.
This Christmas, like all these past few years, I will sit embarrassed at my family Christmas having no physical gift to offer them. I will shake my head from the lie that gifts mean love, and instead hold out hope, once again, that my mere presence is enough.
But it is all I have to give.