Christmas Shopping: “One for you and one…”

I was shopping at Target, when a dad entered the store with his two kids, pushing a big red cart.

The kids, who were very enthusiastic shoppers, darted over near me to look at some of the displays with bright-eyed expressions. You could tell that this dad had done a wonderful job of building up the moment.

The little girl looked like she was about six, and was very, very excited to buy a gift for her mom. She said, “Ooooh! Look, Daddy! We should get her these! Hot pink and leopard!” She held up a hat and glove set that was obviously meant for a little girl. I hid a small smile, and watched as discretely as I could from my spot over by the gloves.

The dad feigned enthusiasm and said, “Yea? You think Mommy would wear that?”

The girl looked thoughtfully back at the set she was holding up and said, “Well… would.”

“I know honey,” her dad said kindly, “but we need to think about what Mommy would like.”

A few seconds later the girl found a charm bracelet and said, “Oh, Daddy, look! It has little charms… There’s some tiny scissors! And an owl!”

Again the dad said, “But Mommy doesn’t really sew. And I’m not sure she’s into owls…”

The daughter said, “Well, it’s a nice owl. I like it.”

“Ok, let’s look over here..” said the dad, moving his eager shoppers to a different jewelry display. But a moment later, he was saying, “Uh… well… that one’s just a little loud for Mommy.”

Last thing I saw, before their cart rounded out of sight, was the little girl holding out a glittery tulle skirt from the girls’ section of the store. And the dad was saying, “Honey, that’s just a little small for Mommy.”

I had so much fun chuckling to myself over this little girl’s enthusiasm for the things that she liked. But then, as they drifted out of earshot, I realized what I had been doing the whole time: Looking at scarves and gloves and earrings that I liked. I was enjoying the pretty things and wondering if I should put a few in my basket–not for those on my list, but for me.

I had come in to the store to purchase some gloves for the homeless shelter our church is donating to, but how quickly I had deviated to my own wishlist. My sister and I laugh about the way we shop for others (and often each other) with our own tastes in mind, saying, “one for you, and one for me,” as we put duplicates into the cart.

It’s so easy to make Christmas about me–my wishes, my tastes, and my hopes and plans for our family. It irritates me that my husband just wants a nap. I irks me that my kids don’t want me to take their picture. And it bothers me that no one appreciates just how hard I’ve worked to make our Christmas celebration match the Pinterest images dancing through my head.

But these reactions of mine indicate how far I’ve drifted from Christmas. Christmas was the day our Lord Jesus veiled his glory and became a man. Christmas was the day he humbly emptied himself and took the form of a servant. Our servant.

How then, can I celebrate Christmas if I’m focusing on my own interests? How can I celebrate Jesus when I insist on my own agenda? These are the opposite of celebrating Christmas.

As we spend the next few days shopping and cooking and cleaning and wrapping, may we truly celebrate Christmas. May we reflect Jesus, our Lord, as we, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than myself…“, looking not to our “own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phillipians 2:4-7)

(an updated post from 2012)

I Returned His Christmas Gift

(An updated repost from 2013). 

I was a new wife. He was my new husband. And I returned his Christmas gift.

It was a jewelry box–one of those big wooden ones–and he spent a fortune on it. But he encouraged me to take it back if I didn’t really like it.

I thought I was being reasonable when I took his word for it and exchanged it for something I ‘needed’. But now I think I was being foolish.

In fact, if I could talk to my twenty-six-year-old self, here’s what I’d say:

“Ok, I get it. You like to shop for deals. You only buy things on sale. You feel good when you prove that money has elastic in it. And yes, money is tight right now. I get that you want to be conscientious about spending.

But here’s the thing. You weren’t the one spending. You didn’t buy jewelry box. He did.

And yes, of course he said that you could take it back. He did that because he’s a great guy. But did you see that little searching look in his eye, when you opened his gift? Did you see how he watched you, carefully measuring your reaction, as you pulled the paper away from the box? He wasn’t looking at the price tag. He was looking at you. He was loving you, and trying to please you.

Now, here’s something that you don’t yet know about yourself. You’re a Control Girl. You naturally gravitate toward wanting to control. And guess what? Gifts are one of those things in life that you can’t control. You don’t know what will be under the wrapping paper. You can’t control what he’ll buy.

That won’t stop you from trying, though. In the coming years, you will return so many gifts that your sweet husband will lose heart and quit trying so hard. He’ll just go to the store and buy whatever you circled in the sale ad, wrap it up, and hope to see you smile. But by reducing him to a circled-ad gift buyer, you stamp out some of the glowing embers of Christmas.

Here’s my advice: Keep the jewelry box. Keep the sparkle in his eye. Enjoy his choice, and let him choose how much to spend on it. Don’t be a Christmas Control Girl! Be a cheerful, grateful wife, and let yourself delight in your husband’s gift! By doing so, you’ll be a delight to him–both on Christmas Day and the days following, as well.”

Now that I’ve given my younger self some adivce, I’m thinking it might apply to my older self, as well. How about you? Are you a Control Girl at Christmas? If so, let me just say that I get you. I know you’re not trying to exasperate anyone; you’re just trying to make everything turn out right!

But let me ask you. When you clamp down on everything from who will buy what for whom to who will open what when, does this fill your family with Christmas cheer? Or does it make everybody miserable?

I’m learning that the only way to conquer my control problem is to do the opposite of taking control: surrender. To give up control, rather than lunging for it. In my soon-to-be-released book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, I talked a lot about surrendering to God, and His plans for our lives. But there’s also something to be said for surrendering to the people that we love.

When we doggedly insist on keeping the same menu or having the Christmas party at the same place as last year, the people we’re most trying to make everything “right” for–our husbands and children and cousins and aunts–are only getting frustrated and discouraged.

Christmas is a great time to practice surrendering. It’s a great time to give up control and put someone else’s wishes above your own. So what’s one thing you can let go of this Christmas? A tradition or an expectation? The guest list or the order of events? What’s one thing that you’d like to control, but won’t?

Perhaps like me, you need to rethink how you respond to your Christmas presents. Gift receiving is a great way to practice surrendering control. When you open a gift from a loved one, this Christmas, why not give in to his or her preferences?

Wear the scarf.

Read the book.

Plug in the appliance.

Delight in both the gift, and the giver. Surrender yourself to the joy of others, and you’ll find more joy for yourself, too! I should know; I’ve tried it both ways.

PS. (I have no idea what my husband will get me for Christmas this year. I haven’t even made a suggestion! But here’s one thing I know: I’m going to keep it, and enjoy it, and savor the time with him.)