Fighting Christmas Discontentment

Christmas sales breed discontentment. In the last few weeks, my email exploded with messages from Amazon, Costco, and many others. Each retailer proclaims supposedly amazing deals. Advertisements fill the newspaper to twice its regular size. Television commercials declare it’s the season of giving and then give instructions on where to go to shop and buy. All these advertisements have one goal: to trick us into thinking we need something. If we succumb to these attacks, we can hurt our family’s financial and spiritual well-being.

Breeding Discontentment

When we think about our family finances, we hopefully have good priorities and a matching budget. Then we will know what we need versus something we want. For example, entertainment is not a priority in my family’s budget. A small amount set aside for entertainment because it is not a priority. Yet I may also want a new large screen TV. The TV, however, is far more than our family’s entertainment budget. I know that big new TV is a want, not a need. Another common example is a cup of Starbuck’s or Tim Horton’s coffee. I might have yearning for some coffee, but it isn’t a priority. I want it. But I don’t need it.

Yet retailers are skilled at breeding discontentment in our lives. Advertisements, coupons, and other tools manipulate us in order to get us spend more money at their stores. Black Friday sales are promoted as limited time offers. Events like this create an unnecessary urgency to buy even if we don’t need it. Zero percent financing on autos make it seem like buying a car now is a good idea, even if you don’t need to buy a vehicle. Credit cards promote their rewards programs to trick us into thinking we’re making money when we are actually spending it. And these tools are just the tip of the iceberg. Charles Duhigg in his wonderful book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business tells the story of how data analysts at Target figured out what women were pregnant even though they hadn’t told anyone. This was partly due to every Target consumer having a ‘Guest ID’ which held as much data about a person as possible. Target, like other retailers, could then use that data to manipulate customers’ shopping patterns. Online retailers also have similar information. If we think we are smarter than retailers who want us to spend our money in their stores, we are wrong.

Fighting Discontentment with Contentment

This, however, doesn’t mean that we are defenseless. The apostle Paul, referencing Deuteronomy 31:6, calls us to fight discontentment in Hebrews 13:5. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

To be content is to be in a state of satisfaction, to be pleased and happy with what we have. Discontentment occurs when we cannot be happy with ourselves or our situation. Why do we lose our happiness? Why do we become dissatisfied with our lives? There are many possible reasons, but I suspect most of them come out of fear: fear of not measuring up, fear of not having enough, fear of not being loved. Contentment is the opposite of fear.

Building Contentment

So how do we build contentment in our lives?

Contentment requires that we have an awareness of the dangers of having love for money and the things that money can buy. Notice that money is not the enemy. It is the love of money. This is a question of where one’s heart is directed. When we notice ourselves constantly thinking about an object, we have come to desire it. We love it from afar. But eventually we are willing to pay the price to possess it, regardless of the damage it does to our family’s finances. A content person guards the desires of their heart and focuses them on what they have: faith, family, and community. How can you shift the focus in your family to contentedness?

  • Choose time together over possessions. Decide to gather and make memories playing together instead of buying more things.
  • Take time to play and explore to create fun family memories. Caroling together, touring the Christmas lights, or sledding down the neighborhood hill are inexpensive family fun.
  • Toss the wish lists and simplify your giving. Choose something simple and thoughtful rather than expensive.
  • Give to others. Seeing the needs of others guides our hearts toward empathy. We lose our sense of entitlement when we step in to care for others.

An awareness of God’s presence builds contentment. God made all things, sustains all things, knows all things, and yet cares for us! What then do we have to fear? God promises to be with us in all things, whether good or bad. Help your family draw near to God in the Christmas season.

  • Attend a Christmas pageant. Delight in the Christmas story by hearing it acted out in a new way.
  • Worship together. A service in Lessons and Carols or a Candlelight service can quiet us from the busyness and guide us to meet Jesus.
  • Light advent candles together as a family around your dinner table.
  • Encourage playing with a nativity set to help your children engage with the Biblical story.
  • Make a Jesus cake together that tells the story of salvation.
  • Read the Christmas story together as a family.

Make a habit of remembering God’s Spirit is with you each day. Rest in this amazing truth. These habits will teach contentment, being satisfied and happy that we have God’s loving presence.

About the author — Rev. Michael VanderLaan

Michael Vander Laan is a co-pastor with his wife, Jana, at Sahali Fellowship, a Christian Reformed church in Kamloops, BC. They have two children and enjoy recreation activities in the mountains.

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