This year I have struggled a bit with how to teach my children about the growing number of presents under the tree. How can I help them appreciate what they are given? How can I keep them from being selfish? How can I help them be grateful and loving even while they are receiving presents like toys, stickers, and candy? Here are a few of the thoughts I have had.
All year long we receive gifts from God and from each other. In fact those gifts so thoroughly permeate our lives that often we don’t recognize them. A present under the tree is a symbol of all the millions of gifts we have received throughout the whole year. It is a stand-in for all gifts. For God’s “tender mercies.” For Grace.
King Benjamin is where I learned to think of everything in my life as grace. He says God “has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—” (Mosiah 2:21). It doesn’t matter what you are doing – you are doing it because of God’s grace. He created you, He gave you choices, He gives you repentance and mercy, He gives you breath to keep going and choosing. And He keeps calling after you, no matter where you go. His love and influence are infinite.
The wrapped present also symbolizes to me that I don’t know God’s purposes or plans. It is a surprise, a secret. Usually I don’t recognize God’s gifts as a gifts until one has been opened up, used, played with, or put on a shelf. In retrospect I see God’s “hand in all things” and realize the magnitude of His love. (D&C 59:21).
Sometimes God’s gift is one I don’t like. Sometimes it is a hard thing to keep. Sometimes I am given the gift of seeing my weakness, which nobody likes, but which is crucial (I give unto men weakness that they may be humble” – Ether 12:27).Without seeing our weakness, we wouldn’t have those experiences of going to God and realizing that it was God giving us His love all along. (See Jacob 4:7 too.)
I’ve hidden my gifts, my grace, to my kids behind paper that conceals my plans. But just their presence is a symbol of my love for them. Their very “blank” nature – no description, titles, or categories can be assigned to them yet – allows them to become a symbol of every good gift they receive from their parents all year long. I want to teach them that whatever is in there, it comes out of love. And I hope I can have the same trust of God: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11).
Jesus condescended (“came down with us”) so we could know of His love and of His gifts. “Remember that every good gift cometh of Christ” says Moroni. And this because of His ultimate gift.
I will end with a passage from Nephi’s vision in 1 Nephi 11:
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
It is the atonement of Christ that saves us. But contained within that moment of seeing Jesus come as a baby, condescending to be with us, is a profound announcement that He loves us. To Nephi and the angel, that love is “the most desirable” and “the most joyous” gift that could be given.
May your season be filled with rejoicing in all the gifts which God has given!