In today’s post, my friend and colleague Justin Lind-Ayers shares a story connecting stewardship and parenthood. He expands on the episode, as well as other parenting adventures, in his new book, Is That Poop on My Arm?: Parenting While Christian. Justin would be bashful for me to say it, but his book would sure make a great stocking stuffer for any parents with young children, and those who love them.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Stewardship at Heart: Children
My spouse and I have—imperfectly—committed to model and teach stewardship to our three children. We hope and pray that as parents we can bear witness to the wondrous love of God outpoured in the gift of Christ Jesus. We seek to gift our kids with a grounded perspective through the theology of abundance that breaks our world’s persuasive albeit false narrative of scarcity. When I actually trust God enough to believe in the truth of divine abundance, my own consumerist-individualistic-materialistic heart, shaped by a North American culture, shatters. The shards of my heart are pieced back together by our God, who is able to make all things new. I have discovered that my children are often the people God uses to pick up these shards of my shattered heart. Like little surgeons, my kids get to work reconstructing my heart through their own witness to God’s call. Children have the power to fix our hearts like no other!
When Anya, our first child, was enthusiastically preparing for her sixth birthday party, we had a revelation. The revelation was this: no gifts! Our basement was already teeming with toys from the fallout of Christmas. Consumerism had avalanched the birth of Jesus yet again. It was January, and we were in desperate need of a toy purge. The thought of another landslide of toys spilling into the basement was unwelcome. So no gifts—that is, no gifts for Anya.
Along with the birthday announcements, we explicitly stated, “We kindly request no gifts for Anya. Instead, you are invited to bring non perishable food items that will be donated to our local food shelf.” The gifts in honor of Anya’s sixth birthday were food items for people struggling with food insecurity. We made this decision as part of our ongoing journey with our kids regarding stewardship and our call to serve others. It was a teachable moment for us all, to be sure.
The “No Gifts” Gift
Our revelatory insight of “no gifts” was a gift to all involved. First, it was a gift to the ten families sending a child over to our house for Anya’s party. Those families didn’t have to travel to a store or log in to Amazon to purchase something they had no idea if Anya already owned or would even want. We parents do that enough with the tidal wave of birthday parties that hit in elementary school. Second, it was a gift to us parents. We did not have to deal with another influx of stuff in a house that already has more than enough. Third, it was a gift to Anya and by extension our other two kids. They learned in a new way how to think about and give to others, even on a day that is set up to be entirely self-focused. And finally, it was a gift to the people who would ultimately receive the food items.
On the day of Anya’s party, the response was incredible. Our “gift table,” which had previously been reserved for presents for the birthday girl, was overflowing with nonperishable food items. And Anya was proud! I distinctly remember another parent, while dropping her twin daughters off for the party, holding a bag full of food and asking, “How did you do this? There would be a riot in our household!” My answer came with a shrug: “I don’t know. We just did it.” It wasn’t magic. We just made a decision to do it, thus weaving into our family’s birthday rituals an attention to our responsibility and call to share God’s abundance with others. It has been life-giving for us!
Now we let the kids pick where they want gifts to go. For instance, upon our second daughter’s, Svea, sixth birthday party (the kids’ age we begin this custom), she had a kitty-themed birthday—not a surprising choice for our little animal lover. But Svea also decided, in tandem with her theme and passion for animals, that she wanted people to bring money for the Humane Society of the United States. Her birthday invitations asked people to give online or bring a donation to the party—but no gifts for Svea. Incredibly, Svea was as excited about the donations as anything else for her party, save the cupcakes.
Together as family, we are committed to muddling through the complexity of living into God’s counter narrative of abundant love. It is a lifelong endeavor; we fail often. But the Christian pilgrimage is that—a pilgrimage. Together we journey each day, striving to live into the truth of God’s abundance in our lives and sharing that abundance with others. My children have been the greatest companions on this journey, teaching my heart how to give anew and inspiring me to be a better steward of all of God’s gifts.
*Want to read more? A fuller version of this post appears in Lind-Ayres’ new book, Is That Poop on My Arm?: Parenting While Christian (Fortress Press).
Justin Lind-Ayres serves as the Luther Seminary pastor in St. Paul as well as a member of the Campus Ministry Team at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. When not caught up in the hustle of a busy household, Justin can be found fly fishing while wading knee-deep in moving water.