This morning as our 7-year-old was eating a plate of french toast she said, "Dad, I think Elf on the Shelf is kind of creepy."
(Note: We have never discussed Elf on the Shelf with our children. Paul and I actually do think it's a bit creepy and a very misleading concept, but we've never so much as mentioned it with our children.)
But apparently one of the first grade teachers at school has an Elf on the Shelf that caused some mischief in the classroom over the weekend, and Evelyn (rightfully) thought it was creepy that a little elf supposedly messed with stuff at night and then watched the children all day long.
It would be hard to concentrate on math knowing that an elf was staring at you.
But that's not the primary reason we don't have an Elf on our shelves at home.
And I realize that many of you do, and it might be part of the Christmas season that you enjoy. If that's the case, I respect your choice. But I wanted to share a few thoughts that might be worth considering for a minute or two. Take it or leave it.
I've done some research on the Elf on the Shelf's official website, and to my understanding, the Elf is supposed to watch children's behavior all day long and then travel at night back to the North Pole to report to Santa if there has been any misbehavior, thus impacting the gift-giving to those children. And, along the way, cause some mischief in the house.
My struggle with this tradition is that it teaches our children that their receiving of gifts at Christmas is contingent on behavior. Some of the most loved Christmas songs from way back bring this message as well...most specifically, Santa Clause is Coming to Town (He sees when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.)
It is kind of creepy when you think about it...anyone watching you sleep is very creepy.
And, not just creepy, but very misleading about the truth of gift-giving at Christmas.
(We aren't opposed to all things Santa at our home...much of the Santa story can be a fun, imaginative fantasy for a child and that's sweet and innocent. But we do flat-out reject the whole naughty and nice thing.)
About a week before Thanksgiving, when we had barely begun talking about Christmas in our home, Evelyn came upstairs with her eyes filled with tears, on the brink of overflowing. With a trembling chin, she confessed what she had done wrong, and then said, "Mom, does this mean I won't get any Christmas presents?"
Again, note, we hadn't even begun discussing Christmas at home, and we have never given any heed in our house to the cultural connection between behavior and Christmas gifts.
And yet, because she is growing up in today's culture, she already had it in her mind that her behavior somehow affects our love for her and our desire to give her gifts. This is devastating for a child.
Should we teach them responsibility for their actions? Absolutely. Should we discipline and teach consequences? Absolutely. But does her behavior impact my desire to give her gifts? No.
So I made her apologize to her sibling and make the relationship right, but assured her that her misbehavior in NO WAY would impact my gift-giving to her.
Because gifts are to be freely given. Gifts are not earned like wages. They are given out of a heart that flows with the love of God. To teach a child that gifts are contingent on behavior is to teach them that love is conditional.
We give gifts at Christmas to celebrate the love of God. God gave us the greatest gift of all - salvation through His Son, Jesus. "But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
Did you catch that? While we were still sinners... The greatest gift in the world comes to us in the midst of our sin. When we are naughty, not nice.
If we had an elf on our shelf at home, do you know what it would see? It would see a lot of laughter and joy and children sharing toys and parents giving hugs, yes.
But it would also see me yelling at my kids. It would see me saying, "Hurry up!" way too many times to count. It would see me unreasonably impatient as a three-year-old struggles to put on boots and mittens. It would see me being selfish and lazy when my child needs some attention and love from Mommy. It would see me saying a bad word here and there, and then it would see my three-year-old repeat the bad word Mommy just taught him. It would see me gossiping to my husband or my best friends rather than speaking the truth in love. It would see alot of Mommy being too naughty to deserve presents.
And, it would see my children being naughty too. Because guess what...my children are naughty every day. Certainly not all day, but at times every single day. Every single day they are sinful. Just like me. And just like my husband. So then what? Then do my children, who simply by being human are born into a sinful nature that they cannot on their own overcome, have to be worried all December that there will be no gifts for them under the tree?
Because that's the message that Elf on the Shelf brings. "So be good for goodness sake..."
And if we really believe that Christmas gifts are to celebrate the unconditional love of God, then what kind of double message are we sending our kids? God's love might be unconditional, but our love is conditional...so you better be good. That's the message it sends, plain and simple.
A couple of weeks ago our family packed gift shoe boxes for children around the world who live in poverty and don't receive Christmas gifts. We talked at length with them about how these children are wonderful boys and girls, deeply loved by God, and the reason they don't receive gifts at Christmas has nothing to do with whether they are good or bad...their families simply don't have any money for gifts. How sad it is that in this culture, we have connected "being good" with receiving presents.
On a personal level, Christmas will be simple this year at our home. Our budget is tight and our gifts are few and simple. Meaningful and full of love, but simple. Does this mean our children weren't "good enough" to receive lots of gifts? Of course not!
And the thing is, although there is no elf on my shelf to see me in my worst moments as a mother, or to see my children in their worst disobedience, we do have a God who sees it all. Every single bit of it. And not only does He see it all, but He sees everything in my mind and heart too. And let me tell you, there's a lot of sin there. A lot of selfish greed and gossip and hurrying my children and jealousy and love of earthly things and just a whole lot of sin. And God sees it all
And instead of withholding His love and grace from me during my darkest moments, He showers His love on me. He holds me accountable when I sin, and He expects me to confess and make right that which I can and mend relationships whenever possible, for certain. But He never withholds His good and gracious gifts from me. He sends me a Savior in the midst of my sin. He loves me unconditionally in the midst of my sin. When I'm nice, He loves me. And when I'm naughty, He loves me.
And in honor & celebration of HIS love, I cannot wait to give my kids gifts and celebrate the greatest gift of all.
And He is so much better than an elf on my shelf.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.