As Christmas draws near, I must make a confession. You know that gift exchange game—the one where you choose from a festive pile of packages, then have the option of “stealing” someone else’s gift if you don’t like the one you chose?
I don’t like that game. The reason is because there is always a kleptomaniac on board. They can’t stop “stealing” what others have unwrapped, which keeps the game going and going and going…honestly, I’ve been trapped in Christmas gift exchanges that I feared were going to stretch into Groundhog Day.
I won’t say that my attitude about this activity is one of Bah humbug!; I just wish people would choose a gift and be happy. While I realize that picking a giant coffee cup when you don’t drink coffee is unfortunate, surely one could find good use for that mega mug. Certainly it’s suitable for Fruit Loops or tomato soup. One could fill it with dirt and –viola!— a nifty planter. There’s always re-gifting or stashing it away as the “emergency spare”, the save face present when someone shows up with a gift you weren’t prepared to reciprocate.
I just hate to see people forced to stay up all night because someone is dead seat on getting that elf in a snow globe. I’ve actually seen people get mad and pout at these exchange parties, all over a gift that is usually worth $15 or less.
Now, I don’t want to get myself axed from any guest lists, so let me add that this practice has improved greatly in recent years. Because of the over-zealous, many party-givers now put a cap on how many times a gift can be stolen. I appreciate this rule.
Still, there are always those determined to dump their poinsettia pot holders for the flimsy steak knife set, and they turn this simple exchange party into something as stressful as the return line at Wal-Mart on December 26th.
When I think about their intense desire to have what someone else got, guess what scripture comes to mind? “You shall not covet…” (Exodus 20:17 NIV)
I’m not saying that someone who goes ape over gift exchanges covets their neighbor—their behavior, though, reminds me of people who always want what others have. You could hand them exactly what their neighbor owns—and they would still want the neighbor’s stuff.
There’s nothing wrong with admiring what someone else has, especially if it’s a positive character trait. I don’t think there is anything wrong with desiring a materialistic possession depending on the motive. Wanting something because you genuinely like it and can use it is one thing; wanting it because your neighbor has it is something else. This can lead to a jealous, competitive heart, plus the “keeping up with the Jonses”mentality that can wreck your credit score. (As Christian financial expert and radio host, Dave Ramsey, says in “The Total Money Makeover “: “Don’t even consider keeping up with the Joneses. They’re broke!”)
For some people, “jealousy” seems to be their middle name, and they envy everyone for everything—big and small. To some degree, everyone has experienced feelings of jealously and that includes Christians. We aren’t immune, so it’s important to realize where it comes from. Of “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition”, James 3:15 says, “”Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” (NIV)
We’re told not to be jealous of one another (Galatians 5:26). When we are, we’re being controlled by our own desires rather than the desires of God. (1 Corinthians 3:3). We’re too focused on self to be focused on God. We’re also going against the scripture that tells us to be satisfied with what we’ve been given by the God who will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Christians need to be cleansed of wanting what our neighbor has. We can’t, however, shower it away by adding to our possessions, achieving more success or looking better on the outside. Jealousy is overcome by drawing closer to God. When we focus on Him, we stop dwelling on ourselves. The same can be said by reaching out to others. Again, when “self” isn’t our primary focus, our worldly desires lose their grip.
This Christmas, let’s make an exchange with God. Let’s give Him our jealous hearts so that He can exchange it for a new one.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;” (Ezekiel 36:26 NIV)