Recently, my dad allowed one out of my four children to open his Christmas present early. My parents came for Thanksgiving and went ahead and delivered their gifts ahead of time so they wouldn't have to mail them. The adults knew the reasoning: this particular gift was suitable to go around the tree for the season.
When my other kids found out he was the only one who got to open his gift early, they whined and whined and whined. When they found out they had to wait until Christmas to open theirs, they grew bitter as Will carried his over to the tree.
Last night, we let Will open his gift and before his eyes was a Lionel Polar Express train from his train-loving Grandpa. His eyes grew wide as he unboxed it. With a big smile on his face, he began putting the tracks together.
"Why, Mom? It's not fair!" My 12-year-old John sounded like a broken record sitting on the couch watching Will in delight.
"You never let me open gifts at the beginning of December!" My 8-year-old Hannah cried while petting our new purring kitty Jak Jak (who was, in fact, a gift to our family a few months ago!).
And then there was my 10-year-old Bekah who said absolutely nothing. I was shocked! She started using her hands and helped Will. She organized the tracks and put them together because he struggled to get them connected just right. She opened the remote control and inserted AA batteries. She ensured everything was perfect for Will's gift.
Bekah saw the joy on Will's face. His train was working beautifully because of her help and they got it done faster working together. While his siblings still sat in their woe-is-me pity party, it was a good teaching tool for all of us.
"John and Hannah, Bekah helped Will get to enjoy his gift. That was special. She was GIVING to him, instead of saying "GIMME my own gift!" I reminded them.
Bekah was a participant, and they sat on the sidelines.
Participants get to have the fun and be a part of the joy of giving and seeing someone's face light up. Sitting on the sidelines is boring. An all-about-me attitude is never fun for others to be around.
I honestly never thought John and Hannah's complaining would end, but once the train made ten trips around the tree, they didn't ask anymore about why they didn't get to open a gift too. They just let Will enjoy his gift and he let them play with it too.
This morning before school, it's like they completely forgot about it all.
We'll have many more future lessons in gift-giving and probably a few tears, but I hope they'll always know it's far better to give than to receive.
Samantha Krieger is a pastor’s wife and mom to 4. She is the author of Quiet Time: A 30-day Devotional Retreat for Moms in the Trenches. Her writing appears regularly on Her View From Home, TODAY Parenting, and For the Family. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.