I made another mistake.

The other day when my 4-year-old was flipping through one of the many toy catalogs that have made their way to our mailbox for the “season” (of commercialism, is it?), he was talking about how cool one of their selections was, and how great it would be if he could have one.

“Well, maybe you can ask for it for Christmas.”

Yes, there it was. That’s how I opened the door to the “gimmies” for Christmas. My son—whom we take with his siblings to Toys ‘R’ Us throughout the year for fun, and purposefully to train them to enjoy looking and imagining without demanding—suddenly got the go-ahead for selfishness in the name of Christmas. Soon what he’d “asked for for Christmas” from a catalog, a store, what he’d seen at a friend’s house—was tens of items long. When I told him I’d already bought him a gift for Christmas and reminded him his birthday is in June, he wanted it for no reason at all—just to have it (“for free!” he said).

It even showed up at the grocery store. Didn’t I think we needed some big marshmallows or chips? (Why yes, Son, I completely forgot the sugar and fat! Stick those in the cart.)

I remembered why we’d taken those trips to Toys ‘R’ Us, and why the norm of contentment had been so great: Shopping with the gimmies is a PAIN. I think I was the most discouraged when we read stories about and discussed giving to kids who didn’t have toys, then went to the store to get some for a kid who didn’t have anything, and my son instead became fixated on a car that would he “would reeeeeeeally like for Christmas!” And hadn’t I talked to Dad about getting him an allowance yet?! (Lest you worry, I have more toy cars to step on at my house than loads of laundry, by about three times.)

That was the last straw. He and I had a little heart-to-heart about selfishness, gratitude, contentment, and what they looked like. We discussed how well God had taken care of us, and talked a lot about kids who won’t be getting any cars for Christmas—and how God is still good to them, too. Christmas isn’t an excuse to let our appetites run wild. In fact, it’s about the opposite: love in the form of total sacrifice, self-emptying, and ultimate generosity.

I still let him look at toy catalogs. That may seem like cruel temptation for some! But I guess rather than training him in unselfishness by keeping the eye candy from him, instead I’d like to teach him how to function in those environments.  I want him to know how to deal with his own desires—partly so I don’t have to avoid every aisle with something he might want. After all, “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6).

What do you think?