When I was a young boy, I very much wanted an electric train for Christmas. I put in my order and then waited for the big day to come. I dreamed of trains at night, daydreamed about them during the day, and looked at them in the catalogs and in the store windows. I knew exactly what I wanted—a black train with real smoke and a whistle, on a figure-eight track. Because I knew my parents loved me and did all they could for me, I looked anxiously forward to Christmas.
When Christmas finally came, I rushed excitedly into our living room. There was an electric train—a second-hand train on an oval track. I tried to look excited, but I was terribly disappointed. My father, however, was excited about the train. He lay on the carpet with me, ran the train, and talked to me about how fun it was.
But it didn’t help, because someone had mentioned to me that if you were good, you got what you wanted for Christmas. Well, I knew I was at least as good as my friend Leonard. He got a train just like the one I wanted.
I had a similar experience many years later as a teenager in high school. Everyone had a ski sweater with a deer-head pattern knitted across the front. I wanted one. I told my parents what kind I wanted and what color it had to be. On Christmas morning, when I ripped the package open, I found a beautiful ski sweater. But there was no deer head on the front of it.
I was crushed. How could I ever go to school wearing that sweater? It didn’t look at all like everyone else’s sweaters. True, it was nice, but it just wouldn’t do. Once again I was very disappointed.
I was too immature at the time to look beyond my own selfish desires, beyond the gift, to the giver. My parents loved me, and they sacrificed to give me not only gifts, but all the things I needed. How they loved me!
I remembered this when I became a father. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we tried to get things that were practical. But many a Christmas Eve, as my wife and I prepared the presents around the tree and finished wrapping the gifts, I would find myself in a state of near-panic. I would think, “What if they open these gifts and don’t like them? What if they think we haven’t given them the things they want because we don’t love them?”
To help lessen this panic, I tried to postpone the moment of opening the presents. We started a tradition that on Christmas morning we would all get up, dress, say family prayers, and eat breakfast. Then we would go in around the tree. And just in case postponement didn’t do the trick, I would give “the lecture.”
“We have a lot of presents,” I’d begin. “We want you to know that inside each box and each package is wrapped up our great love for you. So we will open the presents very carefully, one at a time. If we just rip them open and grab whatever is inside, the love may escape unnoticed. After all, the love that is with the gift is greater than the gift itself.”
After my lecture we sat around the tree and opened our gifts, not in wild excitement, but in quiet appreciation and love for one another.
These examples from my life seem insignificant in light of the greatest gift of all—the gift we celebrate at Christmas. Yet in a way, there is a simple parallel. The scriptures say, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” (John 3:16.) But that gift is not popular in the world today. It is not the latest fad, the kind of gift that makes us popular with the crowd.
How often I have thought back to the days of my youth, truly sorry that I understood so little. So often we kneel in prayer and order our spiritual blessings from Heavenly Father, asking for what we feel we really want and need, and instead receive blessings that are good for us, blessings of love. And we are disappointed! We don’t understand; we feel unloved, unimportant, and deserted.
Perhaps we should examine more thoughtfully and prayerfully the gifts we are given. Maybe they are not exactly what we expected or asked for, but in the maturity of our lives, we will find them to be gifts of love. For truly the Lord offers us all that he has.