Everyone complains about the weather, Mark Twain reportedly said, but nobody ever does anything about it. The same could be said about the Christmas season. Everyone complains about the busyness and commercialization of these faith and family holidays, but still we storm the automatic doors of the shopping mall in the pre-dawn hours after Thanksgiving.
The best thing to do about the consumerism of the holidays, however, isn't necessarily to avoid department stores and big box retailers. After all, it's a good thing to think of those we love and buy them gifts.
Instead of quarantining ourselves from the mall, we can vaccinate ourselves from the disease of consumerism during the holidays by giving away a portion of what we have been blessed with over the year. That's why we need efforts like #GivingTuesday after the shopping days following Thanksgiving. It is an opportunity to refocus our hearts on what is important this time of year.
I must admit, I'm no paragon of virtue when it comes to money. Having grown up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and lost its house to foreclosure, I have always struggled with financial insecurity regardless of how much money I had in the bank. But Reneé and I have made it a discipline to give away a certain percentage of our income each year in good times and in bad times. And I feel that this actually helps me deal with my sense of financial insecurity.
It was after the financial panic of 1987 that I learned how much faith I put in my things rather than those I love. As the stock market crashed and my investments plummeted in value, I panicked and sold them off. I began investigating safer places to store what I had left. All my childhood insecurities bubbled up -- my parents' foreclosure and our family's bouncing from one apartment to another. That's when Reneé sat me down and gave me one of the best pieces of advice of our marriage. She said it was time for us to write out some 'very large checks' to our favorite charities.
At first, I thought she was crazy, but I went along with the idea because Reneé is wise about spiritual things like this.
By the time we had finished writing those checks, I was no longer panicking about our savings. It actually felt good, and I was able to shift my focus from what we had lost to what we still had, which was everything but a digit behind a comma on a bank statement. It turned out the vaccination is pretty effective.
That's why I think that the best thing we can do about consumerism during the holidays is to give a little money away. It is a practice I now often turn to when I realize I'm too caught up in the busyness of the holiday rather than appreciating what makes it special.
Whatever the causes you support, this is an important time for many charities across the country. With a slow economy and government cutbacks people don't have as much to give. Charities and government programs have less financial ability to care for the poor. At the same time more people depend on such assistance.
According to Giving USA, charitable gifts are about the same today as they were in 2004, when you adjust for inflation. Giving has never fully recovered from the financial crisis of 2008. Yet the U.S. poverty rate has risen from about 13 percent to 16 percent since the financial crisis, representing about 9 million more people in poverty. That's like a city larger than New York, collapsing into poverty over just a couple years. Disasters like the recent tornados in the Midwest or the floods in Colorado only make it harder for millions of Americans.
This year, Bill and Melinda Gates and #GivingTuesday are spotlighting four excellent charities that deserve support. Whether providing disaster relief and development in the US and around the world, as we do at World Vision, or resourcing local schools, these organizations are truly making the holidays brighter for families experiencing poverty.
As I have learned, giving a little money away may be one of the best ways to help us focus on the things that make the holidays meaningful. It is a vaccine against the disease of holiday consumerism. Not only does it turn our attention to the blessings we have and the people we love, but it also feels good to know that we are helping others to better enjoy their holidays this year as well.
Follow Richard Stearns on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@richstearns