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Wants and needs. Neither is in short supply. But being able to distinguish between them? That skill seems to be on perpetual backorder, especially during the weeks that lead up to Christmas. So many of us are bent on figuring out what we want (the latest gadget? the shoes everyone else has?) that we've lost touch with what we genuinely need. It is almost as if we believe that if we can get enough of what we want, we will simply stop needing anything at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It's not that there's anything wrong with wanting something. It's just that we somehow remain surprised by the fact that when we get what we want, nothing changes. Most of us move on to wanting the next thing too fast to realize that we aren't actually any more content or better off. Something else, something more, just something -- maybe anything at all.
Shiny things distract us. Thinking about what we want, or wish we had, or used to have, or hope to get, keeps us from responding to actual needs, even our own. Most of us have experienced this. Before my parents divorced, my dad bought me a new toy or game almost every week. That practice continued during post-divorce weekend visits. But honestly, I didn't need the toys or games. What I did need was an intact family and a father's presence in my life. Mattel and Milton Bradley were poor substitutes.
I wonder if this Christmas it might be better to put the catalogs, sales circulars, and online discount codes away and ask the people we love what it is they need from us. And maybe that begins with a look at the empty places in our own hearts.
What do I need this year? The same things I've needed but seldom asked for every other year of my life. I need hope. I need to be forgiven and to forgive. I need to stop worrying and trust God more, not less. I need to recognize that fear is behind far too many of my choices. I need to wait just two or three seconds more before I speak. I need to remember only what is worth remembering and decide to forget the rest. I need to choose the passenger seat. I need to work a little harder and play a lot harder. I need to accept weakness in myself and others.
When it comes down to it -- I need a savior. Thank God that's exactly what all of us will be getting for Christmas, and that what really matters comes to us not only every year, but every moment of every day. Even the name "Jesus" means "God saves."
When we contemplate the Nativity we do so with the luxury of knowing the whole story. Still, we keep looking in the stocking for what we need, instead of in the manger. We forget how easy it is to become enchanted with the man in the red suit and lose sight of the infant swaddled in a blanket. We lose the true meaning of Christmas at our own peril. Because among the things we need, Christmas is what we need most of all.
Christmas, in fact, fills every need. Christmas gives us a way out of wanting what can't satisfy. It gives us a way in to the sanctuary of our hearts, the stable in which Christ longs to be born again and again. Christmas gives us a way up to the kingdom of the God who free-falls into human history. And more, Christmas gives us a way to live here, not in want or in need, but in trust and joy.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.