During this holy season of celebration for many faiths, many people spent time, money, and energy searching for presents rather than reflecting on what our faith requires of us. It’s wonderful to share special times and gifts with family and friends, but too many people get overwhelmed by shopping for the material things they believe loved ones want. Children and adults alike may become afflicted with “affluenza,” the poverty of having too much that means too little.
The ongoing pandemic has provided an unexpected opportunity to reset. Experts are sounding the alarm on how much the pandemic has exacerbated feelings of loneliness and the need for social connection. After so much necessary separation we were all less likely to take for granted the simple blessing of being together with those we love.
This is a new chance to refocus on the more important gifts of our time, attention and family rituals — ourselves — that all of us, especially children, need most. Children need adults to show them the greatest gifts are not material things but what they give to others in caring, sharing and service.
Many families already volunteer in multiple ways during the holiday season, sharing and collecting food, clothing, and toys for others and making sure to express our true values — especially caring for our neighbors who have been left behind in our nation. These wonderful acts are needed all year long. Don’t be afraid to take children to serve meals to the homeless or to engage in discussions at family gatherings about those left out in the cold.
Teach children Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s reminder that “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
Each of us can also do our part to renew our congregations’ and communities’ commitment to service and justice as part of our resolutions for the New Year. As 2022 begins, let’s commit to acting on God’s call through the prophet Zechariah “to see that justice is done, to show kindness and mercy to one another, not to oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, who live among you or anyone else in need” by serving and caring and joining together to build a better nation and world for our children. That is the greatest gift we could hope to pass on.
Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.