the empty space under the tree

She speaks few words but she taught us a valuable lesson the day we rediscovered awe through the eyes of our two-year-old granddaughter. She loves all things that sparkle—this is not something she was taught, but part of who she is. When she saw our Christmas tree, it was no surprise when her eyes grew wide with wonder. She stood at the base of the towering tree, took it all in, and then she invited us to sit next to her and experience the beauty. Okay, she pointed to the spot next to her and said “here” which was her simple, albeit direct, way of asking us to join her.

The same decorations we’ve had for years somehow looked different as the shiny ornaments reflected her smile, her sheer delight. The twinkle lights seemed brighter as they danced in her eyes. She was drawn to the shapes and noticed each texture as she reached out her hand to touch the dazzling colors, one by one. She didn’t grab them off the branches, she just held them in wonder. How many times had we handled and viewed those same objects?

That day we gave our granddaughter a simple present, a book, which she briefly enjoyed looking at. It was the tree, however, that kept drawing her back – as if she was checking to be sure the “wonder of it all” still existed in the other room. Again and again she would grab our finger and point toward the tree and we would follow her in and sit together, becoming all the more delighted by her delight.

We were reminded that true childlike joy comes with no expectations. She is too young to have a “list” of things she would like to receive, yet she returned to the tree just to sit and gaze. I have to admit earlier this week I had been thinking about the “empty space” below the tree, the space that used to be filled with presents galore. She didn’t see an empty space or realize there were no presents under the tree; she was simply fascinated by its beauty.

As a family, we recently decided to “do Christmas” differently. We exchanged our gift giving for time together. We moved from “Will you email me your list?” and “What gift card should I buy for him?” to “Where do you want to spend our week together?” We gave up buying Christmas presents for each other and gained a week’s worth of time with each other.

We combined our “Christmas” funds (the money we would have spent on Christmas gifts for each other), which set the budget for our desired destination. Together we selected the rental home and the week we would share.  The anticipation of our vacation week became part of the gift itself. The joy of Christmas kept showing up throughout the year when we gathered for family dinners and spent time planning our upcoming family vacation or laughing about the things we did in past years.

Even though it was a family decision, it’s still so easy to feel pressure to fill the space under the tree. This year, though, the space we had intentionally left empty became a place God has filled—with the delight of a child, with a reminder that it’s not the gifts we hope for but the people we cherish that matter most.  Isn’t it just like God to help us see what isn’t there is what he wanted us to see all along?


3 Responses

  1. Delores scott

    Beautiful words of wisdom as I have come to expect from you both. You are perfect examples of what God wants us to be. Thank you and Merry Christmas to the whole family.

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