As Advent began this year, I was desperate to abolish sibling rivalry in my house. My kids have masters degrees in how to trample on the nerves of their brothers and sisters, and snap my sanity in the process.
I wrote down everyone’s names on slips of paper and threw them into a bowl. My husband and I also put our names into the mix, we said a family prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide our choice, and then we randomly selected a name.
Our mission over the last weeks has been to perform random acts of kindness for the person whose name we picked.
I anticipated this Secret Santa challenge would be difficult, but I have been surprised to discover that my children indeed do have the ability to sacrifice and do kind things for each other, willingly, and mostly joyfully.
Read more: How to be a Secret Santa for the Soul
My oldest daughter used her own money, for example, to purchase from the dollar store her father’s favorite candy and small items he could use around the house. My other kids also raided their piggy banks so they could buy treats and leave them as surprises for their person. When one of my younger children began crying because he had no money with which to buy gifts, the older children offered to pitch in to cover the expense.
Without prompting, I’ve witnessed my kids offer up the coveted seat to someone else. I’ve seen them fill sippy cups and share special snacks. If the little kids start to forget, the other kids step up and help out, either reminding the child of their duty to serve or helping them accomplish something kind.
I too have been the recipient of many good deeds. I’ve walked into my room and on more than one occasion found a small treasure on my pillow, always accompanied by a note that says, “I love you, Mom. You are the best, Love ??????”
At the beginning of Advent, I was convinced my children were the ones most in need of change. I desired a moratorium on fighting because I hate dealing with it; I hate the amount of energy it takes to referee disagreements. I coveted 30 days of peace because I wanted to properly “prepare” my heart for Christmas. What I’ve realized over the last few weeks is that it was my heart that needed some work.
I was the one who needed a shift in perspective, a shift away from what I saw my children doing wrong all the time and toward seeing them do good.
I needed the Lord to show me it’s unreasonable to expect my children not to fight. It’s my job as a parent to help my kids navigate the difficult emotional waters of family life. They need my help as they learn how to communicate and resolve issues with each other. This is why family life is called a gymnasium of charity — love is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened and family life provides the best exercise equipment imaginable.
This Advent, God reminded me that my children actually do have what it takes to serve and love other people, and he has called me to take stock of my own response when I’m challenged to serve in a way I don’t desire. When the kids don’t behave how I want or they make mistakes, I’m quick to lecture and punish and threaten. I’m quick to seek refuge under the mound of comforters on my bed because I feel so burdened by the emotional tumult all the time. But this Advent the Lord reminded me that peace in my house shouldn’t be the prerequisite for peace in my heart. As the famous Christmas hymn reminds me, the peace I covet should begin not with everyone else, but always begin with me.