All I Want for Christmas
by Robin Donica Wolaver
“God’s doesn’t give you what you want!” my friend said, as I followed her through the department store. “He gives you what you need.”
I’m sure she meant well, but we were Christmas shopping. How irritating! Her comment conjured up a dreary image of God scouring heaven for a dull, sensible gift—perhaps a trash can or some shoe polish.
As we rummaged through the racks, a vintage Christmas song began to play: “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.” I nudged my friend playfully. “Maybe that little girl should be singing, “All I need for Christmas is my two front teeth.”
Two front teeth: One could live without them, I mused. And assessing needs and wants can be tricky. My sister, Sherry, had performed that song when we were children, standing on the stage of a small, secluded mountain church where our family ministered as missionaries. She had smiled to show off the gap in her teeth, and the congregation had smiled back, showing the gaps in their teeth too. They were horribly poor, most of them. We couldn’t give them teeth, but we could give them smiles.
The annual Christmas Eve party always shifted our family into high gear in preparation for a jam-packed service. We would decorate a scruffy tree—cut by a local logger—and surround it with brown paper bags filled with goodies. Daddy would drive to collect the gifts donated by supporting churches, and Mama would wrap and mark them.
Mama and Daddy had a list, and they checked it, not once, not twice, but many times. Every expected guest would have a gift tagged with his or her name. Unexpected guests would receive a gift from Mama’s sack of extras, marked according to age and gender: Adult-Male, Child-Female.
After the church party, Daddy would go into Santa mode, delivering gifts and groceries to shut-ins and those who were too embarrassed to come to church, often the poorest of the poor.
He knew to give the things they needed: food, medicine and such. But the thing that made his Ho-Ho-Ho laugh belly-deep and jolly was the privilege of giving something lovely, something lavish, something just-because, to those who had nothing.
One year, he ran out of gifts marked Adult-Female, so he took lonely old Miss Izzie the only thing left: a doll. As she unwrapped it, a look of wonder fell over her face and tears came. “How did you know?” she said, fingering the lace on the doll’s gown and bonnet. “As a young girl, I longed for a doll. But we were so poor. It’s perfect. A miracle.”
As my friend and I strolled through the opulent department store, I thought of the relationship between want and need.
I had asked many times, “What do you want for Christmas?” I had never asked, “What do you need for Christmas?” Like Daddy, I enjoyed giving extraordinary gifts, items that the ones receiving would never have purchased themselves.
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11 NIV)
Perhaps knowing how to give good gifts means being willing to fulfill a wish, a dream, or an unspoken longing. My experience bears witness to an intimate God who freely gives us all good things as He has freely given us His Son, not to a God who struggles between want and need. In Jesus, both our needs and our wants are met with great personal precision: as nuanced as the Christmas doll that a lonely old woman dreamed of receiving as a child.