Faith FormationFamily Matters

Focus on presence, not presents this Christmas

Pope Francis once tweeted, “Parents, can you ‘waste time’ with your children? It is one of the most important things that you can do each day.” To modern American ears that might sound silly, since our society focuses so much on productivity. Of course, to “waste time” with our children is not really a waste, but rather it means choosing the more valuable investment of our time — that is, focusing on people, rather than things or tasks.

In Luke 10:38-42 we find the well-known biblical story of Martha and Mary. In this scene, Mary chose to sit at the Lord’s feet listening to him, while Martha busied herself with the housework. When Martha complained and requested that the Lord make Mary help with the work, Jesus reminded Martha not to be “anxious and worried about many things” and that Mary had chosen the “better part.” To sit and be with the Lord was much more important than all the housework (even though the work itself was good). Like Martha, we can make ourselves “anxious and worried about many things,” especially during this time of year. All those tasks may be good, but they are often not what is best.

“Wasting time” with our family members means more than just being physical­ly together. We can be in the same room and not be fully present to one another. Distractions like tasks, technology or thoughts can keep us from “wasting time” together in a valuable way. We need to choose to push those distractions aside and be present to the person before us, giving them our undivided attention. With parenting, in particular, this can simply mean listening to our kids share about their day and what is on their mind, having dinner together as a family, playing with our kids at their level, taking our kids on outings to just spend time doing an activity together, or praying with our kids. All this applies to grandparenting too!

With Christmas approaching, I invite you to focus on presence, rather than presents. While gift giving can be a good thing, the consumerism of our American society can often take away from the “better part” of simply being together as family. Take the opportunity to focus your time together this Christmas on being present to one another and deepening relationships. You could, for example:

• Minimize the presents in order to enjoy more quality time together.

• Turn off technology to spend time in conversation with one another.

• Play a game together as a family.

• Share memories from 2019 with one another.

• Read the story of the Nativity from Scripture together.

• Spend time praying together.

What you do together is not as important as being attentively present to one an­other. If you focus on presence more than presents this Christmas, I don’t think you’ll find it to be a waste of time.

For ideas and resources to help you live your faith in your family, subscribe to the Family Matters Newsletter, a monthly e-resource from the Archdiocesan Marriage and Family Life Office. To see past issues and sign-up, visit