If you come from the world of computers, science or medicine, you may hear the word “connective” tossed around. For example: “Joel injured the connective tissue in his shoulder and can barely move his arm now” (unforturnately, that really happened to my husband last week). However, in psychology terms, “connective” or even “connectiveness” can refer to the quality and quantity of a person’s connections to others.1 Yes, I know that connectiveness is not a word, but no I don’t mean connectedness. Connectiveness is a recently coined term created to mean precisely what it means; the quality and quantity of a person’s connections to others. In this age of entitlement, ubiquitous screens, and other items that suck people into their self-focused world, our connectiveness is suffering.
The loss of relational connectiveness is no laughing matter. Studies have shown that divorce has a strong effect on the rate of suicide.2 Depression among teens in the US, especially girls, has jumped 37% in the last decade.3 A recent article from Time magazine 4 reported that school districts around the country are noticing this rise in depression, and one of the potential contributing factors seems to correlate with items that “break” connectiveness:
“California’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, tallied more than 5,000 incidents of suicidal behavior last year. That is a huge increase since they began tracking these issues in the 2010-2011 school year, when just 255 incidents were reported. These incidents ranged from expressions of openness to suicide and self-harm, and acts of self-harm….
…Pia Escudero, L.A. Unified’s director of school mental health crisis counseling and intervention services, reported that kids in her district are at increased risk of depression when faced with adverse conditions such as single-parent homes, community violence, sexual violence, economic hardship or cyber bullying….
… Counselors like Ellen Chance in Palm Beach say they see evidence that technology and online bullying are affecting kids’ mental health as young as fifth grade, particularly girls. “I couldn’t tell you how many students are being malicious to each other over Instagram. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t to come to school and they are cutting themselves and becoming severely depressed because they feel outcasted and targeted.”
As the article continued, it concluded that what needs to be done is to increase our mental health resources. While this is true, it is just a Band-Aid for the problem, and doesn’t get to what seems to be the root cause of these problems – broken relationships.
So why would I bring up something so discouraging at a time when we should be focusing on the “joy of the season?” It’s simple: Christmas represents, in more than one way, the mending of broken relationships.
First and foremost, it represents how the God of the universe entered our world to repair our broken relationship with Him. He saw how the blemish of our sin separated us from Him (a perfect God), and so he sent His son Jesus to us to live out a perfect life so he could be the perfect sacrifice. Because of this ultimate sacrifice of love, our relationship with God can be mended.
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.“ 1 Timothy 2:5-6a
Jesus is the personification of connectiveness between us and God, and through him we can be reconciled forever:
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20
Second, it’s that time of the year when people all over the world connect with celebrating something. Albeit we may not all be celebrating the same thing, but even the non-religious folks get into the mood with their Christmas trees, presents and “holiday” music. So as much as the factions hate to admit it, Christmas connects our society together.
Third, it’s a time of connecting with friends and family, including overlooking or working through rifts we may currently have with family members. People meet to exchange gifts, eat a Christmas meal, watch movies together, play games together, etc.
In this age of entitlement, however, the relational connectiveness has been compromised by consumerism. Instead of grandma knitting a sweater for little Bobby (which he would be grateful for), now she just sends him a $200 Best Buy gift card (and he will probably complain that it is not enough). The average American consumer will shell out close to $1,000 this year buying gifts for friends and family. Actually, the exact figure the average American adult will spend buying gifts this year is $983, according to a study done by the American Research Group.
Which brings me to this month’s experiment, and how connectiveness will play a key role this year in our Christmas.
We have tackled entitlement in regards to Christmas before. Six years ago, when our kids, were 12, 7 and two years old, we implemented a “Fix-It” Christmas. You can read about the entire experience here, but in a nutshell, instead of getting the kids the latest store-bought toy or trendy electronic game, we decided that we would just fix broken items around the house for each other, then wrap them and put them under the tree. The point of implementing “Fix-it” Christmas years ago was not just to rebel against the tide of how materialistic Christmas had become, but to bring to light with our girls that there were other things we should focus on at Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ, as well as others.
Well, that was six years ago. Since then, our Christmas’ have remained low-key in terms of presents, but as the kids get older, so does the price tag of the items they want. Gone are the days of the $10 plastic food set that would bring squeals of joy and hours upon hours of pretend play. Now on their radar are things like a $200 Nintendo DS or an $800 iPhone. With two teenagers (18 and 13) and one eight-year-old, entitlement has morphed into a different phase. It is more deep, and as they go out into the world, entitlment comes at them from more angles, infringing on their connectiveness to others.
Therefore, I felt it was time to revisit entitlement, specifically in the context of Christmas, with a deeper focus on the connectiveness issue. The goal would be three-fold. One, to turn our focus more onto the connectiveness of Christ. Two, to reach out beyond our family and have connective moments where we serve and love others. Three, to rework our family’s traditional gift-giving style into something that would be more connective.
For these first two, you will need to find out what we do by reading our weekly updates below. However, as for the third, we will give you a hint: A “Make-It” Christmas. This means instead of buying for someone the latest/stupidest/materialist gift from some store (and probably spending too much money), we would need to make almost all of our gifts. Making a gift for someone would require thinking of others AND time – both which seems to be in short supply in this entitled age – but it would hopefully improve connectivity.
Believe it or not, the trend for wanting homemade gifts is on the rise. Various reasons have been offered for why this is, but it seems to boil down to one main thing. Can you guess? Yep - connectivity. People desire to connect more intimately with who they are giving the gift to, or if they are on the receiving end, to experience that feeling of personalization and love that just cannot come from a store-bought gift.
So how are the kids going to respond? Will they do it with a good attitude? Will we be able to foster more connectiveness through understanding Christ’s birth, serving others, and making each other gifts? I hope so. At a minimum, it should be interesting!
2. Close Relationship Loss: Theoretical Approaches, Terri L. Orbuch, Editor, Springer-Verlag New York, 1992
We told the kids about “Make-It” Christmas, and surprisingly they were all on board. They were curious if “Santa” would still be visiting with his present, and we hadn’t thought about that. With the younger one still thinking Santa exists, and seeing this is probably the last year of her believing in Santa, we decided to allow the one Santa gift. So it won’t be 100% of a “Make-It” Christmas, but it will be close. As for making things, our 8 year old decided she would start right away, so off she went with paper, glue and pens. Also, we bought Paul Tripp’s latest book “Come Let Us Adore Him,” a daily advent devotional, and we have been reading a section each of the nights we are together. At the end of each section, there are discussion questions pertaining to some aspect of Christ’s birth, which has really required us and our children to think and interact with God’s word.
Sounds like everyone is well under way making things for people. However, two interesting things arose this week in light of it – my bad attitude and my middle child’s bad attitude.
My bad attitude (this is mom speaking) came as I realized how much time making presents would really consume. In my busy life (as in all of our busy lives), time is a precious commodity. Instead of popping on Amazon and ordering a gift, which takes 10 minutes (if that), now I was knee deep into making things, which was taking 4 to 10 hours per item. All the while watching the house get messier, laundry building up, and so on. So I had to have a bit of an attitude adjustment, realizing that this is a sacrifice worth giving, and I’ll eventually get to the house. Once I worked through my crappy attitude, I began to enjoy the process. I also found that when my mind was on the person whose gift I was making, it was easy to turn my thoughts towards praying for them – something I should be doing more often!
As for my 13 year old’s attitude, this came in the form of her realizing she wasn’t going to get an expensive pair of shoes ($113!) she had her eyes on – not even from “Santa.” It wasn’t the price alone that we objected to (for people with feet problems we understand that some well-built, proper shoes that last a long time sometime come with a high price tag and are necessary), but it was because they were the latest trendy and cool item to own. However, we aren’t total ogres – we did tell her that if she really wanted them, she could save up her money and buy them herself. But nope, that wasn’t an option for her. So we have some entitlement issues there with our middle child that we need to keep working on, but we are glad this experiment brought it to the light.
As for trying to serve others more, for family night we participated in writing Christmas cards to juveniles incarcerated at a local youth detention center, collecting and donating items for the needy, and removing snow from our neighbors driveway multiple times.
Everyone is a busy little beaver making gifts! And everyone seems to have a good attitude this week. However, we are finding it harder to read our advent devotional reading each night, as it seems as if none of us are ever home at the same time. This means we often have to read two in a row, which doesn’t allow us to reflect as deeply as we would like on each daily topic. On the plus side, the reason for not being around is due to our reconnecting with other people. It’s nice to be able to make seeing everyone a priority.
What a fun Christmas! There was a different level of excitement with gift giving this Christmas than in years past. Despite some last minute gift-making on Christmas morning (names will go unmentioned…but it wasn’t the parents!), by the time we were all sitting around the Christmas tree, we all had handmade gifts to give to each other. In fact, some gifts were so touching that they evoked “misty eyes.”
So what did we all make? Here is the rundown:
Emmy made: Mug with her artwork for dad (plus bottles of hot sauce), pot holder with her artwork for mom, keychain with her artwork for Meagan and a sketchbook for Morgan (with the cover displaying a picture she made).
Meagan made: Snowglobe for Emmy, a teabag tree for mom, a painting for Morgan, and a set of drink coasters for dad.
Morgan made: An opossum ceramic plate for mom, a HUGE (5-feet long) stuffed animal for Emmy, a recipe book for Meagan, and a painting for dad.
Mom made: Hot sauce for Joel, a photo album and home movie for Emmy, a photo album and home movie for Meagan, and a large cozy blanket for Morgan.
Dad made: A wine tasting and aroma kit for Kathryn inspired by a wine show we’ve been watching, a cooking kit for Emmy, a cooking kit for Meagan, and framed artwork for Morgan.
So what are the conclusions of this monthly experiment? Originally, the burden for doing this particular experiment had to do with how entitlement is breaking down our connections with other people, as well as the hypothesis that materialism/consumerism (a self-focus perspective) also plays a part in eroding relationships. Therefore, the question I posed to the family was “Having set aside your drive for the latest thing, and having both given and received handmade gifts that had personal meaning, what are your thoughts about a 'Make-It Christmas'?” Here were the answers:
Emmy: “I liked it better than last year’s Christmas. I felt better in a loving way.”
Meagan: “I felt special because each gift was specially hand-made for me.”
Morgan: “It was a pretty exciting Christmas. I felt it was more thoughtful because of the effort we put in, and that made the gifts mean more."
Joel: “I was required to be more thoughtful than usual and the time that I spend pondering what each person would want brought us closer together.”
So all in all, it was an overall positive experiment that I hope will be remembered.
...and if you are curious about what a few of the handmade gifts looked like, below is a picture of some of them!