When our girls were little, Santa came to the children’s room of our local library. The kids there had the chance to sit on his lap and relate their Christmas wishes.
The first time Santa asked my older daughter what she wanted for Christmas, she replied, “A rock.”
“A what?” Santa gasped, obviously thinking he could not have possibly heard right.
“A rock,” she repeated.
“But don’t you want a dolly or a game—”
She was firm. “I want a rock!”
You should have seen the look I got from Santa, a glare that said What did you do to this kid? Just how cheap are you?
Please allow me to explain.
One December, when I was a teen, I teasingly pestered everybody in my family with the fact that I was a good girl deserving some terrific presents for Christmas. Come Christmas morn, in my stocking was a rock with a note tied on it. The note, in my dad’s handwriting, read “Bad Girl.” I got a rock instead of a lump of coal, he said, because coal costs money and rocks are free.
We all had a good laugh, and I thought the whole thing was over . . . until the next year when another rock showed up in my stocking with another note proclaiming the same text. It happened again the year after that, and again the year after that.
My family got creative about this new tradition. Sometimes the rock was wrapped as a gift. Sometimes it was an ornament on the tree. But every year I was a “Bad Girl” who deserved a rock.
A few of them I kept. Some were pretty, and a couple were made out of what we called hollywoodite (that’s fake rock used on a movie set).
From all this my daughter had got it into her head that a rock was a terrific Christmas present. As you can imagine, this was one holiday wish easily fulfilled. A small sojourn into the backyard guaranteed that.
If you think my kid was awfully silly, consider this: We often place worth on items that, in and of themselves, are about as valuable as a backyard rock. Diamonds are rocks too, but because they’ve been cut and polished, we’re willing to shell out all kinds of cash for them. A baseball signed by Babe Ruth is still just a baseball. A record album autographed by The Beatles won’t play any better than one that isn’t.
When we pray to God, we sometimes ask for a better job, a better financial condition, better health. All good things to pray for.
But we tend to overlook praying for something preferable, just like my daughter asked for a rock instead of a toy that would have been a lot more fun.
Shouldn’t we also pray for something like virtue? Like holiness? Like performing God’s will joyfully? And shouldn’t we pray this both for ourselves and for others? St. Thomas More, in his book Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, points out that while goods don’t make you good—and can in fact can lead you to become wicked–virtue makes you virtuous. Holiness makes you holy.
In Philippians 3:8 St. Paul tells us he regards all the things of the world as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ. By considering life from an eternal perspective, he sees where true value lies.
[SIDENOTE: Actually, in the original, St. Paul doesn’t use the word rubbish. He uses the Greek word skubalon. If you want to know what it means, google it. You’ll be surprised.]
A couple years later, it was my younger daughter’s first time on Santa’s lap. “What do you want for Christmas?” he asked her.
I got the same look from Santa.
I hope he didn’t recognize me from the last time.