I was probably about 15 years-old when I finally got to the point where I knew not to use the word incorrectly in front of my dad. Slip-ups always seemed to result in a repeat performance of his well-rehearsed lecture on the difference between requirements and desires. The word I’m referring to is need.
If your growing-up experience was like mine, you often-times expressed your wants as needs. . . saying things like, “Hey Dad. I need these sneakers!” Or, “Hey Dad. I need this motorcycle.” (Yep, I said that. . . but never got one.). And, if you’re experience is anything like mine, you’re raising and/or ministering to kids who have a difficult time knowing the difference between needs and wants. . . and like me and my dad, you find yourself repeating that well-rehearsed corrective lecture over and over again. . . or at least you should!
Since Christmas is prime-time for our kids to express wants as needs through their Christmas lists, it’s also an excellent time to gently teach them how to discern between that which we require, and that which we desire. Paul Tripp reminds us that need is “one of the most frequently used words in human culture and one of the words used most sloppily.” We need to help our kids understand that a need is, as the dictionary says, something that “is essential or very important.” Most of what we erroneously classify as a need is actually a desire that has “become so precious and important to us that we have come to the point that we cannot conceive of being happy without them.” If we dig down deep enough to see what lies beneath our confusing wants with needs, we can actually see what is ruling our hearts. In effect, we uncover the unique 21st century idols that capture our thoughts and allegiances.
As Christmas approaches, keep your eyes and ears open for teachable moments you can seize to help equip your kids to understand the difference between wants and needs both now, and for the rest of their lives. Here are some ways to make this happen over the coming weeks:
Listen carefully to the language they use. Help them to understand that wants are not necessarily bad things. God has given us so much in His world that He allows us to enjoy. But let them know that when wants turn into needs then we have allowed good things to become ultimate things. . . which is another way of describing idolatry.
Pay attention to and talk about commercials and ads that are designed to turn wants into needs. In our family, we will play a little game during commercials that’s called “spot the lie.” Watch commercials carefully and then talk about them. Work to identify the strategies, words, pictures, and ploys marketers use to morph wants into needs. In effect, you are teaching discernment! (Here’s a little tool we put together at CPYU to help parents and youth workers do that with kids.)
Let them know that Christmas meets the basic of all wants and needs. Ultimately, we all yearn to be in a relationship with our Creator. God sent Jesus into the world to restore that relationship. And, as Augustine so correctly stated, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
So. . . go ahead and do what I’ve done. Become your parents. Give the lecture. It’s desperately needed!
 Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, p. November 22.