It was Christmas Eve, and I watched as a sister-in-law lifted genuine ruby earrings from a gift box. 

“Oh, they’re beautiful!” she exclaimed to her husband. Next, she pulled a matching ruby necklace from its velvet case.

I looked on with envy as the gemstones glowed in the soft light of the fireplace. Suddenly, all the light of Christmas and its true meaning left my heart. I was no longer grateful for my husband’s gift of a soft, warm bathrobe – an item I’d requested – or for all the blessings in my life. 

Later that night, I dumped some negative emotions on my husband. Since that was probably 30 years ago, I don’t remember what I said, but I know my words discouraged him. After grumbling, I caught myself, apologised, and repented of my bad attitude.

I’m ashamed to say it, but I allowed my materialistic attitude to affect my marriage that evening. The next morning, I read Proverbs 20:15 in my devotions: “Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.” The Lord was gently reminding me that rubies and diamonds are just stones, but knowledge of God is the most precious thing on earth.

After that experience, I learned how to be content at Christmas by focusing more on God’s Word and a good relationship with my husband and less on the things of the world.

But it’s not always easy to avoid the consumerism that pushes us to lust after more things, even though those desires can cause conflict in a marriage. Here’s what helped me become less distracted by the material world.

Remember God’s Word

First, remind yourselves of the biblical cautions against materialism and envy:

  • “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).
  • “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16).
  • “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). 

Next, fight against greed and learn how to be content with these verses:

  • “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
  • “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17).
  • “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

Avoid constant shopping 

It helped me to cut back on shopping and perusing all the sales. After setting a Christmas budget with your spouse, make a list and stick to it. Then stop studying every offer that pops up on your phone or wherever. I tend to want to buy more than is on our list because I think I can find something better. But finding the “perfect” present isn’t as important as your relationship with your spouse or your spiritual health.

Prioritise experiences, not things

Planning inexpensive activities can keep you in the Christmas spirit and away from the desires of the flesh and eyes. In the past, we’ve cut down our Christmas tree as a couple (and then as a family), enjoyed a free piano recital at a historic hotel all decked out for the holiday, and drove at night through beautifully decorated neighbourhoods. We also focus on serving others. For years, we rang the Salvation Army bell together as a family, filled Samaritan’s Purse shoe boxes, served at a homeless shelter, or helped with church concerts.

Create simple traditions

There are many presents I’ve received throughout the years that I’ve now forgotten. Yet certain gifts come with a deep meaning that endures, even though they’re inexpensive or cost-free. 

For example, each year my husband gives me a Christmas tree ornament as a symbol of his love for me. Jeff gave me the first ornament after we were engaged, and it came with a letter that said, “As our love grows and continues, each Christmas you shall receive one of these as a sign that my love is still strong, and each will show in a holiday display that our love continues to fill out and cover all facets of our life.” 

I now have more than 36 ornaments, each one reminding us of a different year in our lives. One year when I was having bad health issues and we were praying for healing, Jeff gave me an ornament that spells out the word hope. It’s now a great reminder of how God carried us through that season and of my husband’s encouragement and support. 

My tradition every year is to write a letter to Jeff in a special Christmas journal, acknowledging the specific ways he’s shown his love to me throughout the year and how much I appreciate him. Reliving those memories once a year is priceless.

What tradition will help you focus on the jewels of your relationship with your spouse and God instead of the jewels of the world?

How to be content

I still don’t have rubies, but I don’t care. After that Christmas, I told my husband that I no longer desired expensive jewelry. God’s gift of perspective through Proverbs 20:15 gave me great contentment, which is a gift far more valuable than any precious stone. 

© 2022 Focus on the Family. Used with permission. Originally published at

Julie Holmquist

Julie Holmquist is a content producer for the Focus on the Family marriage team. She’s been married to her husband, Jeff, since 1986 and is also the author of A Call to Love: Preparing Your Heart and Soul for Adoption.

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