“In fact, we are always meeting in nature with admirable examples of the close correspondence between the forms of the organs and the offices they fulfill, even when these bring no actual benefit to the animal. The insects which suck nectar from flowers of a certain kind, develop probosces adapted to the length of corolla which those flowers possess. But they also develop a coating, quite useless to themselves, by which they collect pollen, and this fertilizes the flowers they will visit afterwards. …
“So here is a great new upheaval in our ideas! From this fresh point of view, the purposes of the living seem to be related rather to the doing of work needed by the environment. It is almost as if the living were agents of creation, charged each with a particular task, like the servants in a large house, or the employee of a business. The harmony of nature on the earth’s surface is produced by the efforts of countless living beings, each of which has its own duties. These are the forms of behavior that we observe, and it follows that such behavior serves purposes far beyond the mere ministering of each to its own vital needs.”
~Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
It is easy to apply Montessori’s description to the environment in general, but I love it as a model of the family (which I think is generally where Montessori is going here). Contrary to what we seem to hear from our culture, particularly in the “I want” spirit of the commercial Christmas season, it is not the good of the individual which matters the most, but the growth of the group. Keeping this in mind, we can see how the sacrifices each member of a family may have to make can work together to create a stronger whole. A teenager giving up a night out, an older sister being patient with a younger sibling, the dad who doesn’t buy a new fishing pole for himself so he can spend the money taking his children to the zoo, families who sacrifice the luxury of a second income for the sake of homeschooling…there are a thousand possible examples.
Try counting how many sacrifices you make for your family in a day. How many sacrifices do you recognize your spouse or older children making for you? This is starting to sound pretty Lenten, but I think it could be a very useful exercise preparing for Christmas. Think of each of these sacrifices as little (though very important) Christmas presents you are giving to your family. And imagine how thankful you will be when you have recognized what you spouse gives up for you in the course of a day! This kind of change in your relationships, and your attitudes towards them, will last much longer and be much more appreciated than another sweater or unwanted gadget.