I’ve been a blogger for over a decade and while I don’t see myself giving up, I’m really OK with stopping to live life and allowing a silence. It began creeping up on me over the past few years with high schoolers and preschoolers and now an elementary schooler and I’ve seen the finish line coming for the eldest two in our nest. I’ve dreaded it and I’ve cheered it on. Mostly I just linger on the verse in Luke 2:19 where it says Mary “treasured these things in her heart”… knowing that they are the memories that will fill my heart one day when it’s just me and my sweetie, waiting on them to come home for Christmas.
Lately I’ve been treasuring family moments for our Hanukkah celebrations… delicious meals, little gifts, devotionals, menorah lightings, prayers, fun times with family and friends, and my husband’s birthday… and in all of these moments from dawn to dusk and beyond there have been stressful ones, silly ones, busy ones, and even some angry ones where all is off-kilter. That’s the challenge of the holidays – trying to “get it all done” to experience the moments the way we imagine them – while we rush around focused on a fictional end result. It is like herding holiday cats in tight little feline ugly-Christmas-sweaters… unless we intentionally plan ahead and try to slow the pace… and unless we plug in to God to help us have the strength, calm, and focus we need to prioritize and know what to LET GO OF (because I hate to say this, mama, but something has to be let go of – you can’t get it all done).
It isn’t just the bustle of the holidays that is difficult, it’s also that Christmas is just a hard time for many people. It’s a time our hearts turn back over the places we’ve come from like pocket rocks that had been forgotten in the heavy coat we tucked away and then re-discovered with a new winter. Bruised people, fallen world, lost loved ones, broken relationships, skeletons in closets, hopes and dreams that sometimes can’t come true: the holes in our heart are uncovered at Christmas. We all wish we could wrap over them and make the hurts go away. As if somehow if we celebrate just right, the moments will all be perfect and the pain will be forgotten. That’s about as unrealistic as a fat man coming down your chimney, if you know what I mean. BUT we can have a good holiday despite the things that don’t measure up to our subconscious internal standards (and hurts that won’t go away) by looking at things a little differently.
Over the years I used to be upset because we didn’t do Christmas how I wanted to do it. I had grand ideas when I got married and had kids about what Christmas would look like. My ideal celebration would have lots and lots of focus on Jesus, everyone would be in perfect sync and be excited to be there. There would be no drama or teen angst and no one would have to compete for attention with a smart phone or video game. There would always be money to buy everyone we knew presents. Our cars would never need transmission repairs and we wouldn’t ever need to borrow cash from our in-laws in a pinch. We would always show up to all the parties we were invited to with a gift for the hostess and warm home-made food (even though we were traveling over 3-4 hours). All of us would be in matching outfits and never spill coffee on them. The car wouldn’t smell like fast food and no one would gain weight eating Christmas cookies. No one would forget a present before we left town… and ALL of us would sip hot chocolate and agree on what songs to play to get us in the Christmas mood.
Did you notice how unrealistic that sounded? People don’t just stop being flawed PEOPLE at the holidays… and life doesn’t start morphing into a Utopian state when the tinsel and lights appear and the stores start trying to push merchandise on you during what should be a time of Advent.
BUT… (there’s that word again) – can we think a little differently about December this year?
What if we just cut everyone a break and allowed them to have a bad day in December? Or 12? Maybe we just don’t understand the pressures they are under or what’s going on in their lives. Maybe they did good just to get out of bed this morning. (I know four kids that just lost their mama after Thanksgiving, and I’m pretty sure they deserve a break right about now. How can you know if someone’s heart isn’t breaking?)
What if we didn’t get upset after we found out the bank account was too low or the guy in front of us in line made the cashier ask someone to go look for marshmallows when we were late for something?
What if we decided that each day of December was not something we were going to experience and eek “Christmas Spirit” out of… BUT SOMETHING WE COULD GIVE BACK TO JESUS?
What if we said “YES, I’ve got a few dollars for you” when the guy at the convenience store asked for cash – even if he was going to use it to buy liquor or cigarettes?
What if we said, “Can you pay for the person’s coffee behind me in line?” to the Starbucks barista?
What if we showed up with chicken soup and vitamin C gummies when our friend told us she was sick?
What if we offered to take time to do something special with a kid, even though our schedule was too full in December?
What if we put up those Christmas lights, even though they are a pain in the butt and we’ll have to take them down in three weeks?
What if we took time to bake or make something – even if it is so much easier to buy that gift card?
What if we took time to stalk our friends online (Pinterest/Amazon Wish Lists?) and find out what we could give them that they would WOW over?
What if we invited our neighbors over for dinner or hosted that mom’s fellowship even though there’s no time to get the house spotless?
What if we went to holiday family get-togethers thinking about how we could be a blessing to even those people that rub us the wrong way?
WHAT IF THIS CHRISTMAS WAS YOUR LAST?
WHAT IF CHRISTMAS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT?
I’ve heard it said that attitude is everything. I’m not saying you can’t be a little sad, miss the people who you can’t be with, mourn for those who are gone, be disappointed when things aren’t living up to your hopes… but I know there’s a little baby who gave up heaven to be born in a manger – not without the smell of manure… and eventually gave up His life for you, also. He cared THAT much – becoming the Christmas gift for all of humanity for all of time.
I think a little perspective this December will go a long way to helping all of us be OK with less than perfect. Thrilled, really… Because each day we have is a gift from God… and when we recognize that, and thank Him, and try to please Him, we are giving Him a gift back. And it’s supposed to be HIS birthday party, after all.
I tried to narrow these verses down to leave you with, truly I did. But they were all calling out to me. Philippians 2 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. I hope it blesses you like it has me to re-read it today:
Philippians 2 (NIV)
Imitating Christ’s Humility
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Do Everything Without Grumbling
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
BE LIKE THE STARS. SHINE YOUR LIGHT INTO THIS DECEMBER. Merry Christmas.