My family and I love this time of year: the lights, the elf, the movies and music and cold days, the time with family… Surprisingly for a blog about Jesus, most of my enjoyment at this time of year comes, not from “churchy stuff”, but from regular old beauty and joy and kindness, mixed in with a healthy dose of beloved traditions and just a dash of Christmas magic. The “Jesusiness” is more like Galadriel’s power in Lothlorien: you can see and feel it everywhere, but it’s right down deep where you can’t lay your hands on it.
We all know, though, that there’s a dark side to this favorite time of year as well. A friend’s recent Facebook posting captured it nicely:
So it is 10 pm and I just stopped helping with homework! My sink is full of dishes, I have no clean panties, I need to pay bills, I need to do xmas shopping, I need to wash my face, I need to check on the elf and I have spin class at 5:30…my Dad was at my house…I worked from 8 to 5….my husband is traveling for work AGAIN……blessed, life is good but this type of schedule does not make for a happy me… so if I seem short with you and need some alone time, let me have it!!
Is there anyone who can’t relate to that? All the ordinary stresses and pressures of life seem magnified at Christmas. As I thought about it, it occurred to me: it’s the application of that “deep Jesusiness” that gives me the ability to suck all the marrow out of the season without going crazy or going broke. Here are three specific tips for doing just that.
Used to be, every year, my Christmas excitement was flavored with just an undercurrent of dread. So many expenses are non-optional, right? They’re traditions! Travel for the family Christmas party (including gifts for everyone there), having a roast for Christmas dinner, ice skating, Disneyland! “Christmas costs what it costs.” I used to get a mental image, running my American Express card through that reader slot, that it would be on fire when it came out.
That doesn’t happen any more. We finally figured out how to stop overspending when we took Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” in 2013. It turns out you can say no to some of that stuff at Christmas.
- Offer to stop exchanging gifts with adult siblings. The first year, my sister and brother-in-law wrapped up an empty box and labeled it, “The gift of nothing… for the man who has everything.” It was one of my favorite presents ever.
- Start new, affordable traditions. Now we visit local light displays instead of Disneyland, and a local Christmas street parade instead of ice skating.
- To limit spending: fear the credit card. We take cash out of the bank, separate it into envelopes, and when they run out, that’s it. Cash may seem risky, but the fact is we could misplace it all the first day and still lose less that we used to overspend every year.
A lot of the obligations we had to live up to, it turns out, were only in our minds at best, or were just ostentatious showing off at worst.
Two sisters were having Jesus over for dinner. Can you imagine getting the house clean enough for him?? One sister (Martha) was frantically running around doing all the work; the other one (Mary) blew it all off and just came in the living room to hang out. When Martha angrily demanded Mary come help, Jesus told her no, Mary’s the one doing it right.
That’s us at Christmas. The desire to be Instagram-perfect drives us to deplete our emotional reserves and then some. Just don’t. At work, when it’s time to be home with my loving family, I am rarely at a good stopping place. Those are what I call “lift your hands” days: just stop typing, push back your chair from the desk, and walk away. Not everything is done. It’s OK.
Sabbath is for us. It happens in the midst of our work, not after every possible task is finished. There is no work so important it can’t pause for the good of our souls, even harvesting before the frost or healing the sick… certainly decorating for Christmas.
It’s a cliché, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Doubly so at Christmas. As we celebrate, a lot of people are heartsick for how it should have been, and they don’t wear signs. At a minimum this time of year, be willing to believe the best of the people God puts into your path, and be willing to love them in his name.
When we think of charity at Christmas, everyone knows about food for the hungry & coats for the needy, but what about a sincere smile and a heartfelt “thank you” for that harried grocery clerk? Or an extra $5 in the tip for that server, never mind that the cook burned your toast? What about asking that coworker, “How are you today?” and investing the 90 seconds to actually listen to the answer?
This Christmas, you may not need to house that pregnant couple who couldn’t get a room at the inn, but there are many simple acts of mercy that are just as important. In the end, that may be the most Jesus-y way to honor the season of all.