“Sorry, I just can’t enjoy Christmas. I feel like I’m not good enough, like I don’t have enough to give.”
“Aww, we don’t care about that. That’s not what it’s about. Can’t you try to relax, forget about the things that stress you, and enjoy being with us? Can’t that be your gift to us?”
I asked these questions of my dad when I was home for Christmas from college several years ago, and now my own family members ask them of me. It’s weird to realize that my first instinct during the Christmas season is not to rejoice, but to worry, stress, and focus on my flaws and failures.
And when I do that, I tend to panic and buy stuff in a desperate attempt to look shiny, perfect, and put-together. This plays right into the hands of the consumer culture that wants to rule my heart and mind.
But like Jesus said, you can only obsess over one thing at a time. I can either go into a Charlie Brown-style monologue (“I know nobody likes me… why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize that fact?”) or I can praise God for making me exactly the way I am and invading my messy world with holiness. I can either worry or praise; I can’t do both.
So as Christmas draws nearer, here are some ways I’ll try to keep my focus on what really matters.
1. Rather than focusing on feelings that I don’t have enough to give, I can thank God for all that I have been given. The fact that I can share, even in a humble, imperfect way, is itself a gift.
2. Rather than focusing on buying stuff, I can remember to ask for the best gifts of all, things only God can give: a peaceful heart, family, world.
3. Rather than berating myself when I do inevitably get stressed, I can ask for the gifts of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. God, who gave himself to us in Jesus, would surely love to give me those things as well.
4. Rather than absently bumping into other people in stores as I cruise for bargains, I can look up, meet their eyes, and smile.
5. Rather than filling my life with activities that leave no time left over for the people around me, I can realize what a lasting gift it is to slow down, listen to my loved ones, and strengthen my connections with them.
6. Rather than turning a blind eye to the injustice around me, I can choose to look it head-on, all the crazy brokenness of our world, do what I can to change it, and keep on rejoicing, knowing that everything is being made new.
7. Rather than feeling anxious that I’ll be given a gift far better than the one I give in return, I can choose to remember how little I deserve all I’ve been given anyway. Then I can accept the gift with overflowing joy and thanksgiving that will bless the giver too!
8. Rather than feeling like there’s not time enough for everything I “need” to get done, I can give thanks that I get to experience Christmas another year and look for the gifts of the moment.
9. Rather than worrying that I’ll do something wrong and ruin other people’s holiday, I can celebrate the fact that I have people in my life who love me and forgive me my flaws, mirroring God’s grace to me.
10. Rather than focusing on some shiny idol of perfection, I can remember that Jesus was born into this very dark, messy world, in a barn for heaven’s sake. Through all our imperfections, he loved us perfectly.
And he still does. Now that’s something to celebrate.