Fancy Christmas Anxiety

I saw this yesterday and laughed out loud. We like to fancy it up this time of year, don’t we? The holidays have a way of magnifying and bringing to the surface all kinds of feelings that lie dormant the rest of the year. Totally irrational fears about ourselves? Check. Deep wounds from something that happened years ago? There they are. Pet peeves about meaningless things? Oh, hey there. Moments of fleeting joy? Hopefully some of those are mixed in there as well. 

Traditions are fantastic, until they aren’t. Buying presents is fun, until it isn’t. Trying to keep up with what everyone else appears to be doing is just never a good idea. A lady in my Bible study joked she has to pray to herself every year as she sets out the food because her mother-in-law always comes in and requires it to be rearranged to her high standards. It’s humorous, but underneath it all there’s little sparks of resentment and rejection just waiting to blow up into a giant forest fire at any moment. 

Have you ever had an irrational meltdown when someone added almonds to the green bean casserole? Sat and cried over photo albums of a childhood Christmas’ with people who are no longer with you? We want to make our kids happy, please the in-laws, make the recipes correctly and honor Jesus because oh my gosh, He’s why we are doing all this other stuff… right? 

Sometimes dynamics are just hard. I haven’t met a perfect family yet, not like the ones you see on the Christmas commercials. Sometimes we just make it hard on ourselves. We hold grudges. We obsess over the wrong things. We withhold forgiveness. The miracle of the baby in a manger becomes just a bit of an add-on because we are tuned into the wrong things.

John Piper wrote that “the meaning of Christmas is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed.”

That, my friends, is hope. 

The good can never be erased, so maybe we can relax a little when trying to make all the traditions happen. The bad, the ugly, the evil… it can be changed though the power of Christ! That’s the whole reason He came. That means we can try something new this year. We can see how Christ came to set us free. We can forgive so-and-so and move forward. Maybe we aren’t ready to change the green bean casserole, but we can change our heart attitude and realize the old cliché still rings true: Jesus IS the reason for this season.

Toil and Trouble

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“There s a restlessness within us that cannot be satisfied until we rest fully in God.” AW Tozer

Rest. It’s an evasive thing for many of us today. I’ve been struck lately at all the verses in the Bible that address it. We are commanded to rest, not only on the Sabbath, but all the time in our spirits. There is a special kind of rest God gives to His children, a physical but also spiritual kind of rest that is found in Him alone.

Psalm 127:2 says “it is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of toil; For He gives His beloved sleep.” 

This certainly isn’t saying work is vain or unnecessary, we are created to work as well, but it does address the idea of doing it all for self. The previous verse says “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in VAIN who build it…”. He calls it VAIN to rise up early and toil when the only pay you receive is the ‘bread of sorrows’.

The rat race isn’t slowing down. That proverbial hamster wheel is always turning. We can get caught up in it, in trying to further ourselves along, but for what? What is the end game we are after?

If you have kids, you know. The world is different for them than it was for me. Every decision has a ‘next step’, a pro, a con, a benefit, a drawback. They have to plan and decide in ways I never did, and it’s downright weird at times. Everything is about appearances now. The audience is larger. The pressure is greater. Of course there is no perfect job, no perfect school, no perfect marriage, no perfect life, just people trying their best with what they have. And so we toil. That word strikes me for some reason. It just sounds awful. I think of those witches from Macbeth, stirring their pot chanting “double double toil and trouble…” 

Toil is relentless and incessantly working at something that never really has an end. Poor peasants toil in the fields day in and day out because the work is never, ever done. We may not be laboring in the fields, but this verse strikes me as something we should pay attention to, because no matter what our condition, we are always striving for something more.

We are created for it, this searching, desiring, part of us is God-given because like that song says “there’s a God-shaped hole inside all of us…”. With the proper direction, that desire can do wonders. Misdirect it, however, and you are running uphill both ways working for the bread of sorrows. It’s all meaningless when we focus on ourselves. No matter how successful we become, how much our kids accomplish, how polished things may be, we’re still climbing the ladder to nowhere.

The most successful are often the least rested. They have a lot on their shoulders. God never intended for us to live that way. Discipleship comes with a price, and at times we are called to put it all aside and rest. The bread of sorrows isn’t worth the toil. Jesus has something better. “He gives His beloved sleep.”  I don’t think this is just talking about physical sleep, I think it’s talking about a true, genuine rest that comes when we lay it all down and let Him build our house. His directives, His rules, His plans. Without it, we are all spinning our wheels getting nowhere. We rise early, toil, stay up late worrying… for what? For our selves.

Our world simply doesn’t allow us to rest. We are connected. All. The. Time. Sometimes it’s disgraceful, but I’m as guilty as anyone. Anxious, fear-driven people make anxious, fear-driven decisions. We learn it and we pass it on. We eat the bread of our toil nervously and anxiously waiting for the next shoe to drop.

And yet. God says over and over in His Word to us, don’t fall for it. Do not be anxious. Do not fret. Fear not. He tells us we CAN actually lie down and sleep in peace because He is the keeper of our souls and our circumstances, if we allow Him to be.

He gives His beloved sleep. A few verses later in Psalm 128 He connects all these dots and says “when you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.” 

That’s what it’s about. We are created to work, but not toil. We are created to enjoy the fruits of our labors, not spin in the proverbial hamster wheel with all the other hamsters.

Until we rest fully in God, the restlessness will not cease. The world is hard enough, allow Him to build the house, enjoy the fruit, and receive the rest He promises.