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.

Leaving The Mall


I had to run an errand yesterday at the mall. Needless to say… it was not pleasant. The sheer number of people out on a Tuesday afternoon was baffling. I saw folks doing the ‘grab and go’ in stores, hoping that whatever gift they were hastily purchasing would suffice. One lady snatched up four big fuzzy sweaters and hardly looked at them before bolting for the register. I saw a sweet old man meticulously shopping for his wife, asking the sales lady how her day was going and what she thought of each piece of clothing he picked out. It was really touching until the saleswoman had to bolt off to help other, less chatty customers. I smiled at him and said I thought it was really thoughtful what he was doing and how most husbands would never take that much time picking out clothes for their wives. Disappointed that he could no longer chat with her, he smiled and sighed, “well, things just aren’t what they used to be.”

Isn’t that the truth. I headed back to my car thinking, “I’m so over this.” Thank goodness for online shopping I suppose. It’s not that I mind all the gifts and the joy they bring, but we have really sucked the fun right out of the whole thing. We’ve lost the purpose behind it all. I say this every year, but I always find myself longing for an old-fashioned Christmas that exists only in my mind. Childhood Christmases are so magical to us for the simple fact that we were children and didn’t know yet any of the hustle involved in making meals or magical mornings happen. I know for a fact my poor parents had to almost throw down in the Toys R Us store for my 1985 Cabbage Patch Doll. I never knew any of that, I just remember waking up Christmas morning to my beloved doll (his name was Chauncey you guys…) and loving him. 

We love and long for new and fresh things in our lives. Never is it more glaringly apparent than this time of year. We are suckers for the shiny gadgets, the soft sweaters, the latest book. All good things, until they become the things. I remember freaking out one December because I was the only mom who didn’t have Ann Voskamp’s new advent book. I spent an entire day of my life running all over town to find it. Once in hand, I really was convinced that this would be the year we finally do advent the right way. We read it for about a week and then it trailed off. It wasn’t a bad book or anything, but at the end of the day, it’s just a book, not the Christ Child himself. It sounds silly, but it took me about two years to come to terms with the fact that my kids just weren’t that into it. 

This time of year especially, I need to remind myself that I cannot start with man and squeeze God in as filler. Christ can’t just hold a symbolic top spot on an otherwise long list, He must be everywhere . It was God who addressed man that first Christmas, and it is He who continues to stir our hearts at Christmastime. Things are definitely not what they used to be, as the old man in the store reminded me. 

There’s a longing this time of year in my heart for something I know I’ll never quite get. I see glimpses of it, but it’s not going to be fulfilled by any gift or experience this world can offer. We don’t need the latest advent book to find Jesus. I for one can’t read one more hot-take about what I need to be doing this December… not right now anyways. This is a time for quiet, in spite of what everyone at the mall thinks. It’s a time to return to the childlike simplicity and the beauty of the manger and the God who offers us gifts infinitely more lasting than anything we could ever buy.

These Three Things

 

We are in the home stretch… Thanksgiving has come and gone and it’s full-steam ahead to Christmas and a new year. I have no childhood recollection of how fast these few weeks go by, I simply remember enjoying two separate holidays that seemed to just magically happen to my great delight. Grown ups know all too well that holidays never spontaneously just ‘happen’, there’s a lot of time and love put into making things just right, and even the best laid plans can go amuck at any moment. I did something different this year as I sorted through giant totes of Christmas decorations: I took three little objects out that represented true joy to me and I placed them on my desk. 

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Thieves of Liberty

“Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” TS Eliot

The Information Age. It’s our blessing and our curse. I often joke I was born into the wrong era because I don’t always love everything that comes with technology, but feeding at the buffet of the inter webs is a part of life as we know it now. Whether we realize it or not, our minds are soaking in ideas that change the way we think. Given enough time, these little ideas can change the way we act as well. I’m always struck by those memes that pop up everywhere that sound nice but send off alarms in my head. Sometimes I think I overreact to this stuff, but I fear bad ideas start small and grow into destructive beliefs. Exhibit A:

Ummm… ok. Like, on a silver platter? I think I deserve a Friday off of work once in awhile, but my coworkers might disagree. I know I deserve some help with the towering laundry piles in the living room, but my kids may not agree. You deserve to be (insert happy adjective), you are entitled to (insert benefits). Actually, Biblically speaking, we don’t deserve much. The “universe” can’t serve us up anything. Now, if you want to talk about what we deserved vs. what we got, look to Jesus first. He stepped in to take what we deserved, and we enjoy life and freedom because of it. This idea that things will just shake out because of karma or good intentions is not only dumb, but dangerous. What happens when they don’t? We blame God. All along, He was calling us to Himself, to know His will, His truth, and we looked past Him. We can’t have one hand reached out to Jesus and the other to the vacant “universe” and expect to have clarity. We can’t just absorb things that sound nice without thinking how they shape the way we see God.

Exhibit B:

There’s a lot happening here. Some may read it and have no feeling, some may think it’s a bit quirky. Others have a BS detector that is having a meltdown. I’m not sure what it means to “steward your destiny” exactly, but I do know we are called to be good stewards of “the grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). That means all of Him, truth included. I’m not sure about incubating strategies, but I know better than to have someone tell me when to speak or when to be quiet. This isn’t Biblical. People are preying on our inability (or unwillingness) to seek out answers from the Word for ourselves. When we share Jesus, we point to Him. We don’t point people back to ourselves. When someone starts focusing more on a method than the person of Christ, we need to take heed.

Again…

Please standby… I’ve got to go to lunch and run some errands, but come back to instagram later for this crucial message! I joke, but this is the kind of stuff we scroll past, hit ‘like’ on, say amen to and soak in. Pretty little lies about God creeping into our heads that affect how we think about Him. Read enough of this stuff and you end up with complication where there should be simplicity, and tangled lies where there should be freeing truth.

Paul dealt with this in his letter to the Galatians when he spoke of “false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” (Galatians 2:4-5)

I’m struck by that phrase, people coming to ‘spy out our liberty’. They are coming to take it away, to put us back in bondage. Whether it’s on purpose or not doesn’t really matter, a false gospel leads us back to chains. Paul tells them of people who are parading around preaching a different gospel, a distorted gospel (Galatians 1:7). He warns that even if it were an “angel from heaven” promoting these things (v. 8) we should dismiss it. That’s the problem. These things present themselves as attractive, relevant, and sensible. They are heavy on human initiative and performance and light on Jesus.

We’re being spoon-fed information on a minute to minute basis, but we’re losing our ability to sort through it. The “universe” is throwing out garbage and we are piling it up like a trash receptacle. Paul prayed that we would have both knowledge and discernment (Philippians1:9) and that we would be able to approve what is worthy of our time and hearts.

It’s almost Christmas, a good time to take a step back perhaps from the noise and recalibrate ourselves. Take a little fast perhaps from the information onslaught and enjoy some simple silence with Jesus. Clear out the cobwebs a bit of the accumulated stuff and make room for the Christ child. Find the life you may have lost in all the “living” these past few weeks. Ask for wisdom instead of information. Don’t allow anyone to come in and spy out your freedom, it’s a precious gift that came at a great price. We owe it to ourselves and each other to not fall for the pretty little lies that surround us at every turn.

Merry Christmas everyone. Enjoy this season, make some time for silence, and enjoy the gift that has been so freely given to us all.

Empty Wells

“Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” John 4:15

A friend sent me a book last week called Sipping Saltwater by Steve Hoppe, and I wanted to share a bit about it on here today. The title intrigued me a lot. If you’ve been to the ocean, you know what a mouthful of saltwater tastes like and you certainly wouldn’t want to sit and drink any of it.

We’ve all heard tales of shipwrecked sailors clinging to life because they don’t have fresh water. We all know what it’s like to be thirsty on a hot day. Imagine being completely surrounded by cool water but unable to drink it.

What happens when a thirsty person drinks saltwater? It basically shrivels you up from the inside. Lovely thought, no? It might satisfy for a moment, but in the end it will dehydrate and even kill you.

The premise of the book is that we are all in some way or another sitting around “sipping saltwater” by thirsting after things that 1) don’t satisfy and 2) will eventually do us great harm. We sip, we drink, we chug, we get addicted to things that dry us out and leave us thirstier than before. We shop. We drink. Eat. Exercise. Work. Obsess. Worry. You name it.

Too much social media? Saltwater.

An overly packed family schedule? Saltwater.

Knowing more about Hollywood stars than the people under your own roof? Saltwater.

Good things turn into harmful idols because we turn to the thing itself to take away that thirst.

The good news? The Bible has lots of things to say about this dilemma of ours.

Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

Isaiah 55:1-2

We are spending money on what does not satisfy. Isaiah is warning the people to quit wasting their time. Interesting that no matter the time in history, this is a problem for us. I wonder what people in Biblical times thirsted after? If they had this problem, how much more do we need to pay attention? Are times are unique, but he condition of our hearts is ever-wandering. We are chasing after things that don’t satisfy.

Time to start eating what is good – not sipping on saltwater. Jesus tells us when we satisfy ourselves in Him, we won’t ever thirst after these other things (John 4:14). It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy them, but that they’re actually much more enjoyable when in their right place. Enjoy the blessings, the work, the shopping, the entertainment… but not above fellowship with Jesus or others. It’ll dry you up inside like saltwater.

We have to recognize our natural condition is to thirst after something, but that only one thing can fulfill it. Jesus promises to satisfy that condition. The more we try to do it ourselves, the worse it gets.

It’s probably going to be a crazy week for most of us, more than usual with the approach of Christmas. Take a break in your day to let Him be the water you need.

We must be careful of the ‘wells without water” and the “polluted wells” that instead of offering what satisfies, are bone dry or poisoned (2 Peter 2:17, Proverbs 25:26). We have one source, one well from which we draw. The rest is just drying us up inside.

We are all like the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus meets us and offers us something we can’t draw on our own. Jesus, give us that water, that we may not thirst not waste our time at empty or poisoned wells.

Those December Blahs

7-ways-to-beat-the-holiday-blues

A friend and I were talking about the inexplicable “blahs” we feel this time of year. No real reason for it, just a kind of nostalgic sadness not tied to any circumstance. December brings a lot of weird messages in our culture, conflicting ones to say the least. We are supposed to be making magical, lifelong memories while not falling into the trap of being too busy. We want to dazzle our kids and friends with the most thoughtful of gifts while not becoming overly materialistic. There’s a certain quality of life we are aiming for but culture screams at us through Black Friday ads and Christmas mailers to go for quantity because it will fill us up. We are pressured into acquiring all the things. What’s worse, we’ve now been conditioned to let the world know just how much awesomeness we’ve acquired for ourselves through happy little posts and updates. What. A. Racket.

Even in the best of circumstances, December just isn’t the holly-jolly memory making extravaganza it’s portrayed to be in the Christmas tree commercial. (You know the one, the whole extended family dressed to the nines, getting along perfectly as they admire their professionally decorated tree?) Of course there are beautiful, memorable times to be had, and we should embrace them and enjoy them. We are just trying so hard it seems and never really getting a hold of anything worthwhile.

We like accumulating and we positively thrive on quantity over quality. It’s totally normal now I’m told for teens to get 400 likes on a single Instagram post. I don’t think I’ve ever even met that many people in real life. As we fill up on worldly things, we hope it transfers over to a filling up of those spaces in our heart that sit empty. Where once we were satisfied sharing these moments with close family and friends, now we barely give them five minutes of our time.

Paul told believers to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). Jesus called on us to deny our selfish ways, pick up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). We aren’t very skilled in the art of living sacrificially. Selfishly, yes. It’s every man for himself out there. We pine for something we can’t quite put our finger on. We ache for something no person or gift can fulfill. We get the ‘blahs’.

The past few years we’ve seen a huge rise in the popularity of advent and the idea that there’s a reason for this longing. Most of us grew up without this concept. (My grasp of advent consisted of popping open a little door for a piece of chocolate each night until Christmas.) We should actually feel a bit out of sorts this time of year. Instead of trying to numb it with useless junk, Jesus calls us to come sit awhile with Him and learn how He’s the only one who can fill that void. He came to fill the void.

I’m all for it, I’m all for learning to wait. I want to know that it’s ok to feel inexplicably ‘blah’ this time of year. I want my kids to understand it’s not all about them. It’s not about fulfilling every material desire only to be led astray by a new one.

A mom told me last week that every single December her left eye twitches and her neck aches like crazy for no apparent reason. Her doctor told her it’s simply from stress. We all can relate. If it isn’t the logistics of getting the house ready it’s the strained relationships inside the house. If it isn’t the fear of the ‘what if’s’ it’s the regret of the ‘what was’. We hold our breath and let out long exasperated sighs. Honestly, I don’t know a single person who isn’t a bit relieved when it’s all over.

Nobody wants a twitchy eye all December. Nobody wants anxiety over the family get-together or the ugly sweater party to drive them to the brink. We all have our stuff, and that old snake that slithered into Eve’s head in the garden is all too happy to insert himself right into our December dreams and make everything a tangled mess.

Living sacrifices. Humble servants. We aren’t robots people, we don’t automatically default to “joyful” when the calendar flips to December. Jesus gives that though. He takes away our weird, sad, nonsensical feelings about this time of year and gives us joy unspeakable that is rooted in Him alone. So go make some memories, enjoy the season, embrace traditions, and know it’s ok to sometimes have a case of the blahs.

 

Keep Your Gifts

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Happy post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas season! It’s full speed ahead from here on out people, so hold on to your Santa hats. I’ve lost count of how many “simplify the season” Advent reading plans or books I’ve seen this week. It seems like every year the stores come out with more “stuff” to help us simplify. It’s kind of ironic.

I thought I’d share a little excerpt from an amazing book I’ve been reading by David and Jason Benham called Living Among Lions; How To Thrive Like Daniel In Today’s Babylon. The kids and I have taken our time in this book, we’ve been reading bits and pieces since the summer, and I find I keep returning again and again to it as we navigate our way upstream in a world that wants to carry us downstream with the masses. If you’ve never studied Daniel in-depth, this is a great place to start. The parallels between his life in Babylon and our current culture of crazy are amazing. I’m fascinated by the ability he had to know and hold on to his identity in a world turned upside-down. As we plunge head first into the season of gifting and buying and just general ‘wanting’, I thought I’d share this:

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else.” Daniel 5:17
Daniels friends let it be known that the God of heaven was their King. Daniel himself kept his windows open and prayed in defiance of a king’s decree. Later in his life, Daniel refused the king’s gifts because his faithfulness to God didn’t have a price. He refused to be bought.
By gifts we mean the goodies of the world that stand in the way of the greatness of God’s kingdom. They come in any form of fame, fortune, or promotion promised by getting along with the world.
Daniels life didn’t have a price tag. His services weren’t for sale. No amount of worldly gifts for kingly accolades could deter him from his mission. He was a man of deep conviction, dedicated commitment, and undeniable courage; the grace of heaven was far more important to him than gifts of men.”

How are you ‘getting along with the world?’ Some of us are in deep. Most of us could probably stand to take a step back and think about it. Sometimes we need to tell the world, “keep your gifts.” This is the time of year where we have all the ‘stuff’ on our minds. We need to buy, we want to receive, the circle of ‘stuff’ is in full swing. In yesterdays mail, I received no less than ten shiny catalogues full of tempting things promising me nothing short of Christmas bliss if I would just place my order. All those things are great – until they aren’t. I think we’ve all been there when those scales tip in the other direction. The mall one week before Christmas. The credit card we should never have maxed out. The comparisons we make when someone else has what we want.

The thing I love about Daniel and his friends is that they were able to live and actually thrive in a world that was hostile to them at every turn. They never compromised with Babylon. They never idolized their gifts. There was a stubbornness about them that we would do well to have today – not in a hardness of heart/unkind way, but in a full surrender to what God wants over what the world says we need.

In this season of fancy packaging and gifts galore, lets take some time to evaluate just what we are seeking after. Contrary to popular belief, none of us really need the gifts from the mall as much as we need the security Jesus brings us. It’s almost cliche and that’s a sad thing, but can we please reel it in a bit starting in our own homes? No amount of shiny things, beauty treatments or perfectly decorated cookies is going to keep you sane or happy this season. The empty promises of the catalogues are just that. There are good gifts to be had and there are things we need to take a pass on.

Help us Jesus to value what is true and lasting over what compromises our heart and leaves us grasping for more.