the gifts of Christmas

Christmas gifts Kris Mouser_Brown Foter.com CC BY_ND

There are good years when everyone is home, getting along well, happy with their gifts, and focused on the “reason” for the season. But there are also difficult years when what we hoped for or what we envisioned does not come anywhere close to happening. Both are very normal in life. The problem is not the difficulties. The problem is our expectations. Our expectations that Christmas will be perfectly wrapped, shiny-bowed, and glitter-dusted like a beautiful Christmas gift.

Our reality doesn’t match our hopes and expectations.

Maybe you have a “special” person in your family or group of friends. The one who no matter how many advent candles you burn or how many advent calendar dates you turn, you just don’t feel filled with Christmas spirit when you’re with that person. They push your buttons, triggering your feelings and emotions so that you are angry or frustrated or discouraged, or you feel judged and criticized no matter what you do.

Perhaps you have experienced a loss this year that’s going to affect your Christmas. There will be a gap, someone missing in the pictures, in the activities, at the table. Maybe you didn’t lose them this year. Maybe it was sometime in the past, but their loss still impacts you, especially in times like this. This is the first year my mom won’t be with us. I get blindsided by missing her when I least expect it.

It might be that you have done your shopping, your decorating and your baking, and you think you’re doing great… until you happen to spend time on Facebook or Pinterest or visit a friend’s home, and all of a sudden your work feels a little inadequate, a little sub-par, not quite how you would like it. Comparison gets to your head and heart, and makes you feel “less than” or incompetent compared to others around you.

If comparison does not make Christmas hard for you; it might be that your financial situation is more difficult than you had hoped. Maybe that promotion didn’t come through or maybe the new business hasn’t taken off or maybe you are out of work, and you don’t have the money to buy what is on the wish list. You’re worried about seeing disappointment in some young, sweet eyes looking up at you on Christmas morning.

You might be sick or care-giving for someone. Holidays with those realities makes celebrating more challenging. I will spend Christmas with my Dad. He has Parkinson’s, dementia, and alcoholism that are affecting his days and therefore they are going to affect our Christmas. He may or may not remember what day it is.

Maybe your difficulty is not the ones that you care for. Maybe it is more the lack of someone to care for… maybe you feel alone and lonely during these days.

These are real Christmas challenges for many of us.

It could be that none of these issues affect you this year. Last year was close to perfect for me. My biggest challenge was dealing with a form of survivor’s guilt – I call it “blessing guilt” – because I had all my children at home and we had a great time enjoying every minute of it, while at the same time close friends and family were dealing with all kinds of pain – the realities I just mentioned. I struggled to fully enjoy the gifts that God had given me without overlooking or underestimating the realities of others.

Whatever your reality this year, I hope you know that Jesus is not only “the reason for the season”, but Jesus is also the “answer” for the season and for all your needs. He is not distracted by preparations or decorations or gift buying or baking. He has plenty of time and energy and limitless power to take interest in what’s difficult for you, to come along beside you and help you.

Jesus had relatives who sometimes made life difficult for Him; Jesus experienced loss and wept; Jesus went through many difficulties and would have traded some of His experiences for another if He could. And His birth we are celebrating this season? A cross-country journey by a very pregnant teenage mom on the back of a donkey, an unsanitary birth with only a first-time father to help, and His first days surrounded by smelly livestock and shepherds?

Jesus understands a reality that is different from the ideal. 

I invite you to see this Christmas not simply as an opportunity to bake and decorate and buy and wrap, but also a time to reflect and lean into Jesus to find understanding and hope in a way that maybe you’ve never done before. Let go of your expectations of what Christmas will or should be like and embrace your reality – even your difficulties – this year. Struggles are often some of the sweetest times in our faith journey.

May God build your faith stronger
as He heightens your awareness of His presence always.

May He deepen your appreciation for people,
as you recognize that life is so very fragile.

May your contentment grow greater – with yourself – and your circumstances.

And may you become a more gracious person – grateful for what you have received and compassionate and empathetic with others in need.

Those are the best gifts.

rest is a four letter word

bedroom I grew up with a hard-driving military father. We had jobs to do in the house, yard, garden, or apple orchard. Five children meant there was always plenty of work to do. My dad liked sports and outdoor activities, so we often woke up early to go hiking or skiing or play tennis. The only time we could lay around on the couch or watch TV was if we were sick – really sick.

It is no wonder that I continue to work hard today and have often felt guilty about rest. I’m not busy with yard work or gardening or housework these days, but I enjoy my job, and I like to stay active. I don’t particularly like to sleep, and I rarely watch any television… but I am learning how to rest.

Rest is not just sleep or no physical activity, although it certainly can involve that. Dictionaries say that rest includes relaxation, refreshment, and recovering strength. One definition includes a peace of mind or spirit and to be free from anxiety or disturbance. Another definition mentions a period or interval of repose, solitude, or tranquillity

No matter how much we love what we do, or how much work we think we have to do, rest is powerful… and necessary. I read a good post by Michael Hyatt this week about rest, and it helped me reflect on some good reasons for rest:

Rest builds physical strength. Athletes and trainers know that after a challenging workout, the body needs rest to recover, prevent injuries and increase endurance. Sleep, stretching, hydration and nutrition are all important. As I get older, I recognize this more and more.

Rest deepens relationships. Relaxing times with family and friends give me time for full engagement and quality interaction. Play, long conversations, stories, and laughter help me feel refreshed and provide me with healthy connections and community. When I am well rested, I have more to offer others.

Rest invigorates the mind. If I go too long without rest for my mind, my brain feels like scrambled eggs, and I struggle to sort out my thoughts and feelings. When I get away from the daily “to-do” list and anxieties to daydream and let my mind wander, I find that I can think clearly about the less urgent but very important issues like future plans, past reflections, and creativity.

Rest rejuvenates the soul. According to the Bible, even God rested! 🙂 To “let go” of my responsibilities for a bit reminds me of the truth that I am not all-important. Time to breathe deeply, pray, and listen calmly encourages me to find right perspective and contentment.

Rest is often used as a noun for a support, like an arm rest or a chin rest. This reminds me that I often need other people to help me rest. I am so grateful for those in my life who rest well, and they encourage me to rest also.

Well, now that I have this post finished, I am off to rest while watching a World Cup game!

Do you struggle with taking time to rest? Or are you someone who helps other people get away to relax? What are some of your favorite ways to rest well?

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You might also like to read: a rhythm of rest