I love a good list. Better yet, I love a good to-do list, a list I can utilize to cross things off as I complete each task. A “list” keeps me organized. It keeps me from forgetting. It keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. It keeps me (at least feeling like I’m) in control.
For me this time of year is filled with more lists. Honestly, I am tempted to make a list of all my lists! For example: My Gift Lists – the ones I need to buy, the ones I’ve bought, the ones I need to wrap, the ones I have already wrapped, the ones I need to ship, the ones I need for work, for Ohio, for extended family, for teachers . . .
Writing things down, or typing it in, seems to take some of the pressure off. I don’t have to remember it any more, because my list is “keeping” it for me. With SO many things I feel like I HAVE to do and SO many places I feel like I HAVE to be – I just don’t want to let anyone down. I want to provide my daughters with wonderful memories, my family with the perfect experience, and myself with a meaningful, reflective, happy holiday. I want to be present, not just physically dragging in pretty presents for everyone, while I am too tired and too stressed to enjoy the people I’ve bought the presents for. Are these things too much to ask for for Christmas?
The pressure is real and the expectations are high. I could blame our secular society or our competitive, comparative culture – but, if I am honest, really honest, I have no one to blame for the pressure and the expectations other than me.
When I feel myself start to feel stressed or overwhelmed or disappointed in Christmas, it is a wake up call, a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit, that I have taken my eyes off the prize, lost my focus and forgotten what Christmas is really celebrating.
I know it is cheesy and overdone. It has been said many times (and in many ways) that its impact has dulled. It has become a platitude that I easily dismiss – after all, I will be at a Christmas Eve service, we are doing weekly advent devotions as a family and my house is decorated with more nativity sets than Santa Clauses. Of course, I know to “Keep Christ in Christmas!” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!“
But – what do my lists of expectations reveal about the posture of my heart? Confession time: unless I am extremely intentional, celebrating Jesus’ birth becomes just another item on the list. He is a part of my celebration, not the reason for it, not the focus of it.
I once heard a preacher say something about “expectations are just future sins we need to confess.” I am not sure his comment applies at all times, in all circumstances because I believe that we can Biblically have expectations of God. He says to “ask, seek and knock” because we will be “answered,” we will “find” and the door will be “opened.” Faith is believing that the things we hope for in Him will all come true. (Check out Hebrews 11!)
Maybe, just maybe, when we start to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and just plain “over” the holidays, it is an opportunity to evaluate our expectations of the holidays.
Maybe, just maybe we do have a few sins to confess and repent.
Maybe, just maybe it is time to stop. Stop making, keeping and/or relying on the lists and to just be still.
Stop focusing on the expectations we are taking on ourselves and to begin expecting something different from the holiday season. We can be intentional to be expectant.
In the battlefield of my soul, where my heart’s affections and my mind’s focus collide, I can submit my feelings and take my thoughts captive. I have to be intentional to make Him my priority. How do I do that? Sometimes I am way better at it than others, sometimes I fail miserably.
It’s NOT something I have a list or recipe for – but it is in the little decisions: – listening to Christ-centered Christmas carols and hymns, – praying, asking God to open my eyes for what HE wants me to receive from Him this holiday season, – spending extra devotional time with advent-centered books and thoughts.
In full disclosure, this thought of having expectations vs. being expectant came from Ruth Chou Simons and her new advent devotional, “Emmanuel, And Invitation to Prepare Him Room at Christmas and Always.”
Every December I seek to reign in my expectations for the holidays, by trying to keep Christ the center of my celebrations. The more I make Him my focus, the more fulfilled and the less disappointed I find myself on the afternoon of the 25th. I can sit in the discarded wrapping paper and the annual “let down” of it all being “over” and be completely and fully content.
These are the prayers He always answers with “yes.” These are the gifts from my Maker that are always the perfect fit. These are the expectations that He always fulfills with more than I had asked for or even imagined possible.
He completes all the lists. He fulfills all that is needed. He is Christmas. He is.
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