Here is my remaining to-do list for Christmas:
- Go buy parsley. (It needs to be fresh, and parsley never seems to keep in my refrigerator for more than a day or so before wilting and getting sad.)
- Make breakfast bread.
- Fill out a few remaining Christmas cards for person-to-person giving.
- Prepare appetizers and desserts for the holiday weekend.
- Finish wrapping a few gifts.
Not a bad list! Yours might be a lot longer. But whether longer or shorter than mine, I think we can all agree that most of our lists are full of tasks that really, in the end, aren’t hugely necessary to our personal spiritual walk.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Christmas is a fun time and a blessed time, and it’s good to be able to give and serve and do. Don’t worry about cutting your list of non-spiritually-necessary things down if having that list doesn’t bother you; enjoy doing what’s on it.
With that being said, I do fear that in my own rush to get the non-necessary things finished for Christmas, I might forget what I consider to be truly important to the holiday season. In light of that, here is my list of five absolutely necessary things I need to do over the holidays to make sure that my heart is where it needs to be:
- Don’t sweat it. Whatever the “it” is. I know cousin Susan promised to bring the buffalo wing dip and then she didn’t and you needed it. I know your sister-in-law has a bad tendency to make passive-aggressive comments about you. I know you ran out of wrapping paper. I know the Christmas dinner burned. I know your grandpa is getting wound up on one of his rants and I know you don’t want to watch football all day. Let it go anyway. It is your glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11). Only one thing is required of you, as it was required of Martha: to spend time with Jesus and enjoy His company, and not get so caught up in all the minor not-quite-right details of everything else. Do yourself a favor and don’t stew or brood or fret or worry. Just don’t sweat the things that aren’t what you wanted/expected/desired, forgive where necessary, and let it go.
- Find the silence. I am introvert and so this comes easily to me; I have been known, when it comes to large noisy crowds and party-type events, to escape to the bathroom just to have five minutes of silence. Maybe you’re an extrovert, and you thrive on the whirlwind of people that the holidays bring. Either way, find some time to be still: seek a few moments of quiet so that you can just reflect, individually, on what this time of year signifies and what it means to you spiritually and personally.
- Reach out to one lonely or sorrowful soul this year. I’m not saying you have to invite them to dinner or show up at their house with a bunch of gifts; in fact, some grieving or hurting folks would probably not prefer that at all. But if you know someone who is bereaved, lonely, suffering or struggling, then show them you’re thinking of them. A card, a call, even a text will do. I know a lot of people worry about saying or doing the wrong thing – “I don’t want to remind them of their sadness and make them feel bad at Christmas!” – but the one thing worse than saying the wrong thing is saying nothing at all. I know some folks who have ended up ignored by virtually everyone in a time of need, simply because everyone thought they wanted to be left alone or might not wish to be reminded of the holiday season. Reach out.
- Do little kindnesses where you can. Thank the poor cashiers and store clerks who have been overwhelmed and run over by the hectic holiday season. Leave a note for your mailperson. If someone does a kindness to you, thank them, and if someone helps you or assists you or gives you a good experience, call their workplace and praise them by name. Tip generously. Whatever small goodness you can contribute will be even more meaningful during the holiday season, and it might get you into a good habit for the new year.
- Don’t let the service be the end of it. I think there’s a temptation, when the candles at the candlelight service get blown out and the church lights flicker back on, for us to take a deep breath and say, “Now – onto Christmas!” We act as though the “Jesus part” is somehow separate from the chaotic-family-and-present-opening part, or as though it’s a prelude. Please don’t let that be the case. I’m not saying that your entire holiday has to have the feel of a Christmas Eve service – I think that would be unbearably solemn and emotionally overwhelming. What I am saying is that you need to bring Jesus and joy with you to where you are: yes, when you are unwrapping presents and yes, when you are serving the Christmas dinner and yes, when everyone is arguing over who cleans up the wrapping paper. An awareness of Christ’s presence over the holiday will make an enormous difference to how you celebrate it and how you interact with others.
And on that note, it’s time to get about celebrating! I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas full of whatever joys you wish the holiday season to hold. Have a wonderful and blessed weekend!