I let go on Christmas 2017.
I had just arrived back in the States from what was supposed to be a romantic vacation to Rome with my husband. Instead of romance, though, the trip was defined by a crippling multi-day bout of norovirus. We returned home two and a half weeks before Christmas. I was still barely able to keep down toast, I was jet-lagged beyond reason, and now all the related tasks of the holidays loomed before me.
Previous years, even when I had ordered personalized, pre-printed cards I had always lovingly handwritten a personalized message and a Bible verse on all of them – sometimes up to fifty cards. The process took days, even with address labels, but I felt it was necessary. I was convinced people would be hurt, even offended, if they didn’t receive that little note from me. But in 2017 I was barely functioning. Overwhelmed with guilt, I ordered personalized cards as usual (still with a hand-picked Bible verse) – and then all I did was sign my name and send.
Absolutely no one cared.
In fact, that year I received more enthused responses about my Christmas cards than usual, perhaps because divorcing myself from the laborious process meant I could send more of them. I still hand-wrote messages to my very close family and friends. But I was amazed to discover that I could give up a “necessary” Christmas task and find that…well, no one died. Christmas carried on. The holiday was lovely.
Many of us, like me, get caught up in expectations of what Christmas ought to be. The cards should be handwritten, lovingly, to everyone we know. The children should behave. Uncle Bob should visit since it’s the only time we get to see him all year. Our daughter’s boyfriend will hopefully wear a dress shirt to dinner. The cantata should be moving. Christmas dinner should be delicious and everything should be hand-made. People should say thank-you for their gifts. We have to have everything just so.
But this is a fiction that we buy into. This is a fiction perpetuated that is not of God. For Christmas, we need Christ, and that’s….well, that’s it. Everything else, literally everything else, is supplemental. What’s more, slavish devotion to our expectations can keep us from missing out on what fundamentally matters:
- Spend nights slaving over the Christmas cards, and you miss time curled up with your husband
- Focus on your daughter’s boyfriend and his inability to wear proper clothing, and you miss the conversations that tell you what he cares about, what he thinks, who he is.
- Snap at Uncle Bob for not showing and whittle the relationship down a little more.
- Miss the kids singing off-key at the cantata because all you really wanted was to hear O Come All Ye Faithful.
- Have a perfect Christmas dinner and miss the year that everyone talks about decades later, when “Christmas dinner” was Arby’s and the scent of smoke from a burnt ham lingered on everyone’s hilarious ugly sweaters.
This year, what expectations can you let go of? What “have to” urges are really “want to” desires? What makes or breaks Christmas for you…and what have you convinced yourself will make or break it? Where can you loosen your grip?
God loves to show up in the spontaneous, unexpected, unplanned moments. When we have Christmas meticulously planned out down to the last detail, and a crystal-clear vision of how everything absolutely must go, we’re not leaving room for play, for curiosity, for wonder – or for God to show up.
This year, try to let go of something – one heavy, looming “have to” – for Christmas. One little thing. I promise you won’t miss it. And neither will anyone else.