Can you relate to any of these?
- I love Christmas but not the stress of trying to make everything perfect.
- We always seem to overspend and then regret it in January.
- I hope our family can just get along this Christmas.
- I hate the thought of walking through the malls trying to find the ‘perfect gift.’
- I feel disconnected from the true meaning of Christmas.
- I’m already tired just thinking of all the cooking, baking and decorating.
- I used to love Christmas but lately the ‘magic’ seems to have disappeared.
- It’s getting harder to find Jesus at Christmas; it is becoming so secular.
- I sing the carols and go through the motions, but I’ve lost the joy of Christmas.
- We lost a loved one at Christmas and now the holiday is harder to celebrate.
- I am alone this Christmas and I don’t see how it will be very joyful.
- Christmas? I’ll just be glad when it’s over.
If you can, then I would encourage you keep reading. A few years ago, my daughter Lindsay and I wrote an ebook, Stewarding Christmas. Each Christmas, it is our privilege to share this free gift with you all. We pray the book will help you overcome the challenges in this list and discover again the joy and power of this amazing season. In this excerpt, you will learn the three traps to avoid this time of year as we seek to be stewards, not owners, of Christmas.
Trap #1 – Pursuing the Perfect Christmas
A Clark Griswold Christmas
Perhaps no one better typifies an owner of Christmas than Clark W. Griswold, the beleaguered suburbanite from the movie Christmas Vacation. All Clark wants is to create the perfect Christmas for his family. And so he takes the entire holiday on his shoulders and drives everyone crazy in his quest for yuletide perfection. Of course, everything goes terribly wrong. The more control he wields, the less he has. At the lowest point when the disaster is at full peak, Clark gives his famous (and a bit off-color, so I edited it for our use) speech to a family in full retreat,
“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat self down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of idiots this side of the nuthouse.”
We laugh at the movie, but we can probably all relate to unfulfilled expectations and holiday disappointments. The point in the movie is that it’s expectations, not reality, that disappoints. When we paint a picture of the perfect Christmas in our minds, we set ourselves up for failure and frustration. If we are to be stewards of Christmas the first step is to manage our expectations and refuse to get caught up in the ‘perfect, snow-globe Christmas’ trap.
Stewarding Christmas means being set free from this pursuit of perfection. It means letting the imperfections be a natural part of your holiday. It means finding your source of joy in serving the King and letting nothing, and no one, steal it from you.
Trap #2 – Living Up to the Expectations of Others
My Pastor Hates Christmas
A former pastor of mine confessed, privately, that he really hated Christmas. His reason was simple – expectations. Everyone in the congregation held high expectations for the various Yuletide events, and the pastor was responsible to fulfill them all. 200 different views on how the tree should be trimmed, which carols should be sung, who should play Mary in the pageant and whether the poinsettias should be on the altar or in the narthex. In the end, no one is entirely happy except the pastor – when it is all over.
If setting our own expectations too high can relegate us to a season of frustration and stress, attempting to live up to the expectations of others can put us over the top. Think about what people expect of you this Christmas. Do they count on you to select the perfect gifts, cook the perfect meals, decorate the perfect house, or perform the perfect worship service? Are you the person people will look to for the tear-jerking prayer or the heart-warming children’s story on Christmas Eve? Are you expected to play the peacemaker between rivaling siblings or the creator of the unforgettable Christmas candy?
It can be fun to play traditional roles and strive to meet some expectations, but this can become a trap that instills in us more anxiety than joy. When we feel the mounting pressure of the expectations of others as the holiday approaches, we have fallen prey to this second trap.
Stewarding Christmas means embracing your traditions without becoming enslaved to them. It means laughing at your mistakes and not taking yourself, or the expectations of others, too seriously. It means spending Christmas with the satisfaction that comes from the applause that is heard from two little, holy hands.
Trap #3 – Everyone Will be Different at Christmas
Let’s Just All Get Along
Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” Okay, I like Norman Vincent Peale, but I have to disagree with him on this one. In fact, it is this kind of expectation that can leave us feeling so empty. It happened to me when I was about 15 years old. It was the age when you start to see people in your family for who they really are rather than the persona you had built for them as you were growing up. I started to see the cracks in the family structure, and I became aware of a sub-plot of relational dysfunction that had gone unnoticed in the former magic of the ‘softer and more beautiful Christmas trance’ of childhood.
I still fight it every year. I still fall into the trap of believing that Christmas will create its own space, a yuletide safety zone where, at least for a few days or maybe weeks, the cares and dysfunctions of the world will magically be held at bay. I still hold out for the Christmas cocoon into which I can take shelter and celebrate without the intrusion of life’s realities. In my safe Christmas chrysalis family tensions never flare up, everyone loves the food and presents and the whole family gets along splendidly.
Of course, they don’t. While Christmas may bring out a certain level of improved behavior and a more generous spirit, in the end, people will be who they are, warts and all. Including me. When we hold each other to a higher, mostly unreachable standard just because its Christmas, we have fallen into this third trap. And anxiety, anger and disappointment will surely follow.
Stewarding Christmas means letting people be people and loving them for it. It means embracing your family’s dysfunction and releasing your desire to control it or change it or just keep it under the surface. It means the freedom to love others for who they are, cherishing relationships as gifts and letting Christmas be a celebration of the God who created us for relationships, warts and all.
Our prayer is that you will experience the joy and freedom of a steward of Christmas this season and discover all that God has for you as you celebrate His birth. Merry Christmas!