There’s this image deep in the recesses of my mind, that’s as much a feeling as it is a picture like you’d see on a post card. It changes a little every year, but underneath the trappings and trimmings somewhere, I see children that belong to me with clean faces and Christmas jammies. There’s hot chocolate and maybe popcorn and the tree is sparkling near the fireplace. Lights twinkle. The family is together and Christmas music is playing and we’re snuggling under blankets on the couch watching a movie or the kids are putting together puzzles on the coffee table while their affectionate Mama and Daddy look on. It’s cozy and there’s good food and no one fights or hollers and nothing is uneasy or unsettling.
Most of you probably know, if you have a kid or two, or honestly, if you’re just a human that spends any amount of time in the company of other humans, the idyllic pictures we can create for ourselves in our minds might be a possibility with some stretch of the imagination — but those picture-perfect moments never last long. Someone is going to spill the whole ginormous bowl of popcorn and someone is going to be upset because I wanted to put that ornament on the tree or because She is still looking at me or because He called me [fill in the blank] again. And while those sentences might make it sound like it’s the kids who wreak havoc on all visions of candy-cane-and-sugar-coated bliss, we know we grownups don’t make it much easier.
If you find yourself wanting to chew your nails off in dreaded anticipation of doing everything possible (and then some) to make Christmas perfect and still knowing it is going to fall hopelessly short of that Currier & Ives Post Card in your mind, I have a few thoughts that I hope will help change your mind about what the Perfect Christmas looks like.
1. It is Broken, and You Can’t Truly Fix It
If you read no further than this statement, let this be as far as you get:
We are imperfect people in an imperfect world. This is why we need Jesus. This is why Christmas happened.
If you find yourself wondering why you never feel settled, always feel like something’s missing, can’t create perfection no matter how hard you try, know that it’s because this world is flawed. Broken. Messed up. Troubled in a million ways. You weren’t made for this. We inherited sin and brokenness the day we were born. But this isn’t what we were made for.
We are homesick for these feelings of total comfort, total acceptance, and lasting peace, because somewhere inside our broken spiritual condition, there’s a part of us that knows things could be better, perhaps even should be better. Our nostalgia might tell us there was beautiful perfection somewhere in our childhood, and as adults we struggle to recreate it. Or, we lose a loved one, and with that loss feel as if there is a perfect piece of our lives now gone, never possible again. But the problem is deeper still.
C.S. Lewis described this “spiritual homesickness” in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory” like this:
“Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books and the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself….Now we wake to find…[w]e have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken in…
Our life-long nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.”*
If it feels like something is missing in this world, in your life right now, it’s because Something is.
2. You Are Going to Mess Up, Too
We realize our kids are flawed. Our spouses, our family, our friends, they are all flawed. We cannot create “The Perfection” we seek without them — because without their presence it could not be perfect — but then, it can’t be perfect with their presence, either. They are humans, and so am I, so are you. And after a moment’s pause we might realize, even if we’re the only ones here, trying to create Pinterest-perfection for us to enjoy alone, we are still flawed. We will still fall short. This holiday season, days before the Thanksgiving turkey was even carved, I’d already let words fly out of my big mouth, already destroyed the attempts at the perfection I hoped for in time spent with family, already offered a half dozen apologies, already gone to Jesus sorry.
We all mess up.
Last year, I didn’t really want to send a Christmas card, partly because I was getting used to being a Mom of four, but also because I just couldn’t find a picture that felt “perfect.”
I felt like my poor newborn looked like a bald alien! (Perfectionist, much?)
So what are we going to do? Rake ourselves across the coals? Let our frustrations with all the ways things go wrong destroy any chance we have at “Happy Holidays”?
3. Nothing Kills Joy Faster Than Misplaced Expectations
That point following number 3 is not the whole truth — but perhaps it’s a very important part of it. We fool ourselves if we think we can work hard enough to make it all perfect right now. But our ideals about perfection can become the thing that keeps us from the connection that we need, that could help us a feel a little bit more at home in a broken world. We feel our home is too messy or too small or too something — and we avoid welcoming people into it. We want to extend our hands to people living in poverty, maybe not halfway around the world but maybe at least in our own town. But we’re afraid it won’t go well. We’re afraid we’ll get hurt, or do something dumb, or say something wrong. Or maybe the soup kitchen just doesn’t look like that Currier & Ives poster Christmas, so we’re not even going to attempt it.
Fear of things being even harder and even less perfect stops us from giving ourselves, giving our time, considering foster care, doing big things, and saying yes to Jesus in one way or another.
Two weeks ago I spent a morning at a Christmas play put on by adults with social, or mental difficulties. Although there were wonderful costumes and live animals and interesting lighting and effects, the play wasn’t perfect. There were long delays between scenes. Lines were not delivered by Hollywood actors and actresses. There was a hiccough or two along the way.
But I wept more than once, watching it all unfold, listening to these beautiful people put on a play that told an amazing story about God’s Plans — always so much greater than ours. From these humble and precious souls, a story of lives changing, and the story of Jesus unfolded side by side, and my heart pounded in my chest.
As the song “Mary Did You Know?” played, a man playing Jesus stood at the bottom of the stage, surrounded by other cast members. As the lines “the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again… the lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb….” so Jesus touched the people surrounding Him and they walked away joyful, changed, with lifted arms, and shouts of Praise God! escaping from happy voices.
I squeezed the four-year-old sitting in my lap a little tighter and absolutely wept.
This is the message. This is the beauty of the Christmas story.
This is it: Jesus came. He left all the perfection of heaven to enter into our incredibly imperfect world. We fall so short. We are not as kind as we want to be. As gentle as we ought to be. As generous as we need to be. We hurt each other and we’re flawed and fallen and failing. We are NOT PERFECT.
But we can offer Him what we have. We can offer Jesus our broken, selfish selves, and say “Your will be done.” Mother Teresa prayed that Christ would constrain her in such a way that she would never, ever say No to Him.
We can also say Yes. And we can offer ourselves to Him, and be poured out to the world around us. Like the bread at the Communion table, Jesus can choose us, bless us, and break us to feed a multitude.
We should not expect a Perfect Christmas. Jesus didn’t come to make this life perfect. He came to change the world in such a way that when all is said and done, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and millions of souls will know He came to rescue them. He came to make all things new. He came to set us right with God.
How do we wrap all this up with a bow? What are our lives supposed to look like? Truly, we can only wrap our selves, our hearts up with a bow, and offer them back to Jesus.
Jesus, help me to follow you.
Jesus, I’m so scared, but help me not to say No to you.
Jesus, Yes. Help me say Yes.
Jesus, thank You.
From our home to yours, Merry Christmas, friends.
*Quotes from C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory as found in Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God.