Why Compassion is the Answer to a Messy Christmas

compassion christmas

How I talk to others is usually a barometer for how I’m talking to myself. And by others, I mean those living in my own house. I am highly skilled at being polite and kind to friends and acquaintances. But the filters come off when I’m in the comfort of my own home and I allow the inner critic to have its way with me.

I’ve been measuring my worth by external markers again. Which means I’ve been measuring others by external markers too.

My house is chaos. Therefore I am chaos.

It’s December 14th and a tree isn’t up for the second year in a row. Therefore I am bad at making Christmas happen.

Relationships under my own roof are hard right now and I’m to blame for plenty of it. Therefore I am a hypocrite and a terrible person.

This child cannot get his / her act together and perhaps never will. Therefore I am a terrible parent and he / she is a terrible child.

You get the gist. I look around at all that is unwell and blame myself. While also, somehow, blaming everyone else. Christmas is a time of generosity and there is just an abundance of blame to pass around!

It has not been the most wonderful time of the year. And while I write this, I am under the quilt because I have the flu.

{Raise your hand if you’re inspired yet by this heartwarming Yuletide post.}

JOY

I’m hardly the first one to say it but there is enormous pressure to get the Christmas season right. Even though Pinterest is not the boss of me, I subscribe to some sort of invisible magazine of expectations and I am the editor. Even though I am all about grace and receiving your own life, December — with all its expectation and obligation — never fails to turn me into a crazy person. I’m my own worst enemy.

Between the Advent readings {we’ve done 6 out of 16} and the gifting and the shopping and the buying and the events and the decorating and the memories we’re supposed to be making, I can’t do it all {on top of real life} and stay well.

I actually get giddy over Christmas. I love traditions. I love presents. I want to create a special season for those I love and give to those who suffer. And this is quite a lot to squeeze into four short weeks. It’s probably why I’ve wanted to skip Christmas, this most beloved holiday of mine, the last three years.

I want to skip Christmas because I’m tired and when I look at this season, it doesn’t look like Jesus. It looks like striving.

When I consider Jesus coming as a baby in the dead of night, hustle and overspending and overscheduling and killing myself isn’t what comes to mind.

Jesus is rest. He is peace. He is fullness. He is compassion.

And compassion always begins with kindness toward myself. At first that sounds like some modern selfish mantra. But it’s not. If I can’t personally receive the lavishness of God’s love and grace, I am hard on others like I’m hard on myself. And that has been terribly true lately.

As Charles Spurgeon wrote long ago,

It is no use for you to attempt to sow out of an empty basket, for that would be sowing nothing but wind.

There has been no compassion in my basket. I’ve gone about my days, sowing out of sheer effort and grit. And it shows up most in my demeanor and in my relationships.

Getting the flu has been a blessing in disguise. I’ve been able to read and reflect, to meditate and sort of rest, as much as a mom is actually allowed to rest. And in this time of stillness, God whispers this message to my weary, walled-off heart:

Calm down. Be compassionate. First to yourself. Then to others. Quit being so demanding and measuring your worth by all the wrong things. And then quit being so hard on those you love and measuring their worth by all the wrong things. I did not come to condemn you, but to love you. And when you begin to believe that I love you just as you are and not as you want to be, loving others just as they are gets a little bit easier.

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Each year, I’m in a different set of circumstances during Advent but the theme tends to remain the same — Christmas is not what I expect it to be. I expect it to be a little more worthy of admiration than it typically is. I struggle to receive my own life, even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas.

I know this because I’m a writer and the words of Christmases past tell me so. I am both comforted and disappointed by the fact that I’ve never quite gotten it “right” by my own expectations.

In the midst of a house that’s still unsettled with unpacked boxes and unpainted walls —

In the middle of Advent and still no Christmas tree —

In the middle of growing-up kids who often bring out the worst in me instead of the best —

I long to speak with compassionate language toward myself and others.

These words by Father Gregory Boyle have given me much to ponder because indeed, the Lord does often come disguised as myself. And it’s always when I come to the end of myself that I see Him clearly for who He really is, a God of boundless compassion toward all who are needy and long to receive the life and love he brings.

Out of the wreck of our disfigured, misshapen selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves. And we don’t grow into this — we just learn to pay better attention. The “no matter whatness” of God dissolves the toxicity of shame and fills us with tender mercy.

~ Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

 

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This Christmas season, maybe you’re feeling pretty good about yourself and your efforts.

Or maybe you’re like me. And you feel a little bit like a disaster.

May your own flawed and failed humanity be the unlikeliest portal to find Christ Himself, who loves you in whatever condition you may find yourself. May the “no matter whatness” of God be still your spirit in this hurried season. And may his lavish love spill over and run like a stream into the lives of those around you who are thirsting for it.

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This post is one I unwrapped from the 2015 archives. Guess what? The boxes may be {mostly} unpacked but not much else has changed. My heart may forever need this message of compassion each time December rolls around.

Grace and peace, my friends.

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Keep Calm and Remove Some Lettuce: 5 Ways to Stay Merry & Bright This Holiday Season

merry-and-bright

I’ve already started making THE LISTS and decorating the house in my mind. I’m giving my calendar the evil eye and she’s giving it right back.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

If I sound like Scrooge, rest assured, I LOVE this time of year. I love everything but the stress. {Much of which I bring on myself.} Somehow we have turned the holidays into an Olympic sport and I don’t want to resort to cupping just to get through the marathon of it. I want to savor it, to slow down, to sink into the comfort of my home and my people.

The overwhelm began to tap me on the shoulder last week. Instead of making more lists and running around restoring order, I decided to stop and think and write. This post began as a letter to myself but it turned into something for all of us.

If you want to savor this season instead of stressing your way through it, I hope that one or two of these permissions will help:

 

1. Don’t try to cram too much into a small space.

Here’s what right now begins to feel like if I’m not mindful: a fast food salad.

So many veggies are crammed into the plastic bowl that when you remove the lid, it’s like the lettuce is spring loaded. And if you want to add dressing and croutons and toss it up a bit? Well, I hope you enjoy eating your salad directly from the table and floor.

Fast food salads stress me out. They’re full of yummy things. But they’re crammed so full of good things, you can’t enjoy the actual salad.

Don’t be like Wendy’s, cramming an entire head of iceberg lettuce into an 8-ounce bowl.

If your to-do list feels out of control, it’s time to remove some lettuce.

If looking at your calendar makes you break out in hives, it’s time to remove some lettuce. Reschedule all possible appointments and coffee dates to January. Or later.

JOY

If finding all the perfect gifts brings on a migraine instead of joy, it’s time to remove some lettuce and find a simpler way.

The world doesn’t need the martyr version of you during the holidays. They need the relaxed version.

Repeat after me. “Lettuce stay sane this season.”

 

2. Don’t neglect what keeps you centered.

For me this means two things. {Three if you include coffee.}

1. I have to get my heart rate up and sweat a few times a week or I’m mean to the people I love and get even more anxious than I already am.

2. I have to eat spiritual food. This means me and God’s Word.

Sometimes — okay, often — I try to go without it because I’m “so busy” and I’ll get to it later. But this is like trying to get through the day or a series of days without eating actual food.

Going through my day without spiritual food is like slow starvation. I become a shell of who I really am. I’m malnourished. I’m misguided. I am figuratively nibbling on candy and junk and wondering why I feel terrible.

It’s taken me decades to realize this but God’s Word is my food. It keeps me anchored and nourished. And just like actual food, you have to get up the next day and eat again.

If this sounds like disciplined drudgery, let’s remember that food is awesome. Jesus tells us that He’s the “Bread of Life,” not the “Kale of Life.” {Hallelujah.} This means that time with Jesus can be a feast for your soul.

There are other practices that center me and reset my anxious spirit, like being in nature or finding a quiet place. But over time I’ve found that sweating out my anxiety and being with Jesus are the biggies.

MI walk

For you it may be yoga, baking, taking a walk, opening up a book, or locking yourself in the bathroom so that your body can have an actual break from tiny people touching you. I’m sorry I can’t stop them from yelling “Mommy” or sliding their fingers under the door. Maybe your centering thing right now is a babysitter in the middle of the day or a hefty dose of kids’ movies on Netflix.

 

3. Outsource and say “yes” to help.

Get someone to clean for you before the holiday season. Buy up a bunch of frozen pizzas, lasagnas, or burritos to make things easier. Give teachers gift cards or chip in for the class gift instead of coming up with something adorable {and time consuming} from Pinterest.

Buy the pre-made sugar cookies for your kids to decorate.

Order gifts online in your pajamas. Target is super fun but the traffic, the people, the end-caps with the holiday candles I can’t stop smelling — I’m just not mature enough to be there very much during the holidays. Also I have a teensy problem with road rage so it’s best that I stay home.

receive my life bracelet

My sanity means my family’s happiness. And my happiness too!

I can promise you this. Your people would rather have a fun-loving, even-tempered you instead of everything on their Christmas list. If this means a smaller holiday budget so that you can actually enjoy this season by ordering take-out and getting your house clean, well, I think that’s a happy trade-off.

And if your life stage or circumstances are more overwhelming than normal, I beg you to accept any and all help that is offered. Don’t let pride, shame, or self-sufficiency rob you and others of the gifts of grace, generosity, and mercy.

 

4. Honor your Sabbath.

Take a nap. Don’t cook. Or do if cooking is the thing that feeds your soul. Sink into a book or a movie. Linger over dinner and save the dishes until much later, after you’ve had a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

God doesn’t want us to rest from everyday work and rhythms because He demands our rest. He gave it to us as a gift. We don’t have to rest. We get to rest.

tea on the screen porch

Again, this looks different for all of us but it’s a gift I’ve begun to anticipate all week long.

Recently I instituted a break from all things digital {except movies because I’m not crazy} beginning Saturday evening until Monday morning. It was glorious. And weird. I had to fight the compulsion to check things — e-mail, social media, etc. That compulsion let me know that my brain and my spirit desperately needs regular breathing room.

Listen up all you weary souls, we need a real break from all the input. And from all the output. The end.

 

5. Remember the way of Jesus.

Recently I read two little verses in John 6 that I can’t stop thinking about. The people were all in a tizzy about their works. They crowded in around Jesus, fully expecting for Him to load them up with right answers and lists.

“What must we do to be doing the works of God?” they clamored.

Jesus replied  with a simple answer that surely bewildered them all.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s it.

Belief is the “work.”

We could unpack that a great deal. Because while belief is simple, it is not easy and it’s definitely not benign. But that’s not my point.

My point is this: The Jesus Way is always a simpler way. 

staircase

We load up our faith with lists and He tears them up.

We load up our salvation with works and He tells us that believing in Him is the work.

We load up our holidays with events and musts and comparison. He reminds us that He came into the world in the humblest of ways — as a helpless, human baby. I can’t think of a simpler way for the Savior of the World to make his entrance into the world.

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We’ll be prone to forget all of this in the coming weeks of busyness, me included. When that happens, simply come back — to your centering practices, to your rest, to your simpler ways, to Jesus.

We’ll all remove some lettuce and begin again.

As we sink into this week of giving thanks, please know how grateful I am for all of you who join me in this space. I get the feeling that you’re as weary as I am from all the “shoulds” and lists. I know that your right-now life is messy and that it feels like someone hit pause on your “hope.”

Let’s un-pause our hope together, shall we? Your right-now life holds unexpected gifts to unwrap. Let’s look for them. I’m so glad to have you along.

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4 Things to Tell Our Kids {and Ourselves} the Day After a Bitter Election

walking away

I went to bed at 10:20 last night. This election season had already robbed our nation of its dignity and decorum. I wasn’t about to let it rob me of my sleep.

I woke up a little before 6 am and immediately checked my phone. I ran into the living room where my husband sat and asked in disbelief, “Did he WIN?!?”

“Yes,” he said. “Donald Trump won.”

And then in a reaction that I could not anticipate or explain, I leaned against the knotty pine wall and wept. They were not tears of joy.

This post is not about my political views, which are a mixed bag. I don’t really fit anywhere or with anyone. I’ll simply say that I didn’t vote for either main party candidate. Because I don’t live in a battleground state, I had the luxury of voting my conscience. Sort of.

I also live in a house that is somewhat divided. None of my children are of legal voting age but they have opinions nonetheless. The five of us passionate people have not been able to calmly talk about politics for sometime now. I’m a misfit even in my own home.

As I fed my boys oatmeal and then drove my teenagers to school, I told them a few things. I cried a lot and they looked at me, bewildered. But there were things they needed to know before they walked into their diverse community of peers and it was my responsibility to tell them.

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1. Everyone is feeling differently about the results. Please be kind and sensitive.

Mlo & CJ

For example, your hispanic friends might feel afraid today. Their family’s status here may not be secure. You were born into the privileges that come with white skin, American citizenship, financial stability, educational opportunity, and freedom. So was I. We didn’t choose these privileges or ask for them. We possessed them as soon as soon as exited our mother’s wombs and entered the world.

You have friends at your school who tell a different story. Please consider their story.

In the words of Atticus Finch,

…If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

If ever there was a time for walking around in someone else’s skin, surely it’s now.

There are also those who are glad or relieved today. For example, hardworking small business owners who have been shackled by legislation to the point of laying off employees and not being able to provide for the families of their workers.

This heavy responsibility has kept them up at night. Perhaps they have a bit of hope today.

We need to understand this too.

Every vote has a story behind it. If we don’t make space in our minds and hearts to understand this, we will continue to be marked by division instead of connection.

 

 

2. Listen.

tab and nomi

“Kids, whether you’re on Twitter {remember, I have teenagers}, in the lunchroom, on the bus, or in the classroom — practice listening. In this world where everyone has something to say and is rushing to say it fastest and loudest and angriest and funniest, choose instead to listen. And as you listen, seek to understand where the fear or relief or concern or anger is really coming from.”

One of the redeeming gifts of this election is a text thread between my siblings and me. We didn’t all vote the same but we do share common hopes, fears, concerns, and the desperate need for comic relief. Most of all, we love and respect and trust one another. We’ve been texting obsessively for three days now, sharing the funny things our kids have said and passing along the best stuff from Twitter.

My brother and his wife have a five-year-old daughter with special needs. When his two older kids saw the video of Trump mocking someone with disabilities, that was all they needed. In the clearcut understanding that only children possess, a vote for Trump, in their minds, was a vote of hate against their little sister.

As grown-ups, we know that’s not necessarily true. That it’s more nuanced than that.

But it’s easy to understand why my niece and nephew feel that way, isn’t it?

Seek to listen in such a way that it’s easy to understand why people feel the way they do, even if you don’t agree. Understanding doesn’t equal agreement. But understanding and empathy go a long way in preserving relationship and strengthening community.

 

3. We don’t all agree on the government’s responsibilities to its people, but Jesus is  clear on our responsibilities to all people.

girls lake

What if we cared more about our individual responsibilities to others than about securing our individual rights?

What if we dared to love those who are racially, socially, and politically different than us, just like Jesus did?

One of my favorite examples of this is the Samaritan woman at the well.

The Samaritans were a racially mixed people who had thwarted Jewish efforts to rebuild the temple. They were long-time enemies who mixed other beliefs with Scripture.

Furthermore, this woman was, well, a woman. Tradition mandated that Jesus not even speak to her. He was a man, a Jew, a rabbi. And she wasn’t just a woman, she was a woman of loose morals. A woman who had gone through five husbands and was living with a man she wasn’t married to.

But Jesus.

He crossed the lines of race, gender, class, and respectability because he loved her. He sought her out. Read the story and you’ll discover that He — someone who held all the power — makes himself indebted to her.

He defied social and religious law for her.

Why? Because the reality of who He was — truth and love and hope — was her ultimate need. Jesus did not manifest himself to her in pages of right theology, in social programs, or economic legislation.

He simply went to her in love and truth. Not love without truth or truth without love. He carried both.

And He went to great lengths to do so, changing his route to situate himself in her life. This means he took action. He crossed every respectable barrier to sit beside her at the well in the heat of the day.

{Before the chapter ends we see that His next miracle was for a wealthy official, proof that spiritual poverty is common to all of humanity. Don’t neglect loving and serving your rich neighbor simply because he’s rich. Need and lack come in all forms.}

 

4. Let’s be willing to do it.

cheeseboard bfast

If you’re someone who has said that the rapidly expanding and encroaching government has taken over the responsibilities of the church, I have good news.

You might get the chance to put your money with your mouth is.

If you’re someone who is in a state of grief this morning because you’re afraid of what this election means for the vulnerable and marginalized, I have good news.

You too will get the chance to put your money where your mouth is.

The people, the causes, the social justice work that matters to you — it matters just as much now and you can be part of the solution.

I told my big kids that certain people in our community might need more of our help now and this might cost us something. Maybe not immediately, but maybe eventually. Are we willing to do this?

And to be fair and honest, the same would be true if the election had turned out differently.

Whenever freedoms are lost {or not there to begin with}, we have a responsibility to step in. This will always cost us something.

Jesus stepped into a broken world to do something about it. He knew it would cost him his life but He did it anyway, for us and for the world. And now He makes his home within actual people, imperfect though we are.

Regardless of how you voted or how you feel today, let the power and presence and hope of Jesus lead you into broken places.

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Friends, what does the Lord ask of us on the day after a bitter election?

The same thing He has always asked of us.

To act justly

and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.

{Micah 6:8b}

We can do these things as we equip our children, as we go to our jobs, as we prepare the meal, as we practice hospitality, as we listen and seek to understand, as we stand with those who don’t have the privileges we have, as we stand with those who voted differently than we did.

May Jesus himself walk beside each of us today. May He remind us that He’s our only true hope. And may He prepare us for the good and sacred work that lies ahead.


 

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Postscript:

There’s a reason I don’t write about politics. It’s not the purpose of this space and I honestly don’t want to spend my mental and emotional energy having these kinds of conversations on the internet. I’m not cut out for it and I hope you’ll respect that. I feel like I have the kindest readers on the planet but with politics, well, it feels risky. I know you won’t all agree with what I’ve written here and that’s okay.

Still, I do have a purpose for this space. I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life, no matter how bleak or messy it appears. I write to remind us of what’s true as we live in the tension between the right-now and the hoped-for. Everything I write has to pass through that filter before I hit publish.

Some of you are already hopeful today. Some of you are not. Some of you don’t know what you are. I pray that these words provide a bit of hope and perspective, no matter where you are or how you’re processing things.

Grace and Peace,
Marian

P.S. These resources have been especially helpful to me in recent years as I learn more about what it means to live with compassion in my community.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller

Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle