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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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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New here? I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

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The Ministry of Netflix

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I’m not sure when the panic set in that our time together was running out but it was probably sometime last year.

My daughter is a sophomore in high school.

I know it sounds cliché but I don’t know where the time has gone.

Those two+ years that she never slept through the night.

The sixteen months of breastfeeding.

The strong-willed tantrums — hers and mine — that prevailed through the preschool years.

The five years of homeschooling her.

Each stage felt like it would last forever and now I’m looking back and wondering if a thief snuck into our life and robbed us of a few years when we weren’t looking.

When the panic showed up, I became overwhelmed with all I still wanted to teach her and show her and share with her. I felt like I hadn’t been a good steward of my time with her for so many years.

And now?

She’s fifteen. And her life is full. And there’s not much time.

When last school-year began to wind down and I started envisioning some loose hopes for our break, I had just one summer goal for the two of us:

Relationship.

mi and breezy

Just be with her. No agenda. No plan to sneak in a Bible lesson after I’d buttered her up with a grande milkshake masquerading as a coffee drink from Starbucks.

That may sound obvious and simple to you. Why would I try and make our time together more complicated than it needed to be?

Because overcomplicating simple things is totally my specialty. And it’s often fueled by fear, the illusion of control, and regret.

As a Christian mom, I haven’t “discipled” her like I’ve wanted to. We never got through all of the catechism and memory work because, honestly, it made us fight. And it stressed us out. I only have so many battles in me per day. As a family, we’ve been hit or miss with lots of the stuff Christian families are “supposed” to do, like regular family devotions and meaningful discussion around the dinner table every night.

It’s not that I don’t think these disciplines are important and useful. We’re still trying to figure out ways to ground our family with our faith in a way that works for us and it has looked different in each season. But for all sorts of reasons — some valid and some not — we haven’t been super systematic and consistent over the years. #guilt

Instead, we’ve simply tried to love them with the love of Jesus and use the opportunities that everyday life presents as a springboard to talk about truth.

Still, I had this low-grade panic and Christian parent guilt following me around and I felt like I had to DO SOMETHING. You might think I employed some amped-up plan to squeeze in All The Things I could over the summer. {In the past, I’ve been known to turn my panic into indoctrination, steamrolling my children with righteous intentionality.}

It’s summer and you’re 15 and we’re running out of time! Let’s read through the Bible in 3 months, memorize a verse together each week, and discuss a coming-of-age topic every Friday through a Biblical World and Life View.”

We did none of the above.

Had I tried to descend on my teenage daughter with all of that, she would have done the same thing I would have done at that age — “Um, no thanks. And have you seen my phone charger?” #eyerollemojifordays

Teenage Marian had this inner resistance to anything that felt forced, contrived, preachy or self-righteous. Grown-up Marian is pretty much the same way.

So why on earth have I resorted to these tactics with my own kids?!?

Again, I’m gonna go with fear. And probably comparison. Plus a hefty dose of so many “shoulds” that have lodged themselves into my mind over the years.

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I can hear the critics now. And by critics, I also include my own naive mom-voice even 5 years ago: “You have to be the parent, Marian. Kids don’t always want what’s good for them, like having to eat their veggies, but this is part of training them up in the way they should go.”

And while that is true, I’m no longer dealing with a toddler. I’m dealing with a child who is 2 1/2 years away from legal adulthood. There are things I still want to teach her, but I began to realize that all the knowledge and training in the world will fall on deaf ears without relationship.

Enter Netflix.

As Summer embraced us with her lazy ways and long days, I had one supreme goal:

Spend as much time with this girl as possible, doing things that we both love. No hidden motives. No forced conversations. 

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Teenagers can sniff out an agenda a mile away. This is frustrating but weirdly freeing! Because it means you can just relax and enjoy the show.

And that’s literally what we did.

We burned through four seasons of LOST, two seasons of Friday Night Lights, and jumped back into Gilmore Girls.

We went shopping.

We ate dinner together on the sofa.

We yelled at characters when they made stupid decisions and cried together when they died.

We laughed our faces off at Sawyer’s nicknames for people and rolled our eyes at Lyla Garrity because hashtag sheisoannoying.

It was one of the best summers I’ve ever had.

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As we began to settle in to our summer routine of Netflix, followed by more Netflix, a funny thing happened. She began to talk. About real stuff. The kind of stuff that’s deep and honest. And I wasn’t the one who started the conversations.

This is still happening. And it feels like magic.

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Spending time with her in seemingly superficial ways opened up the door to meaningful, substantial dialogue. That part wasn’t even the goal, but it’s been the sweetest gift ever. All these months later, we’re still watching our shows and hanging out on the sofa. And because our relational roots have grown deeper, I’ve earned the privilege of being able to speak into her life and even teach her in ways that she’ll actually receive.

At one point over the summer, she mentioned that she wasn’t as excited about going to a sleepover because it would mean we couldn’t watch our shows together. What?!?

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I was making it too hard?

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There is this one thing about relationship that I should probably tell you though.

It costs something.

It will cost you time, energy, and productivity. Relationship can never be measured with or grounded in efficiency. It might cost you money, advancement, and being a person of influence in your community or larger world.

For me, it means that my summer wasn’t super productive from a writing or home improvement standpoint.

It means that I don’t read as much as I want to.

It means that I probably spend too much money on Frappuccinos, cute t-shirts, and scented candles.

It means that I stay up later to watch something or talk, even though I’m tired and want to go to bed at 9:00.

It means that I sometimes feel inexplicably sad when she’s off with her friends, even though this too is as it should be.

It means that for now, I say no to most invitations for good things like leading a Bible study or doing ministry that others can see because I have to protect my availability and relational energy.

It means that I’ve said no to pursuing my own work in the exact way that I’d hoped to because I have this quickly passing season and I don’t want to miss it.

I won’t lie. Sometimes these costs are hard to swallow. I’m independent, creative, aspirational and also an introvert. I like productivity, efficiency, influence, and being my myself.

One-on-one relationship feels the opposite of all those things. But I can already tell you that it’s totally worth it.

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I’m not sure when parenting became a fear-driven list of shoulds instead of loving relationship. But let’s start over, shall we? Let’s do this with grace, freedom, and common sense.

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Maybe for you it’s not the Ministry of Netflix. Maybe it’s the Ministry of Legos or the Ministry of Read-Aloud time. Perhaps it’s The Ministry of Golf {my husband’s and boys’ personal favorite}, The Ministry of Playstation, The Ministry of Manicures, or The Ministry of Baking Together.

You get to choose.

If you’re a parent of littles or bigs, I hope this post encourages you to embrace the possibility of a simpler way.

While training and systems and passing on one’s faith and traditions all matter, I’m learning that relationship is the fertile soil in which those good seeds can grow.

For so long, I was trying to plant seeds in hard, resistant soil that hadn’t been cultivated.

While I wish I’d understood this truth sooner, I don’t believe it’s ever too late to stop, say I’m sorry, and begin again.

 

 

The winner of Falling Free is….

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Tamara Gonzalez

Yay Tamara! I’ll email you and get your address.

And if you don’t know what this is all about, read this post to get the scoop and to learn how the broken + beautiful lives of others help us live a more compassionate story. Thanks to all who entered the giveaway and if you didn’t win, go grab a copy for yourself and let me know what you think!


New here? I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

And I have a gift for subscribers:

If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!

school made simple freebie header