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.

camera self portrait

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

 

angel

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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Comments

  1. Kim says

    A few comments to share. This year, though it took a week, I actually decorated the entire tree myself. It felt great to get it done. Also this year, not only did I send out Christmas cards, but I had them done last week! Amazing!!! (Last year, only 3 very deliberate cards were mailed and none were on time.) These are meaningful accomplishments to me because I recently went back to work after being a stay at home mom for almost 20 years. ( I still have one at home in high school.)

    The down side: I have only begun shopping this past week. I am only about 1/4 of the way done. I hate shopping, therefore I always put it off. I also hate wrapping. That will probably all happen the 23rd and 24th. I pray I have enough gift bags, so I don’t have to bring out the paper, scissors and tape. I’m not a scrooge, I promise! It’s just that we are buying to buy and give when no one really needs anything. Which translates simply as unnecessary work to me.

    But, what I most wanted to share is that growing up we never once had a Christmas tree. We did simple decorations and still felt the meaning of Christmas. It’s ok if you let it be. (Plus, this year, I have yet to light a single candle in my Advent wreath and I didn’t even bother to pick up an Advent book– you know why…)

    Oh, and my mom’s birthday was 2 days ago. She’ll get her card next Monday. :-(

  2. Alisa says

    My favorite line…”it doesn’t look like Jesus. It looks like striving.”

    YES!

    I battle the same thing you describe every Christmas and become so frustrated over the “striving”. Thank you for your words! Much needed during this season!

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