Though this should be the season of peace, maybe this busy Christmas season is the perfect time to talk about chaos and turmoil. New things are added to our list at this time of year, relatives gather with the often prickly navigating that comes with clashing personalities. Some people are lonely, some feel burdened to over-decorate or over-shop, some feel slighted, others didn’t get what they wanted from Santa. In some ways, it’s life to the tenth power.
So how can we ratchet down the holiday anxiety, and actually find joy and meaning amidst all this commotion? Many will tell you to cut back, stop being the one to host everything, learn to say no, avoid the parties, and simplify. But I have a new take on this.
I say keep it all. Keep the traditions, keep the gift-giving, keep the music turned up. Instead of wishing away the problems, plug into them. But plug in with Christ. This is actually an opportunity if you change the way you see things. Let me explain.
First of all, while it sounds rosy and easy to cut back, it really isn’t. Relatives will feel hurt that you trimmed them off your gift list, people who count on you to put the nativity display in your yard will wonder where it went, and so on. Becoming a Scrooge is not the answer. But seeing each task as a gift you’re giving others—instead of as an imposition upon yourself—becomes enriching and ennobling. Instead of dreading the dishwashing duty at the ward dinner, see it as a way to allow others to enjoy going home early. When we see our obligations as choices rather than, well, obligations, they take on a glow of their own. They become chosen sacrifices that bring beauty to the world.
In his book, Planted, author Patrick Q. Mason tells of a professor friend of his whose colleagues think he leaves the Mormon bubble when he comes to campus. But, in reality, it’s exactly the opposite. The campus is the bubble of “intellectual aloofness.” And when he leaves the campus for his calling as a bishop, that’s where he encounters the real world issues of “broken marriages, drug and alcohol addiction, multigenerational poverty, homelessness, mental illness, spiritual crises, teenage stupidity, interpersonal conflicts, sickness and death, and hopelessness and despair.” (p. 146).
Isn’t this where Christ spent his time? He never taught that we should make the manger scene and the Baby Jesus the center of everything. He didn’t say we should make gift-wrap and twinkle lights the whole point. And if we are to honor the Savior himself—not just his birthday—then shouldn’t we seek for these very opportunities? Shouldn’t we try to bring those difficult people a bit closer at this time of year? Instead of wanting a “perfect Christmas dinner” maybe we should be looking for a way to build bridges with those who are alone, people who need a friend. Maybe we should make it less about our own fun and relaxation, and more about truly helping others.
I love the Church’s Light the World campaign, which shows a cleverly edited video juxtaposing all the stuff we usually do, with the things we ought to do—a spatula lifts sugar cookies and then you see a snow shovel in the same scraping motion, clearing the walk for someone in need. Maybe digging in and allowing some messiness into our lives would be good for both those we serve and for us, doing the serving and growing.
When we allow life to happen, when we open up and admit our mistakes, plead for forgiveness, struggle through the changes we need to make—these are the real moments of holiness we all claim we want to experience. It isn’t easy, it takes courage and effort, but it’s essential if we are to progress toward the light and make ourselves useful to our Father in Heaven.
So instead of cutting back in ways that won’t really bring us peace, how about we re-label what we’re doing? If we can see these activities as tributes to Christ, as ways to serve, they will no longer be burdens upon our backs. What if, this month, we really did our Home and Visiting Teaching the way Christ would want us to?
Life will never be smooth sailing—it wasn’t designed to be. In fact, when you have a life of ease and plenty you have another sort of test many don’t even recognize. There really is never a moment when we aren’t being tested to see if we will stay close to our Father in Heaven. And he’s there to help us at every step.
So let us embrace the hubbub of the holidays and view each crazy moment as a chance to prove what we’re made of, to see if we can keep our priorities straight. It’s always been this way. As Voltaire once said, “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” And let’s make it a song to Christ.