I refuse to write a blog about how overwhelmed I am by the holiday season. I'm not going to wax eloquent about how the season I loved most as a child has become the source of excruciating stress. I'll not waste a word on why it's impossible for me to reclaim Christmas.
Because I've done it. I've reclaimed Christmas. I've tiptoed into December with a calm mind and a quiet spirit. I don't feel overwhelmed at all.
Lest you think I'm bragging, hear me out. I'm calm only in the aftermath of crisis. For months I lived so far beyond my emotional, relational, and physical capacity that in November I hit the proverbial bottom. Lacking the mental energy to prepare adequately for a scheduled seminar, I ended up giving the worst talk of my life, embarrassing myself, and letting down some lovely people who had trusted me to help them further their very worthy cause. There's something about public humiliation and letting down people you respect that gets one's attention. Immediately I canceled every commitment I possibly could, went away for a long weekend to reflect on the state of my life, made an appointment with the wise counselor who has guided me through difficult eras in the past, and enlisted close friends to help me chart a new path.
And voila! Here I am, with a candle lit on my desk while the first snow of the season falls outside, anticipating a simple month. After my long weekend of reflection, I concluded that the most important gift I can offer to those I love is attentive, loving, joyful Presence. Nothing I do for them or give to them is worth a thing if I'm crabby, rushed, stressed out, or preoccupied.
Shopping always puts me out of sorts, so I probably won't be doing much of it this year. During my recent global travels I did purchase some lovely gifts from local entrepreneurs earning a fair living wage; I love giving gifts that I know empower people in poor communities. I am aware of a few items that my kids would really appreciate, so I'll order those online.
Beyond that, I'm creating iPhoto albums for extended family, celebrating with a few close friends by cooking a turkey dinner together, and planning an overnight trip to Michigan with Henry, my 3-year-old grandson. I'm absolutely certain that the best gift I can give my parents and mother-in-law is a few hours with their hysterically funny, amazingly brilliant, wildly adorable great-grandson. I've already installed Henry's car seat in my car, I have his portable potty chair and his brand new "big boy underwear" ready to go; we'll pack some snacks in his new Superman lunchbox, and I'll make sure the battery in my camera is full. No, I'm not looking forward to eight hours alone in a car with a high-energy toddler. But I am very excited about creating two days of precious memories.
Christmas decorations? They'll be minimal this year. Hauling boxes out of the basement always becomes a bigger project than I anticipate, so I'm going to avoid that whole process this year. I love live poinsettias and the tiny little potted Christmas trees you can get for $4. I'm going to scatter a few throughout the house, light some candles, and consider the house amply decorated.
Then, at some point everyday I'll play some quiet Christmas music while I sip Trader Joe's decaf Candy Cane Green Tea and re-read the book that feeds my soul every year, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. With essays by C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Madeleine L'Engle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many others, this book grounds me in pure meaning of Christmas.
In the book's introduction the editors ask: "How many of us share the longing of the ancient prophets, who awaited the Messiah with such aching intensity that they foresaw his arrival thousands of years before he was born?"
What I ache for this Christmas season is that the Messiah will arrive in me, day after day, filling me with the love, the joy, and the peace of his Presence. Then, perhaps, I can offer that as a gift to others.
Lynne Hybels is the advocate for global engagement at Willow Creek Community Church and author of Nice Girls Don't Change the World.