Note: A dear friend of mine passed away this week. She is a wonderful lady who I got to know through blogging and social media. It is one of those relationships that started digitally, but then crossed over into real life, and I’m the better for it. My love and sympathy go out to her wonderful family.
How are you holding up? Christmas is less than a week away – are you ready?
Oh, sorry! Am I stressing you out? Are you having anxiety because you haven’t gotten everything done yet? Been there, done that. It happens to all of us. Today is the 19th. How exhausted are you already?
This year, so far, we have not driven around and looked at Christmas lights. We have not baked any cookies. We have not been to the Giving Machines to make donations. We even forgot about the ward Christmas party this morning.
There is so much to do every December, but the reality is that it ain’t all gonna get done.
Is that acceptable? Are you OK with that? Or does it grieve your soul and make you break out in hives?
December is a remarkably busy month, and it goes by quickly. It seems to get busier and accelerate more every year. Why? Because we try and cram so much into it because “Christmas!”
When we step back and look, there is a hierarchy of stuff we feel compelled to get done, and that hierarchy varies with each individual. Some live and die by the goodies they make. Some feel compelled to make handmade Christmas gifts. Some take decorating to incredible levels. Taking the kids to see Santa is a must! There is nothing wrong with that.
However, all of the stuff we do to prepare for the holiday can sometimes get in the way with what we like to call the “true meaning off Christmas.” Simply put, celebrating the birth of Jesus. The way we focus on that part of Christmas adds a whole new level of stuff that needs to get done. And a whole new level of potential anxiety.
We need to have time to focus on the Savior and our relationship with Him. We need to do charitable acts for the less fortunate. We need to find opportunities to feel the Spirit.
There are a lot of opportunities to attract that side of Christmas. There is the First Presidency broadcast, there are movies, videos, music, books, stories, concerts, plays, church meetings, living nativities, temple lights (?) and so many others. If you want to find time to feel the “Spirit of Christmas,” opportunities abound.
But, the reality is that time is finite. There are only so many days in December, and so many hours in each of these days. It would be cool if the entire month could be dedicated to finding the true Christmas Spirit, but that is unrealistic.
Why? Because a lot of us have jobs, and a lot of those jobs are extra busy during December as the year winds down.
Students? Finals always fall right before the holidays. Nothing says “Christmas” like walking out of the testing center and driving through a blizzard to get home for Christmas.
Do you have kids? Good luck. School programs, sports seasons finishing up, recitals, etc. December is loaded with kids activities.
Are you traveling?
Got Covid? Well, there goes 30% of your December Christmas-prep time.
In my experience, you can’t do it all. Even if you get close, other things inevitably pop up, screaming for your attention – like Christmas Whack a Mole.. I am fully aware that I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but I might have a thought or two to help you look at the chaos in a little different light.
(I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like it that much when people go overboard and make a big fuss about my birthday. I’m not presuming to know how Jesus feels about the way His is celebrated – but it is worth thinking about.)
Here is my simple Christmas gift to you: A little different perspective about how we fill our time pre-Christmas, and what we can do to lessen our anxiety about it. (And it isn’t what you think!)
What do you think the MOST important parts of capturing the Spirit of Christmas are? Here’s my take:
- Focusing on the Savior, His calling, and my relationship with Him.
- Being charitable to our fellow men though donations and service.
- Striving to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost.
- Strengthen bonds with family and friends.
- Finding moments of peace, and recognizing them.
- Finding and increasing the gratitude I feel towards God and others in my life.
That’s not a bad half-dozen things to focus on in December, right?
But he’s the point: Go back and reread those six items and tell me which ones are exclusive to December.
a) All of them?
b) One of them?
c) None of them?
The correct answer is “c) None of them.” Not one of the six things listed is a December-specific thing. In fact, they are not even tied to Christmas, yet that’s what you hear all December long: “We need to focus on the Savior.” “Peace on Earth.” “December is National Giving Month.”
The reality is simple: Christmas makes it easier to focus on the stuff we are supposed to be doing all year long, anyway.
For example: Each week when we say Amen to the sacrament prayer, we are covenanting to “Always remember Him.” So the baseline for focusing on Jesus is always. Not December. If we are able to really amp up our focus on Jesus for the month of December, then we aren’t doing it right the other eleven months of the year.
What about charity? Sure, there are tax reasons for charitable contributions in December, but those who stand in need of our charity are in need of it all year round. They aren’t more hungry or destitute in December than, say, March. Is it easier in December? Yes.
Confession: I didn’t get a chance to hear the First Presidency broadcast yet this year. But guess what! I can stream it anytime I want – including January or September! I can also listen to the words of the Prophets from General Conference anytime as well.
While many opportunities for spiritual experiences are offered in December, searching fo the feelings of the Spirit, for feelings of gratitude, for feelings of peace is not a quest to be undertaken solely during one month. In my experience, sometimes it is actually harder to find those things with all the pre-Christmas chaos. There is a time and a season for everything. For some people, this is not the season for peace and serenity.
What’s my point? It is this: Don’t get stressed if you aren’t able to do it all.
And I don’t just mean cookies and decorating. I’m including the spiritual side. God has the same expectations for us on our spiritual quests in January as He does in December: To “always remember Him,” to serve other people, to be charitable, to strengthen our relationships. Those are not Christmas things. They are LIFE things.
If we are feeling guilty because Christmastime is not turning out to be the Holy Grail of spiritual experiences for the year, then we are putting unrealistic burdens on ourselves. December probably has the most opportunities to encounter spiritual experiences, but it also wins for having the most distractions. Not to mention flat out exhaustion.
If the next week is full to the brim with things that you need to do, places you need to go, and people you need to see, get to it, and do what you can do. If some things fall by the wayside, relax!. Remember that a new year is coming soon, and if needed, we can re-focus on the spiritually important things with more intensity, and less distraction. It is not a race. We are working for those steady, incremental gains.
Yes, December can be a super-spiritual time of year, but it is still just another month on the calendar as far as our spiritual responsibilities to the Lord. Nowhere in scripture does the Lord say that we need to focus on Him extra in December, or any other time of year. But He does ask us to always remember Him.
Charles Dickens had it right when he had the repentant Ebenezer Scrooge declare, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Celebrate Christmas all December long: the gifts, the treats, the traditions, Santa, eggnog and the music. Knock yourselves out!
Our greater responsibility is to celebrate Christ in December, and January, and August…always. Just like we promised we would.
Wishing you a joyful, guilt-free Christmas.