What are your expectations of Christmas? Do you expect it to snow (or at the very least if you’re in South Louisiana, get to wear a long sleeve shirt)? Do you expect your husband to give you something that is the trifecta 1 – perfect for you, 2 – a complete surprise, 3 – within budget? Do you expect your family to get along or kids to behave?
Welcome to Christmas. The holiday that bears the weight of the expectation of us living in a snow-globe of a utopia. There’s something about that pine smell and hot chocolate that literally makes us insane and makes us expect things that we’d never expect on just a regular Tuesday.
We have to lighten up on Christmas. We have to lighten up on our kids, our spouses, our parents, other customers in stores. We have got to just lighten up and take some pressure off of Christmas.
I’ve spent many a ruined holiday all from my own expectations. Those times I just chilled the heck out, I enjoyed, even if things were less than average and on scale with getting towels. (See story below!)
1. Start with gratitude.
Every time I share gratitude as a key point for anything, I roll my own eyes a little. It feels like a cheesy answer. But if we can remember that there are kids who are grateful to get toothbrushes for Christmas or families still reeling from a loss of a loved one, I think we can put our own expectations of our kids decorating a gingerbread house without tears in check.
2. Stop idolizing Christmas.
Idolize? Kind of extreme, Val. Our pastor preached recently on the Israelites and this concept of idols came up often. I was CON.VIC.TED y’all. Our pastor defined idolatry as anything we center our life on other than God. I think it’s fair to say that even as believers and maybe even especially as believers, we idolize this season. It’s all about the baby Jesus! Of course, this is an important time. When I try to think about how Jesus would spend this season though, I think it looks vastly different than my holiday bucket list of “go see the lights”, “build a snowman”, “go see the Nutcracker”, etc. Am I saying any of those things are bad? I think you know me well enough to know the answer to that. But what would happen if those things didn’t happen? Paul David Tripp says “It’s at the intersection between sadness and celebration that the true love of our hearts is exposed.” I can’t help but think of those funny little Who’s in Whoville. The Grinch thought he stole their joy when he stole their presents but that wasn’t where their joy was. Would we be as gracious? Or would it ruin the whole season for us?
If there are things that happen this holiday season that ruffle your French Hen feathers, take that as a spot to pause and see if there isn’t something out of alignment.
3. Get expectant with God and not man.
I know I’ve shared this story somewhere but I’ll tell it again because it was a perfect example of unmet and unrealistic expectations. The time was mid-90s. The Limited Too was the place to shop and I was a pre-teen who wanted all the labels. My sister and I spotted FOUR Limited Too boxes under the tree stuffed to capacity! I’m talking outerwear size boxes STUFFED. Which meant only one thing – our middle-class family decided to pile in multiple pieces of clothing into one box just to bless us extra. When Christmas morning came, I wasn’t worried about planning an outfit because I was getting a new wardrobe in mere minutes. And then we started opening them. Towels. Bathroom towels. All four boxes. Towels, people! Pre-teen girls getting towels. Not a bride who’s excitedly planning her new nest, but girls who considered these things mom and dad would get us anyway. Essentials. I was devastated. Why? Because my expectations were out of control. My mom is the mom who swears every year we aren’t doing presents and doesn’t want to get caught up in the stuff. She does what’s necessary but doesn’t go overboard. How did my little brain deduct that she suddenly came into a whirlwind of Limited Too gift cards and also miraculously picked out stuff we’d love?
I’d like to attribute this to immaturity and being young but I do this in less subtle ways today. And the biggest remedy I have found is to get expectant with God instead. I used to arrive at Christmas Eve service hearing that same old baby Jesus story for the first time that season. In recent years, I have enjoyed studying the story the whole month before. Here are a few resources to check out.
The Bible – Actually read all accounts of Jesus’s birth and what led up to it. One year I did this and it was by far the sweetest season I experienced. I learned so much from a story I was quite familiar with because I expectantly waited for the Lord to speak to me.
Advent Studies – These might be unavailable since they normally sell early November but a few to keep in mind for next year!
Books – I haven’t read any of these but have read other books by each author. There are actually a ton of options I never knew existed!
Come Let Us Adore Him – Paul David Tripp
Hidden Christmas – Tim Keller
The Greatest Gift – Ann Voskamp
From Heaven – AW Tozer
The Dawning of Indestructible Joy – John Piper
Because of Bethlehem – Max Lucado
If we have any hope of not putting unrealistic expectations on others, we can’t just have a vacuum. We have to have our hope in something. And Jesus is our source. So instead of fighting off the tinsel and traffic with nothingness, fill up with the one who gives our souls space to breathe.
COMING UP NEXT: Margin in Doing