Every year about this time I feel like I’m being suffocated, sucked under the swirling current of Christmas and everything we’ve made this holiday season out to be. I’ve struggled so much with the craziness, with the commercialization, with the busyness of the season for quite a few years to the point that what I wanted most was to go far, far away until it was all over. I’ve wanted to stick my head in the sand and pretend this season isn’t even happening. I’ve wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and sing “Fa la la” at the top of my lungs, for reasons other than for what those words are traditionally sung. I’ve wanted to not have to do all the things I feel obligated to do at Christmas.
Last week someone asked me if I had done Christmas cookies yet. I responded with “I haven’t done Christmas cookies for years now.” “Really?? Not even those special ones you used to do? They were always so good!” “No, not even those unless the girls really want to do them and then we’ll maybe do a half a batch.” In that moment I could have felt all the pressure of “should” and “it can’t be Christmas without certain things”. But no! I choose not to let pressure and expectations determine the way our family celebrates Christmas.
For too long expectations put on me by others were what drove my life. I was not choosing my life; other people were choosing my life and I was letting them. It was so easy to just go along with what everyone wanted from me; much easier than having to think for myself and deal with the consequences if things didn’t turn out well. I thought high expectations imposed on me by others and myself were lofty ambitions to strive toward, and that in so doing I was being selfless. After all, this is what servanthood and loving well has been made out to be by so many: losing ourselves in others and giving them what they want.
What I’ve come to realize is that reaching for crazy expectations is not reaching upward at all. Reaching toward expectations is really bending, twisting, bowing into something, into someone I’m not meant to be. Often, what others expect of me and what I even expect of myself is not God’s plan at all. Meeting expectations is, in the end, all about self-preservation and self-protection, quite the opposite of living a selfless life and loving well.
We are meant to bend, to twist, to bow; not to the expectations and whims of those around us, but to the path of Jesus. We are not meant to lose ourselves in other people; we are meant to lose ourselves in the life and character of Jesus.
And so this Christmas, I may or may not bake cookies with my girls, but if I do it will be because I love and value them and my time with them. It will be something that we do together because it’s meaningful to all of us, not because we “should” make cookies together at Christmas. It will be because we choose to do this together, not because we can’t have Christmas without a certain kind of cookie.
As a family we have chosen to embrace some new traditions that we all agree are deeply meaningful. That means the way we celebrate Christmas is unique to our family. It also means that we’ve let some things go that felt like meaningless activity to us. And this is where I want to say something important: the way you celebrate Christmas is your choice. If you do all the things I just said we don’t do, I am not here to judge you! Let’s please give each other the freedom and the grace to celebrate in a way that is meaningful to each one of us individually. We’re all different; different things will be meaningful to different people.
But please do this – celebrate intentionally. Choose for yourself and your family. Don’t celebrate a certain way because that’s what is expected. Ask Jesus to help you honor Him this season. Bow to Him, not to expectations. The waters of expectation are deep; the waters of life with Jesus are deep too, but He’s there with us!