I have been a parent of boys for the past 22 years. I have almost always looked forward to holidays, birthdays, and any other special events because family connection is one of my greatest joys. I value spending time together, laughing, telling stories, encouraging, and helping each other.
As the holidays approach, I automatically start playing scenes in my head (minus any sugarplum fairies)… “We’re going to get all dressed up, go to Christmas Eve service and give God the total focus and worship He deserves and vow to keep Him the center of our celebration; we will then enjoy a nice meal together, open 1 gift to curb our appetites for opening all the other gifts under the tree reserved for the morning, hug each other with heart-felt words of appreciation, and then play games together and/or watch a traditional Christmas movie in our jammies. My sister’s family will spend the night even though they live in town because we so enjoy the tradition of togetherness and waking up Christmas morning all excited. Then, we’re going to get up in the morning, have hot chocolate and coffee and if I’m really industrious homemade cinnamon rolls, give each other hugs, have smiles on our faces, surprise each other with the gifts we so thoughtfully purchased over the past months (okay, well, days). We are going to feel so blessed by all that God has done over the past year as well as who we have been for each other, we are just going to relish our time with one another. The kids are especially grateful. They are going to notice that I have been in the kitchen way too long and come pitch in. Then we are going to sit down for yet another amazing feast and we will thank each other for the aspects of that meal that each person contributed even for the smallest member who only had the skill to put the rolls in the basket. He did it so well and only dropped one on the floor. We all are just welling up with joy and appreciation! So much so that after the feast we continue to desire our time together and play more games, especially our favorite game, Happy Family. We have so much fun that no one wants to go home or end the night. We then remind each other there is more to come as we gather to bring in the New Year.”
This is actually very much how things play out in my home. The only thing is I forget to play out the imperfect human elements of our time together. God and I tease about the above version being my “Norman Rockwell version” of our family. A more realistic version would include the following: my sons actually don’t dress up for Christmas Eve service and I’m faced with the dilemma of whether or not I make it an issue or not as in year’s past when I try to insist, or at least suggest, it is met with resistance. I end up deciding it is their heart stance that is more important. Then I wrestle with this idea because who can truly see the heart of my kids, but God Himself. Then I find myself deciding to just be the best model of devotion to God, focus on Him, worshiping Him in all gratitude for all that He does in our lives. Then I find myself wrestling with the fact that I don’t model this perfectly 100% of the time and wonder if I am doing right by my God and my responsibility toward my kids. Then I settle on gratitude that He is the strength in my weakness and will “cover” what I don’t do perfectly.
Another realistic aspect of our holiday season is that sometimes my kids do help and pitch in. It is mostly at our request, sometimes at their initiation. There are also times that it doesn’t happen at their initiation and still doesn’t happen at our request. Then I find myself feeling hurt and unappreciated and overburdened. There are times I successfully hand over my feelings to the Lord, receive His love and grace and faithfully and effectively execute the same love and grace through my parenting. There are other times, however, that I did not let the Lord in or I couldn’t figure out how to access His love and grace and let frustration and hurt be the source of my parenting. I then find myself feeling like I “ruined Christmas”. Back to thanking God that He covers my weakness.
And lastly, another more realistic view of our family Christmas with the mix of old and young, male and female, we struggle deciding how we are going to spend our together time. We don’t always agree on the game or the movie or we find some of our group slipped off unnoticed to play video games. The covert group, when confronted about this being the time for togetherness, site the excuse that nothing had been decided yet like togetherness is not everyone’s responsibility. When we do finally get to the place where it is decided what we will do, we then have some members being crazy loud and obnoxious stressing everyone else out. We’ve got a few still on personal devices. We (thankfully on rare occasions), even have a Grinch in our midst that just notices and expresses the negative. I find myself thinking, “This is NOT how I pictured Christmas!” Then, God reminds me of that tendency I have to only dream about the “Norman Rockwell version”. Back to God’s grace again!
It has just been in the past few years that I remembered to incorporate not just what I hope for, but the reality of all our limitations as individuals and as a family and try to factor in God’s best within that. He knows we are not perfect and is fine with that. It is time we allow ourselves and our families not to be perfect a well. However, I don’t believe He wants us to “just accept it”. I believe He wants us to accept what it is and add Him to the equation. God is love (1 Jn. 4:8b) Let’s ask, “What does Love look like in this?” In other words, “God, when we act this way, what do You have for us so that we are more whole, more like You?” Many of the “realities” of my family life are portals for His patience, wisdom, peace, joy, understanding, and truth spoken in love. This may have many different expressions and that is why a personal relationship with the Living God is so important! Sometimes it may look like a short time out as a family to discuss the importance of why we celebrate and holding them accountable to that. It may look like total silence and the “moment” will pass. God is the One who knows the beginning from the end and can direct what you, another family member, or the family as a whole will benefit from in the long run. The primary focus of the season (and every season) is what glorifies Him and enables each of us to be a more accurate re-presentation of Him in our families and world. He knows the process will not be perfect. He is blessed by the heart that continually refocuses and presses toward His plan for our lives. That is the gift that would truly bless Him on His birthday!