Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Christmas martyr--ME!

"I'm just trying to survive December."
"We are unbelievably busy." "
If I don't get all this done, Christmas won't happen at my house."

When someone asks me how I am doing during the holiday season, are statements like the above the best testimony I have to offer as a follower of Christ? Does anything about my mindset and frenetic pace resembles the peace, love, and joy that I claim Jesus came to give me?

Who will be drawn to a Savior who appears to induce his followers to stampede through the mall, dive into debt, drag themselves to party after party, wrap gifts in coordinated paper and bow sets, set out a lavish display of lights, moan and groan about how busy they are, and then wind up exhausted, all in honor of his birthday?

Don't get me wrong; I LOVE the Christmas season!!! I look forward to decorating our tree with ornaments made by my grandmother, I love to make sugar cookies and other treats with my girls, I love to listen to Christmas music and drive around looking at our neighbors' light displays, and I enjoy the looks on my daughter's faces as they exuberantly rip the paper off a brand new Barbie doll or razor scooter.

But, especially since I have had children, I have begun running myself ragged at an increasingly alarming rate. I feel I have lost all balance; often, I don't enjoy the things that I am doing. Instead, I am just doing them because I believe I'm obligated, or because "we've always done it that way." Sometimes my attitude stinks, and I snap at those I love, which my family can attest to. The expression on my face as I don my holiday sweater says it all: "I am a martyr for the cause of Christmas merriment, suffering to make everything appear perfect so my family can have the holiday season of their dreams."

I have decided it is time for a redo! So, our family is going to still celebrate Christmas and do the things that we really enjoy, but we are going to delete other things that drain our time and money and leave us frazzled and broke.

Here are a few things we are going to do differently:

1) I have cooked a bunch of soups and casseroles this fall and put them in the freezer. I have enough food stocked to feed us most nights when we don't have a party or other engagement. I don't have to worry about what my family is going to eat for dinner. That means when I am whipping up something in my kitchen, it will be a seasonal favorite (like Hello Dollies or chocolate bon-bons) that I relish making!

2) We are going to learn to say "no," even to some good things. Neither we nor our children have to go to every party, event, or celebration that we are invited to. Some nights, it would be more enjoyable and soothing for all of us to sit in front of the fire and the Christmas tree eating popcorn, drinking hot cocoa, and listening to Christmas music, so that is what we will do.

3) I am a huge fan online shopping! In a few hours, I can get the bulk of my shopping done, and have gifts delivered right to my door! This can be done while the girls are in school or after bedtime, and there is no hurry, rush, and stress of going to a zillion different stores, fighting crowds, and trying to find a parking place.

4) We are going to reach out to others this season who need love and assistance. Our goal is to not spend more time and money on ourselves than we spend on those who are poor, hungry, afflicted, sick, and lonely. I am sure we will fall far short in this area, but I believe it is a worthy goal. If we want to truly honor Jesus' birthday, there is no better way than to genuinely care for the people (all of us) that he came to save! (Some ideas for this will be coming in another post).

Ironically, I expect that doing and spending less this Christmas will not decrease the joy, peace, and love that we claim we desire, instead, I believe it will increase it. My hope is that on December 26, we will not be staring at piles and piles of wrapping paper, Christmas decorations which have to be taken down, gifts and toys that have already lost their shine, bloated credit card bills, and wonder why we went to so much trouble and stressed ourselves out in the first place.

Instead, I hope to look back on a month that, although harried at times, was calm, enjoyable, and had many memorable moments. I hope that we will feel blessed and like we have blessed others as well. I hope to have taken the time to slow down enough to really spend time with Jesus (it's his birthday, after all), and feel we have honored Him with our thoughts, our time, and our pocketbooks.

Perhaps, this year, for the first time, my response when asked how I am doing during the holidays can be:

"I can't believe how blessed I am."
"I am thoroughly enjoying myself."
"God is good!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hustle and Bustle Sabbath

What is up with all the kids activities on Sunday? Has anyone else noticed a huge uptick in the volume of games, tournaments, performances, practices, and birthday parties scheduled for the day of the week that is meant to give us all a break?

Of the ten commandments, the command to "keep the Sabbath" is not a rule to be followed as much as it is a gift to us. We need one day a week to take it easy, break from work, relax with family and friends, and worship together if we so choose. The same God who created the universe chose to take a day of rest as an example to us, because he knows we need it--mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

In reading the Old Testament, I am struck by how much the Israelites had on their plates--growing their own food, caring for flocks of animals, cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry without any of our modern conveniences, raising very large families, building their own homes, often travelling a great distance on foot or horseback for food and supplies, and protecting themselves from marauding invaders. Yet on the Sabbath (which for them, was Saturday), everyone put everything down, took a deep breath, and rested so they would be rejuvenated for the coming weeks' work.

However, in the 21st century, most Americans have decided we're too busy to stop being busy. The break neck pace of modern life makes a regular time to slow down and rest more necessary than ever, yet some families' Sunday schedules are beginning to rival their ultra-packed Saturday schedules.

Children are suffering more from stress and anxiety than previous generations, and their has even been a term coined for over scheduled children that are pressured to do more and more: Hurried Child Syndrome. Could part of the problem be not just the amount of homework, activities, social engagements, etc., but the fact that there is not even one day they can count on to slow down and recharge their batteries?

I am not a legalist; I am not suggesting that it is wrong to participate in any activities on Sunday. I just wish that it were more of exception, and not the rule. For example, if Mika and Macy had a tournament, play-off game, or performance a few times a year on a Sunday, that would not be a problem. I'm not real keen on Sunday birthday parties, but I would gladly let my girls attend a Sunday party if one of their good friends was celebrating her birthday.

A number of people I have talked to said that they, too, wish that there weren't so many activities scheduled on Sunday, but then they say with resignation, "but if my child wants to [play baseball, be in this musical production, compete at this level in dance, etc.] we have no choice than to show up when we're told, and that includes Sundays."

Which brings me to the question: when did we, as a society, decide that it was okey-dokey to schedule so many activities, as a matter of course, on Sunday? I grew up next door to my best friend Donna, who had three older brothers. All four were athletes, playing many different sports in community leagues and in school. Donna was also into cheer leading, choir, and piano. Her parents were very busy Monday through Saturday shuttling kids to practices, games, rehearsals, etc. However, on Sunday, with rare exceptions, the activities for their children ceased, and kids, their parents, coaches, and teachers took a much needed break.

My kids are still young and I'm sure in a few short years I'll probably have to eat my words because they may both be involved in activities that require regular Sunday participation. However, we will think long and hard before committing to an Sunday activity that is going to change what we really like to do on Sunday--relax, spend time together as a family, invite people into our home for a leisurely lunch, and worship together at church.

Why should we have to make a choice between allowing our kids be involved in the things that they want to do and having a day of rest? Does anyone else have concerns about how busy Sundays have become? Any ideas on how to keep Sundays sane would be appreciated!