The harvest season filled with hayrides, cornucopias filled to overflowing, and pumpkin spice everything is behind us and Christmas envelops us with its jingle bells, peppermint, and dream-like images of the Christ child sleeping sweetly in a manger. I love this time of year. Every Christmas, I try to hold the magic of the season in a vice grip, but it is not a thing to be possessed.
Each special season elicits from my perfectionist nature an urge to capture and manipulate it into what my imagination sees. Fall, for example, conjures images of wearing a comfy cable knit sweater while cradling a mug of steaming hot chocolate, brimming over with marshmallows. I sit on my screened porch where there are pumpkins and mums artfully displayed on hay bales, and the acrid aroma of smoke from my neighbors’ chimneys tickles my nose. As I returned my fall decorations back to the attic this year, I felt some sense of disappointment that I never actually lived that moment. I paused as I set my box down, and actually managed to laugh at myself.
It’s a blessing and a curse. Mostly a curse. This elevation of expectation to the unattainable can ruin a life that is filled with messy glory. Sitting on the porch with hot chocolate is certainly not a lofty goal, and I could easily have done it if it had been that important to me, but life is just so… well, busy. We can’t wait for the stars to perfectly align to go and enJOY life. I like that word. It sounds like being wrapped in joy. En- being in. Joy. In the middle of all of life’s craziness.
Perfectionism is a joy killer, and the surest way to turn your life into one steady stream of disappointment. It means that you think that you can’t find contentment in the way things really are. It means you can’t accept anything less than perfect. It means that you don’t understand your own fallen state, and that you don’t understand that you are NOT on a level with Perfection. There was another long ago who thought himself to be on par with Perfection. He was cast out of heaven because he dared think himself to be. Now we see in him what that aspiration becomes when carried to its full extent. It breeds bitterness, envy, anger, and strife. Ironically, these are things that do not belong in the perfect world of your imagination.
Fortunately for us, there was Another long ago who came to earth to personify Perfection, precisely because we could NOT. God’s own Son did not enter into a life of ease where every detail afforded Him pleasure. We see in Him the willingness to cast aside all selfishness and to instead serve others, regardless of whether they deserve it. Love, patience, joy. Grace.
Someone once gave me a tiny gold box of my favorite Godiva chocolates as a thank you. I planned to save them as a special treat for myself- maybe on a day when gently falling snow piled onto the window panes (I live in the South), and I soaked in a hot bath mounded with foamy, scented bubbles while reading a good book. Time passed, and shockingly, no snowy days presented themselves. There were just ordinary days when I was tired from a full day of homeschooling kids, cleaning my house, or working twelve hours at the hospital. I found the forgotten box of chocolate one day as I was cleaning my desk, and having had a frustrating morning, untied the ribbon with every intention of eating all four pieces right then. To my dismay, nestled in the golden box sat four chalky white candies. They were old and stale, useless. It’s funny how God uses little things like that to speak to you, if you are listening. So many things in life are just like that. We let the best things go to waste because we have expectations about how it should be instead of accepting it for what it is, and enjoying it to the fullest.
I want to live every day of my life ripping the ribbons off the good things, and passing it around. This does not come naturally to me. I must make a conscious decision to do it. As we are knee deep in all of the Christmas festivities, the quickest way to lose the Christmas spirit is to go into it with a list of demands that must be met in order to call it a proper Christmas. It’s not about whether you managed to finish every handmade project you meant to, or if you managed to actually host the cookie swap, or whether your house looked like a Pinterest queen waved her wand over it.
It may seem that the argument over which child would place the angel on top of the tree ruined decorating it, because you thought everyone would stand around it like the Who’s from Whoville with hands linked and singing. In real life, the bulbs are burned out sometimes. The cat climbs the tree and knocks it over, spilling a gallon of water on the floor sometimes. But sometimes, three bright-eyed little children lie on their backs after arguing over the angel, staring up through the branches of the sparkling Christmas tree, and the world is, for just a moment, perfect.