Too Much of a Good Thing

Once upon an Advent, I struggled to add dozens of Christmas obligations to an alreadySend a card to friends and loved ones overflowing life.

Family traditions, school performances, neighborhood parties—all required extra time I just couldn’t seem to find.

In addition, my minister (unmarried, childless) reproached me for not attending midnight services on Christmas Eve as well as the children’s pageant in the afternoon—for not setting up Jesse Trees and Advent wreaths at home in addition to the Christmas tree and crèches.

For a while I was harassed by demons of perfectionism into trying to cram all this into the already crowded days. Eventually however I realized that God did not require me to try to be both busy mother and cloistered nun, or to do the work of half a dozen women.

God did not demand that I prove my faithfulness by ending up on December 25th exhausted, resentful, and a failure. Because of course any such attempt to meet all possible ritual expectations was doomed to failure.

In the (saner, wiser) years since then, I have on the contrary made a spiritual discipline of attempting to simplify the season rather than complicate it. To subtract, rather than add, and to consider carefully what I choose.

To seek God within, rather than on the far side of, the season.

As a consequence, I have changed (and continue to change) my Advent ways. My Christmas card list is shorter; the decorations simpler. We make charitable donations within the family, instead of exchanging costly gifts that no one needs. I bake two kinds of cookies, not five. We attend fewer parties.

As Christmas approaches, I think God invites us all to quiet discernment of everything that demands our attention: do we find this practice, whatever it is, meaningful? Genuinely important to other people whom we love or the communities in which we live? Honoring the Incarnation of God in Christ?

What does not remind us of God in Christ to earth come down—what does not rejoice the heart or strengthen love—we can with peaceful hearts set aside.

Thanks be to God!

Copyright ©2010 Deborah Smith Douglas.