LAURA: As we approach Christmas, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus. Like many of my friends, I’m trying to simplify our holiday without completely ignoring it. My oldest is extremely excited about Christmas and I don’t want to disappoint her. However, the mental load of the holidays is enough to overload my already anxiety-prone mental health. Balancing my limits with what I want, what my littles are wishing for, and what my extended family, social circle, and employer are expecting is the order of the day.
In an effort to simplify, some of my friends have re-focused their holiday on the religious aspect. Others, post faith transition, have secularized it.
In my own faith journey, however, the simple answers haven’t always worked well and neither of these approaches feel authentic. Though I have a less than orthodox view of Christianity, I’ve found a lot of value in lessons learned from Jesus especially during this holiday.
Here are some of the messages I’ve embraced as I’ve pondered Jesus this Christmas season.
1. Focus on love. Jesus represents perfect, all-encompassing love. Even when He knows what’s going to happen (i.e. raising Lazarus), He takes time to exercise compassion for those who are hurting. As a parent, there’s definitely a lesson here: even when I know my kids will be ok, being compassionate with them is one of the most important things I can do. This is especially important at a time of year when our schedules are absolutely full and their little brains are easily overstimulated.
2. Establish and maintain boundaries. Jesus frequently separated himself from throngs of followers. Taking to the Sea of Galilee shows just how seriously Jesus takes time to himself. I see in this a lesson that it’s completely reasonable of me to take time to recharge, even if I have to take drastic actions to do it.
Jesus also repeatedly asserted that He had not come to serve just anyone. When the Greek woman asked Him to heal her daughter, He told her that “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 NIV). Contrast this to how Jesus handled Jairus’ daughter. Jesus essentially dropped everything to go to Jairus’ home, took a dead girl by the hand (which according to the Law of Moses (Numbers 19:11) would make Him unclean for seven days), called her back to life, and cared for her afterwards. While He did heal both children, one was done only under persuasion and without the kind of gentleness we ascribe to Jesus. Either He is a world-class jerk or Jesus was aware of the limits on His time and energy and regularly asserted His boundaries to avoid being taken advantage of.
Right now there are a million things clamoring for my attention – Christmas parties from multiple jobs, social groups, family, and church; holiday-centered volunteer requests; cultural expectations; and on and on. It’s ok to say no to a good thing if it crosses my boundaries.
3. Related to boundaries, establish expectations for people in your life. Use clear, direct communication with them. And give as much as you’re asking for. Jesus was very frank: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). Most of us would hesitate to issue such a clear expectation, but we should absolutely ask for specifically what we need. Jesus also never asked more than He was willing to give. Remember that whole “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” thing (John 15:13).
4. Forgive. Jesus forgave over and over. He practiced compassion for imperfect people. He forgave people for really atrocious acts against Him. He set the example of forgiveness. I believe He was able to do this because He had good boundaries, knew who He was, and knew how imperfect each of us are. When I approach forgiveness from this perspective, forgiving 70 times 7 doesn’t seem like nearly as difficult an expectation. The Christmas season can be especially hard for me as I’m in much more regular contact with people who (unintentionally) cause me pain. I can hold it against them, or I can forgive them as I hope they will forgive me.
5. Let go of “things”, even when they’re “important.” When Martha complains to Jesus that her sister has left her alone to serve, Jesus counsels her that Mary has “chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). I know my to-do list can’t be left alone forever. I suspect Mary knew it too. I wonder if Martha again got lost in cultural expectations and Jesus is releasing her from those. I am reminded here that sometimes I need to just make peace with the mess or chaos in my life. My children will not be children forever. Opportunities to learn will not always present themselves. I can’t count on good health or financial ability to travel. Carefully considering my priorities, instead of buying into what I “should” do, creates a healthier, more intentional life.
I find that Jesus teaches really beautiful lessons ranging from the gentle to the demanding. He asks me to become more than I am and evaluate my life and choices carefully. Although I my approach to Christianity is more complicated than in years past, there is plenty of room for a Jesus Christmas in my life.
If you’ve re-framed your view of Jesus, I’d love to know how you’re navigating the spiritual aspect of Christmas this year.
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