As I was making the rounds to clear out some key areas, I encountered the portrait photographer who had volunteered his time to give the gift of family photos to hundreds that had never before had the experience. “I’d love to photograph you and your daughter before I break everything down, but it needs to happen soon,” he said. I tried to decline the offer, but he insisted. So, I ventured forth to find my daughter in the sea of people- as I hobbled on legs that wanted to give out from exhaustion- and coax her teenage self into the photo area to indulge my desire to have a family moment caught on glossy paper to cherish for years to come. We finally made it to the sitting. We posed. The flash went off. The printer did its thing. And the photographer proudly presented us with the blessing he wanted to bestow.
I tried to hide my horror as my eyes made their way across the portrait. My daughter looked like a vision- a stunning dream of a girl- with a bright smile and eyes that shone gloriously. Next to her, though, was a puffy, wrinkly, blob of a woman with maniacal eyes and the “smile” of a Batman villain.
I looked like a monster. Granted, I hadn’t slept in days. I’d been stress-eating Oreos for weeks. I’d been putting in hard labor- along with some key volunteers (one of which actually collapsed)- to shuffle around hundreds of gifts and tables and coats and chairs and more. I was threadbare. But, it wasn’t the image of my most worn out self that bothered me. It was the photo of me- 100% in the flesh and without my Jesus- that made my heart break.
Hundreds upon hundreds of people at the event felt Jesus that day. They felt Him in, around, and working through them. But I- despite my many prayers of longing- couldn’t find Him as I was working so hard to honor Him. And, as I’ve limped my way through this week before Christmas- trying to plan outreaches to distribute gifts and match sponsors with families to ensure as many people as possible feel loved and remembered this Christmas- I have to ask myself, “What’s in my Jesus space instead of the wonderful friend, counselor, Lord and savior who lived and died to bring me peace, joy and love? How can I be doing so much in His name and feel so depleted? How did I let my Christ leave my Christmas?”
I took my daughter to drive around and look at Christmas lights last night in an attempt to find some peace and enjoy some one-on-one time with her. I turned a corner and saw a Christmas Countdown sign announcing ONLY 8 days left. I nearly threw up the season’s requisite decaf peppermint mocha as I realized I haven’t purchased a single gift yet. Not one. I see people out in the world of social media wearing matching outfits, taking photos amidst glorious light displays, making gingerbread houses and coming up with a new situation for their elf every night. Everyone seems so happy and joyful and together. What on earth is wrong with me when a Christmas Countdown sign feels like a bomb with a lit wick?
Feeling like the most horrible Christian on the planet, I received a moment of grace as I listened to a radio deejay answer a call in between Christmas songs. The woman on the line talked about how stressed and exhausted she was and the deejay- whose voice could make an auction sound like a sonnet- completely sympathized and reported that so many people she knew felt the exact same way. Trying to do so much for others, make everything perfect, and create memories that will last a lifetime means a whole lot of pressure is heaped upon people already running ragged with work and school and kids and laundry. It’s no wonder we get so caught up in our flesh this time of year.
So, I ask you- just as I ask myself- “What’s in your Jesus space?” Is it a crazy busy schedule? Is it the desire to do too much for others? Is it the stress and fear of falling short in creating the perfect holiday? Is it all of the above?
Insert deep breath here.
Let me just say that I don’t want to do another second of this Christmas season without Christ. I crave His love, His joy, His peace. My daughter craves that, too. I’d venture to say that all human kind craves that. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
So, let’s push the reset button on this Christmas season while we still have time. And let’s make the following pledge:
If this isn’t about Jesus’ love, joy and peace, then I don’t need to do/buy/commit to/be part of it.
If this (insert Christmas activity/present/tradition here) is taking up the space that Jesus should have in my heart and my life, then I pray for the strength to let it go.
Let Jesus fill every space of my life, my heart, my thoughts, my actions and interactions, and especially my Christmas.
In Jesus name, I pray this for all of us.
Amen and Merry Christmas, my friends.