So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:16-20
Tis the season of celebrations! It begins with preparations for a Thanksgiving feast and continues through to ringing in the New Year! It is a time packed with activities that overflow our calendar squares. In fact, it seems that I fit more activities into these 40+ days than I do the rest of the year! Sometimes I think I become a human-doing during this sacred season when I really should be focusing more on becoming a human-being!
Karl Ruegg* wrote an article Are you a Human Being or a Human Doing?, in which he explores the intentionality and the focus of our decisions and activities. Since then, many others have written about this concept of allowing events and obligations to consume our time and energies, leaving us exhausted and empty. In these articles, many authors point out how our society tends to prioritize productivity over personal peace and contentment. We tend to focus on task completion instead of building relationships, then measure our value by those completed lists and finished products.
Do you ever feel like this? While this time of year is filled with many expectations and obligations (doing), it also brings opportunities to engage in our faith and build relationships (being). But what does it look like? In addition to all the activities of our regular schedule of work, church, and school activities, we include all the holiday commitments; baking , shopping, decorating , wrapping, and attempting to attend every single event on our calendars. By the time January arrives, most of us are ready for rest, rejuvenation and committing to do less the next year.
This year, I wanted to change the way I prepare for the holidays and avoid the frenetic pace if possible. I wanted to focus more on “being” and for me this was defined by what brings me joy, peace and contentment. Now, this is going to look different for everyone, but here are some ideas:
- Be intentional about focusing on the process and the purpose of the activities rather than the perfection of the product. For example, while wrapping presents, pray for the people receiving them, think of how they enrich your life, enjoy making them creative without stressing over the precision of the final appearance.
- To reduce the number of gifts, considering honoring people you love by giving needed donations in their name. There are organizations where you can give an animal to a family in a third world country, providing sustenance for that family for the year.
- Intertwine moments of calm into your busy day. For example, play music that brings you a sense of peace or joy rather than having the news on in the background. Sometimes lighting a scented candle and stealing a moment to sit with the lights of the tree illuminating the room can quiet your spirit.
- Starting and/or ending the day with devotions is another way to connect with the meaning of the season. Just “being” with Christ, in the early moments of the day before the “doing” takes over, can help you focus and allow you to be more intentional in your attitude throughout the day. Consider thanking God for the many blessings you have received.
- Forgive yourself when you do not measure up to your expectations and give yourself grace instead of beating yourself up. God does not expect perfection from any one of us. He only expects us to try to do the best we can.
- Simplify the decorations and activities by choosing the ones that bring your family or others joy, contentment and peace.
Even when I read the first story of Christmas, there is a lot of ‘doing’ in that story; travelling, dealing with less than perfect surroundings, and delivering a baby! But intertwined in the ‘doing’, we see the spirit of ‘being’. For instance, the shepherds dropped the demands of watching the sheep to “be” with and worship the newborn king. Mary, exhausted and overwhelmed, took time to “ponder these things in her heart”. Even Joseph emulated ‘being’ as the silent protective and supportive presence with Mary during that demanding night.
What might you do to simplify things for yourself in these last harried days of Christmas? How can you accentuate the “being” of Christmas over the “doing” of Christmas?
Dear Lord, Thank you for the birth of your son, who brought the gift of grace, redemption and love into my life. Forgive my imperfections, my distracted spirit and my desire to try and accomplish too much. As I go through these final days of Christmas, help me to focus on ‘being’ in the moment and sensing the guidance of your spirit. May I emulate Your love to others while accomplishing the necessary tasks of the day. Amen.