Readers: We interrupt the FROG blog to break an “under 500 word” guideline today. This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Life’s Too Short for Dull Razors, Cheap Pens, and Worn-Out Underwear.” I believe that the message is important for this time of year. (This 1014 word piece may require two mugs of hot chocolate)!
I think there are certain times of the year when my actions are more in sync with the way my body is designed. As a person who requires a lot of light, I notice how much more willing I am to run during spring and summer. Outdoor light, no matter how intense, beckons me toward activity, defaulting to overall optimism.
During Thanksgiving and Christmas one year, I received enlightenment from a friend who shares my need for much daylight. We were talking about holiday traditions and anticipated time off from work.
I confessed being unmotivated to face shopping crowds and filter through noise. She chimed in that she most wanted a soft blanket and an evening alone with a book and mug of hot chocolate. I wanted to hire someone to wrap presents and decorate. She approached her family’s gift exchange with project manager logic: “Why would I stand in Target with my $20 wondering what to buy Suzy Q, while she’s standing just a few aisles down with her $20 wondering what to buy me? Why not stop the insanity and use the $20 for what we need most?”
She and I laughed and steered the conversation toward Thanksgiving and Christmas outreaches. We listed our favorite seasonal delights including peppermint bark, Christmas shows, the smell of pine, pumpkin anything, happy faced reindeer, Angel Tree gifts, and warm sweaters.
I’m not a Scrooge. I have a generous spirit. Why then has it become my uphill climb to greet the holiday season with wonder? I embrace gratefulness being a key to deep rooted joy. Our family focuses on Jesus’ birth. There’s a magical sense when jingle bells or a Christmas song introduce a commercial. I empathize with people who have suffered loss and the holiday season can add weighted anxiety. I understand some people’s pressure to create memorable gatherings. There are people who cannot financially provide a holiday meal, much less gifts. I’m blessed to have my needs covered so why do I foster such a sour outlook in November and December?
As I continued mulling over my source of holiday heaviness, I concluded that the American calendar year of large events collides with a body’s natural rhythms. Bears, groundhogs, skunks, bees, and other animals use winter months for hibernating. They use dark cooler weather to hunker down and sleep deeply. If animals are awakened during hibernation, they become agitated, not unlike yanking a teenager out of bed before 10:00 a.m.
With hibernation for creatures coinciding with climate and daylight patterns, I relate my daylight savings’ behavior to animal instincts: grouchy as a bear; casting an attitudinal 5:00 groundhog shadow; smelly as a skunk when I venture outside past dark; sting like a bee because I get painfully cold easily. The year’s peak holidays arrive when the only thing I want to wrap is my body under a blanket. I’m grab flannel sheets from our bedroom closet while the material world is grabs holiday deals from store shelves. I look outside for the wintery moon’s brushed glow, but neon Christmas lights flash instead. Silent night seems mocked in comparison to the ho-ho-ho’s and amplified electronic gadgets in surround sound. The mall traffic drivers seem like the greatest flurry of flakes.
During the time when my body is designed to operate in lower gear, the marketing world thrusts me into four-wheel drive. This collision between a physical season and the perceived expectations of the Christmas season invites an element of chaos. Just as each person is affected differently when awakened, the holidays affect people in disparate ways. Not all animals hibernate, so the squirrels, elk, birds, and rabbits of the world, may be less affected by blizzards of holiday activity. For those who trek like groundhogs and bees during winter, the season of lights can be emotionally dark.
In many Christian churches, Advent begins a time to intentionally prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ. It’s a time designated to reflect, to recreate the anticipation of Jesus’ birth. The Advent season continues as we eagerly await Jesus’ return to restore this broken world.
Our pastor preached a seasonal message from Luke 2’s account of the Christmas story. He asked us to determine which story character we related to most. He offered how the innkeeper’s response to Mary and Joseph’s plea may be equivalent to December’s busyness. When we don’t make time to acknowledge Jesus’ birth, or that Mary was even pregnant while Joseph stressed to find a place for Mary’s labor and delivery, it’s like saying, “there’s no room at the inn.”
I pictured a knock on the door of my heart’s inn. Do I make room to fully welcome Jesus, especially to host Him for His birthday party? Into which rooms do I invite Jesus? Is He front and center in the living room, or do I limit Him to a spare closet where I mingle with Him between entertaining other guests? Do I meet Him in the garage for an alignment when His party isn’t tuned-up to my expectations? Maybe He can do a quick wash up in the guest bathroom. Are there parts of my “inn” where Jesus is off limits?
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m tempted to do a reaction check when someone asks if I’m ready for Christmas. Instead of a summarizing our Christmas preparations or gently share Christian holiday witness, I want to ask, “What does ‘ready for Christmas’ look like to you?” My intent isn’t to create awkwardness, but hopefully gain understanding about people’s values, traditions, and maybe a story about a seasonal memory.
Back to front and center. What spirit am I selling during the holidays? I want to give away an upbeat Christmas spirit. Not everyone will buy this gift but they could make good use of it when I freely give it like Christ did on Christmas morning. How can I step out of hibernation and tend to the human “sparrows”? I want to be someone who helps restore holiday joy. To light from the inside no matter how dark it is outside!