Less Can Really Be More This Season

Have you ever had to move house during the Christmas season? How much fun is that, eh? Several years ago our family participated in the journey to a new land during the holidays and I discovered something.

It’s impossible to celebrate a “normal” Christmas when your living room is crowded with moving boxes. That wasn’t my discovery. No. The good news I found was that surrendering my ideas of what Christmas “should” look like left space for God to surprise our family beyond what we could imagine. I was forced to adjust to a new season as I viewed things, not as I dreamed they would be, but the way they were. My ideas of what-was-to-come–a new home, settling in, making it my own–kept me going through those few months.

Oddly enough, as I looked around at our temporary rental, the empty walls and barely-furnished rooms greatly improved my mental state, making it easier to ‘see’ the future. Although I felt untethered and impatient, desperate to begin nesting in our new home, the emptiness created room for waiting.

The focus and intent of the Advent season is just that, providing space to wait—physically, spiritually and mentally—to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Maybe like me, your thoughts about Advent are tied to those consumer-driven Advent calendars, the ones that start on December 1st. Actually, the first day of Advent is different and changes every year; this year it’s December 3rd.

I was recently surprised to learn that Advent was originally a period of fasting in preparation for the feast of the Nativity (now Christmas) and was practiced in some form as early as 400 A.D. Unfortunately for us, Advent as a season of fasting and reflection has all but disappeared from many church landscapes. Advent has been defined, instead, as the number of shopping/party/activity days there are until Christmas, and thus, our gift-driven Advent ‘calendars.’

The practice of fasting seems like a shocking suggestion prior to the rich celebration of Christmas. But it makes sense when you think about it. Letting go, putting off or making room for one thing makes space for something else. Like the empty walls in my new rental house, extra space can help us “see” better without all the distractions. When the too-much of Christmas presses in, it helps to make room for the joy we crave by saying ‘no’ to what we don’t need.

Instead of the usual going without food, fasting during Advent can simply be a variation of giving up, putting off, setting aside or laying down. All these provide a way to make room for Jesus in our soul and spirit, where we are hungriest. Because, goodness knows, there are so many other things that want to “feed” us. Too much of anything can fill me so full that I never know I’m hungry.   The Christmas season provides the greatest number of opportunities to drive this lesson home. Thousands of sparkly doodads, an overabundance of rich food, an explosion of visual input from every possible screen in the universe…


To read the rest of this post, join me at the “Simplify the Season” Blog Party. Terryn Whitfield is the host at Just a Simple Home and has rounded up 30 great bloggers sharing messages about the season of Christmas.

simplify the season graphic

Things I’m Not Good At (or Why I Decorate With Books)

                       “So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and

marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, 

6 let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be,

without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other,

or trying to be something we aren’t.” 

Romans 12:5b, 6 The Message Bible

* * * *

My sister Elle got all the creative genes in our family. She can watch a how-to show on HGTV and then go to Home Depot to shop for plywood and staples and vinyl covering, go home and 5 hours later, voila–she’s got a way cool headboard for her bedroom. She was a do-it-yourselfer before DIY was part of our current vocabulary.

I’ve seen her re-fashion fabric pieces into throw pillows, make a shower curtain out of a bedspread, design, sand and paint a picture frame, recover chairs. The list goes on.

Me, I decorate with things that make me happy--books, photos in small frames, fresh flowers from our yard, rocks I collect from the beach. There is no ‘decorating’ scheme in my home, simply moving things around in the seasons. Oh, and candles. I do like candles.

But imagining something out of almost-thin air then creating it to go in my home? Not me.

So not me.

~~~~

There is a great deal of freedom in knowing what things you don’t do, what you’re not good at. Being aware of what you can say “no” to so that you can say “yes” to the truest part of who you are.

I’m in a small book study group at our church, going through Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet-thoughts on change, grace and learning the hard way. (Zondervan, 2010). I don’t need anything extra to read at this time in my life, but frankly, the content is perfectly timed.

In particular, the affirmation that it is okay to not be awesome at everything, because we aren’t meant to do everything.

It’s often easy to buy into the lie that says we should be like all those “other people” who have remarkable gardens, super-original clothes, the ones that knit or cook, bake, sew, decorate, craft, fill-in-the-blank. The enemy of our souls would like us to think we should be able to do it all, whatever that all is.

If we buy into that argument, then the “this” that we should be doing, which is often the one thing we were made to do, gets lost.

We’re spread too thin trying to be something we’re not, trying to fit in where we shouldn’t be, trying to look like everyone else.

May I suggest that you do what Niequiest challenged us to do? Make a list of “Things I Don’t Do”

Her list included things like gardening, scouring flea markets, baking, making scrapbooks–definitely not in her DNA, although they are all the “right” mom things to do.

Niequist also added something intangible that she doesn’t do,
“I don’t spend time with people who routinely make me feel like less than I am, or who spend most of their time talking about what’s wrong with everyone else and what’s wrong with the world…”

* * * * *

Life is a constant decision to redefine our boundaries again and again, making them tighter and smaller, not so that we can live in a hidey-hole kind of place, ignoring the world and staying safe, but so that we can live in the freedom of being who we were created to be, where we are, doing what we have been gifted to do.

As the writer of Romans declares in the opening quote, “let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be.”

Maybe you’re a remarkable photographer that captures a world that some of us miss, adding to our lives by showing us what you see. But you definitely don’t do windows.

Maybe you like to run. For fun. Because you sense God’s presence when it’s just you and He together, pounding the pavement. But cooking is so not your thing.

Maybe you enjoy setting a beautiful table, creating a welcoming piece of art for others to enjoy while their souls and bodies are fed. But you haven’t weeded your garden for 6 months. And you’re probably not going to.

Lean into your list. Write down “The Things I Don’t Do” and then listen to what you hear in the spaces.

What are you free to do? What have you been created to do? Live into that.

And be ready to make a new list when the time comes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’d love to hear in the comments what’s on Your List….

Sharing with Jennifer Lee and the lovely community at #TellHisStory

1c9ac-tellhisstory-badge

 

Keeping in Step with Jesus (Vlog)

In the middle of all that goes into releasing a book and talking about a book and promoting a book**, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. This entry from Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” (October 12th) was encouraging to me; I hope it encourages you. (forgive my cough; of course, as soon as I began to speak, my voice got all scratchy).

 

**Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas

 

 

Why I Stopped Having ‘Quiet Time’ {for all the right reasons}

“…the resolving of the conflict between sacred and the secular (or, better said, the repairing of the damage done by divorcing them) has been billed as the major problem of modern theology.”

-Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, 1967

/////

The writer of those words penned his thoughts 50 years ago, and while the current world of practicing Christians may have different theological problems, I think Capon’s got a point. I have looked high and low in my Bible the last few years and I can’t find any mention where believers are encouraged to develop a daily “quiet time” or spend time having “devotions.” There is no mention in Scripture of a particular time of day that is more sacred than any other—so why do we make the separation?

Now, before you go yelling at me through your screen or hitting the ‘delete’ button faster than bees buzz, let me say this, yes: we ARE urged to study to show ourselves approved indeed. Don’t get me wrong; I know God’s word is my daily bread and living water, I need spiritual food like I need physical food, like I need air to breathe. And yes, Jesus modeled for us how to get alone in a quiet place and pray.

But we get into all kinds of unnecessary shoulding all over ourselves when we say, “First thing in the morning you must meet with Jesus, read God’s word, pray and write in your journal. THEN you can head into your day.”

In God’s kingdom all of time is sacred.  When we belong to Jesus, all of our life is sacred.

If your ‘day’ begins at 3:30 in the morning because you work as a cameraperson for a television station, like my worship team, bass-playing friend K, I’m guessing it’d be hard for her to fit in a ‘quiet time’ first thing in the morning. Then there’s the barista at the local coffee shop, pulling espresso shots for all the weary folks heading into their mornings. (Raising my hand. Espresso-drinker, not barista). How does said barista balance the want-to of a time with Jesus with the have-to of a job?

And what if you’re not a morning person?  What if when you wake up, there’s 6 things on the to-do list that must be out of the way before you can even t h i n k  about a set-aside time to focus and settle in and listen to Jesus? Things like getting your kids off to school on time or cleaning the kitchen floor or paying the bills or writing an email or calling your mom?

When we do come to a more focused part of our day—whether 4:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.—we can look at it, as my pastor recently said, not like a “quiet time” but a listening time. A time of coming and settling in before God’s presence, whether it’s only 10 or 15 minutes. (Many days, that’s all I’ve got).

We talk about active listening being the better part of communication; it is the same when it comes to our time with the Lord. Listening half the time, writing ¼ of the time and talking (praying) the other ¼.

That attitude of listening time translates to a more balanced living time, where there’s no division in our days. Scripture’s clearest model is to walk in an integrated way—spirit and soul inside lined up with our actions on the outside.

We have much to learn, not for knowledge sake, but to show that what we know about Jesus makes a difference in the way we live.

I think we forget the Apostle Paul’s admonitions about walking in the word or John’s encouragement to abide in Jesus. Walking, abiding (or dwelling) are continuous, ongoing states of being. Even the Pentateuch reminds us as we “lie down and get up and when we walk along the road, that we are to teach our children.” (Deuteronomy 11:19). We can only teach our children what we already know, and this makes it clear–God knows a lot of our lives we are on the move. Moving in the car, going on a walk, strolling through the store….teaching/talking/singing to and with your spouse, your kids, your friends.

Here’s what I know is true about spending time with God: He doesn’t care WHEN we come to be with Him, but THAT we do. 

How about you? When do find time to be with God? What does that look like for you?

Please share in the Comments. I would love to hear.

/ / / / /

I think it’s interesting I would be writing this post now, as if God wanted to remind what I wrote exactly four years ago for (in)courage. I guess I needed to hear this as much as anyone else. 

Linking with Jennifer Lee and the community at Tell His Story. More great essays over there! 1c9ac-tellhisstory-badge

When the World is Broken Along With my Heart

I hardly know where to begin these days, to write down my heart’s cry and soul’s sigh.

The world is splintering, shattering it seems, on every side. All I can do is re-center myself with a song. Thank you to my friend Laurie Klein for the nudge.

Here’s “Alleluia” by Fernando Ortega from the Odes of Solomon CD–Ode #40. It’s actually a YouTube link; there’s over an hour’s worth of his worship music. Good for the soul, I promise.

That’s all I have this week friends.

Peace.