"God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated." (Ecclesiastes 7:29 GNT)Austen Farrer, an English theologian and philosopher, once said, “Do you want to bear fruit for God? Simplify your life, do fewer things and do them well.” He was talking about our tendency to let distractions get in the way of our relationship with God. Too often, we complicate our lives by acquiring more than we need to, whether material goods, activities, or relationships. When we spend our lives doing things that keep us busy but don’t really matter we sacrifice the things that do. This causes us to put too much of our efforts in the wrong place.
As Ray Simpson said in A Pilgrim’s Way: “When we find our well-being in God we no longer need to find our identity in acquiring and hoarding things. Uncluttered in our spirits, we remove clutter from our rooms.”
I am not a big fan of the Christmas season. If you have read my blog for a while or know me personally, you probably already know this. I love Jesus, and I love birthdays; so Jesus' birthday is simply the brightest day of the year for me. However for years, I've struggled with the true reason for Christmas being lost somewhere in all the hustle and bustle. I am self admittedly overwhelmed by busyness. There are so many wonderfully good things to do this time of year, and it can be so hard to say no....especially when you live smack dab in the middle of "The Christmas Capital of Texas". But over the years, saying no has been the best thing we've done, in many aspects of life, but especially during Advent. If I'm completely honest, I must admit that I've never been that into Christmas...even as a child. I was terrified of Santa, and the thought of him coming into the house was more terrifying than exciting. I never jumped up on Christmas morning to rush in and see what Santa left under the tree. I always waited cautiously for my parents to come lead me into the living room, because I didn't want to accidentally run into SC. The overall expectations during the holiday season were always stressful for me, and the focus was always on doing and going. In my childhood home, we really didn't talk about Jesus being the reason for the season. My parents were CEO church goers aka Christmas and Easter only, but we rarely did we ever go on Christmas. I guess that makes them EO church goers. In total contrast to my lack luster feelings surrounding Christmas, my mama loved Christmas. She loved everything about it: the gift giving, the decorating, the tree was probably her favorite (it always had to be flocked); and of course Santa. We went to visit Santa every year as long as I can remember, although I really didn't have any desire to do so. I actually stopped believing in Santa in about 2nd grade, and I was honestly relieved. When I was a teen, my dad, who was not as into Christmas as my mama, but was sort of a long for the ride; told me a story about a childhood memory of his at Christmas. He was the second youngest of 8 in a very poor family, and his mama had died when he was 23; and I was one. I never knew her. One Christmas when he was a little boy and anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa, his parents gathered their children on Christmas morning to tell them that Santa wasn't able to come; because he just couldn't see their little tiny house. It was just too dark, and he just flew right over it. My dad was very matter of fact when he told me that story, but I could see the impact that particular Christmas had had on him. He never told me any other stories about Christmas from his childhood. Although the disappointment of not having a gift from Santa may have passed, I think it was eventually replaced with the realization that his parents just didn't have the money to buy their children anything for Christmas. That story has always resonated deeply within my heart and soul, and I'll never forget the look in his eyes when he told it. Years later when I was a new young mother with a few small children, I vividly remember a conversation I had with my mama. We were discussing the holidays and the things we were committed to, things she and my dad were committed to, and things we were planning to do together. I had been very intentional on trying to keep things minimal as I was already self admittedly overwhelmed by busyness and now had added children to the mix. Honestly my kids didn't need another thing to do or play with either. As I was listing the few things we were planning to enjoy as a family, one of them was church on Christmas Eve. I remember her saying, "You spend too much time at church. When are we going to open gifts? Have you taken the kids to see Santa?" After a few attempts in years prior, which resulted in terrified children in tears, I really didn't have a visit to Santa in my plans. I had sort of figured if we were out and about and saw Santa somewhere, maybe we would attempt to sit in his lap again. If it worked out great, if it didn't; oh well. But when she asked me about Santa, I remember thinking...hmmmm...I guess I should ask them if they want to go see Santa instead of assuming they don't. I simply replied with, "No we haven't made it to see Santa. I'm not sure if we will try it this year or not". As we hung up the phone, her words lingered in my mind for days. Did we spend too much time at church? Is there such a thing as too much time at church? I was working in the nursery then and also at the preschool, so we did spend a lot of time at church. For the next week or so, I watched my children every time we went to church to see if they seemed like they had "too much church". Lo and behold, they didn't. They actually seemed very happy at church. I asked them if they wanted to go see Santa, lo and behold they didn't....not even a little bit.