when christmas just isn't fun

Friday, December 20, 2013

Today's guest post is by Maria, one of my favorite people I have met this year.  Maria moderates Middle Places, and she also has a blog.  She is humble and focused and leads with so much grace.  I have loved working with her, and I love her voice.  I think you will too.

Hi, my name is Maria, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I recognize my problem, and I have identified my patterns, but like any addict I will never truly eliminate my desire for it.  And perfectionism is a heavy load to carry in December.

Social media feeds my problem.  The images of a Pin-worthy, Instagrammed Christmas posted onto Facebook and Twitter create a perfect storm for me, and I sail right into it.  High expectations, long to-do lists, and countless obligations mark the season that supposedly represents joyful waiting and quiet hope.  "Peace on earth and mercy mild" are replaced by frustration and an impossible pace.  As a young mom I fell into the trap of perfectionism every December, and I've washed up on the shore of regret every time.  

I once wrapped 25 Christmas storybooks to open with my children and read each night during Advent, only we had to play catch-up because we were too busy with other activities in the evenings.  I've set up the Little People nativities no less than 25, 473 times because I couldn't bear to walk by and see the wise men scattered on the floor, the baby Jesus upside down, and the angel underneath the couch.  I've painstakingly baked batch after batch of cookies for cookie swaps, only to come home with a tin full of disappointment in the form of rice krispy treats.  I've labored for hours over cutesy Pinterest crafts for teachers that nobody noticed - they were just as excited about the Starbucks gift cards.  

Year after year I worked myself into exhaustion, and sucked the joy right out of Christmas with my need for perfection.

Perfect is the enemy of good.  Why can't good be good enough for me?

Last year I acknowledged my problem, and I began to practice the art of saying no.  No thank you, we won't be at the cookie exchange.  Sorry, I can't do that this year.  Over and over I focused on simplifying, cutting down obligations and expectations.  Still, I arrived at the end of December wondering, where did my Advent had go? And why was I left holding an empty tin with just a few fudge crumbs and a few new things from my wish list?  Is this really all there is to Christmas?  Is this really how it's supposed to be?

Let me just turn on the Charlie Brown Christmas song now.

I really believed if I simplified, my Christmas would suddenly be wonderful.  I gave up the Elf on the Shelf, I didn't send out cards, I didn't decorate multiple trees or create lavish decorations.  I had craved a simple Christmas, and I thought I was doing all of the right things to find it.  And deep down, I believed a simple Christmas would be the perfect one.  Only it wasn't.

I'd removed plenty of things from my Christmas frenzy, but I'd forgotten to add the most important element of all:  grace.

This year I have accepted that December is just going to be busy, no matter how much I simplify.  Some obligations can't be missed.  There are traditions my family holds dear that will consume my time, musical performances I want to participate in, family I wouldn't want to miss seeing ... and fudge.  I must make fudge.  Some things are not negotiable.

I don't need to cut anything else out to enjoy Christmas this year.  As long as I add grace to the mix, too.  I need grace in spades to make it through the month of December.  I need grace from my family when I start obsessing over details and taking back the things I'd had the presence of mind to delegate.  I need to flood my inner dialogue with grace rather than allowing my inner critic to have the last word.  And most importantly, I need to allow God to fill all the gaps created by my shortcomings with His lavish, abundant grace.  

Do you need a little grace today too?

It took me 38 years to figure out that grace was the missing ingredient in my Christmas joy.  It's okay to be busy in December.  I have yet to find a way to hold together a household, shop for gifts, attend programs, and make a few memories with my kids along the way without that hectic feeling of busyness creeping in.  It's okay when your Elf on the Shelf spends a week  perched on the same corner of your mantle.  It's okay to serve the fudge that wouldn't set on a spoon.  It's okay when your tree is full of off-centered construction paper ornaments at the top, and completely empty at the bottom.  It's okay when you miss the Christmas Eve candlelight service because you know corralling your little ones will leave you feeling like the Grinch, rather than glowing from an encounter with Christ.

It's okay when Christmas isn't perfect.

It's okay, and we're okay. 

When perfectionism creeps in, I repeat a simple phrase over and over: Today I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.

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