Tag Archives: decorating

Subtle and Simple

Redundancy alert! For those of you who have been around me a while or follow my blogs, articles, sermons and rants over the years, I’m going there again, to my favorite holiday topic. I almost didn’t bring it up this year but I felt like someone out there might just need to hear this, said in just this way, right now.

Jesus taught us many things. He said he is the “way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6 He said “Whoever wants to be first needs to be last.” Mark 10:44-45 He said to follow him and fish for people. Matthew 4:19  He said “Don’t worry.” Matthew 6:31-34 He said “Let the little children come to me.” Matthew 19:14 He told us to let our light shine. Matthew 5:16 He asked us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 He told us with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

What he never once said was “Celebrate my birthday with as much food, partying, overspending, over scheduling, over decorating and stressful hoopla as you can manage.” He did not say, “In fact, celebrate my birthday so hard and so big that you have to begin in September or October to cram it all in.”  He never said, “Exhaust yourselves, fall off ladders putting up lights, go into debt and over indulge for me.”

For years, I’ve been preaching about this and talking mostly to myself about slowing Christmas down, simplifying it, letting go of pointless traditions, habits and the too muchness of the season. I’ve taken some flack for it. I’ve been called Scrooge. And, honestly, I don’t mind.

When Jesus was born there were no decorations. The only light was the subtle light of a star. The Christmas card was only sent to the lowest ones, shepherds out in the dark fields minding their own business. The gifts, if you recall, were simple ones for the baby, not for you and me. It was subtle, low-key and simple. And, it was enough to change the world forever.

I say all that to say what I always say at this time of year. It is okay if you do less. It is actually Biblical and theological to do less. If you love doing more, do more. If it is not serving you or others, then be brave enough to stop.

Years ago, our family started simplifying Christmas. Our breaking point was that year when we had only 30 minutes to pick out a live tree, rope it to the top of the car, screech home and literally throw it in the yard before our next activity.  That was the year, I woke up and said, “What in the name of Christmas are we doing?”

Slowly, we just started subtracting. We learned it was fine. We learned Christmas still came and in fact we enjoyed it more every year.

Our Christmas, like yours, was so over the top that we’ve been able to subtract some every year and still have more to subtract.

People who are grieving, sick or suffering life challenges of some kind this year need to hear what I’m saying the most. It is OKAY to do less. If you can’t bear the thought of facing the season’s challenges, expectations and traditions, then trim them down.

Maddie in San Angelo taught me this. I was a Hospice Grief Counselor and she invited me to her home in December after her husband died. She said she wanted me to see her decorations. When I arrived there was a votive candle flickering on a small table. She said, “That’s my decoration. It’s all I can do.” We hugged and agreed that her one candle was enough.

Yesterday, I received a sweet text from my sister-in-law. It said, “My co-workers were lamenting the fact of all the gifts they had to purchase for so many factions of their family and how much money they were spending and how little time they had to do it. It reinforces my thankfulness to you for saying several years ago that we should simplify. My holiday is so much more relaxing now….”  

What is important here is that it is not easy or popular to be the one who suggests doing things differently or who says out loud “this is all too much.” Sometimes it takes a lot of angst and tries before something actually changes.

If your family won’t do it. You can. You can say no. You can leave some boxes up in the attic. You can buy less. You can be Biblical instead of commercial. You can do less instead of more. You can simplify something.

When you do turn down the brightness and glitter of the season, I pray you will notice  more of God’s subtle starlight  When you have more space and less noise, I pray you will hear the coos and tiny cries of a newborn. When you buy less, you can give him a gift that honors his real teachings and his life. Be brave enough to light one candle this season and just see what God will do with subtle and simple.

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Just Wait

Every year, I have the same lament.  I almost didn’t say anything this year, but now I’m even being affected by the situation.  It is still a few days before Thanksgiving.  I have not made our family’s Thanksgiving foods yet.  My porch has pumpkins on it. Inside my house there are turkeys and signs reminding me to be “thankful in all things.”  And guess what?  I feel behind.

I’m behind because there are no Christmas lights on our house like all our neighbors seems to have; there are no red and green wreaths on our door. I feel behind because our Christmas stuff is still in the attic. There’s even a word for it now, “Christmas Creep.” I will not even speak of the stores having Christmas before Halloween complete with Christmas music.

I think I’m catching it. In my stress and hurry to get it all done, I wondered aloud, in front of our 17 year old son, if we should decorate for Christmas before we left for Thanksgiving. He actually grabbed my shoulders and shook me, saying, “Who are you and what have they done with my mother?”

He saved me.  He woke me up. So I’m going to say it once again to myself and whoever will listen. Just wait.

I love the book Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson.  He writes about how we have allowed our lives to become margin-less: in our time, in our money, in our overload.  He doesn’t write about Christmas but I believe we have also destroyed the margin between seasons.  If society had it’s way, baby Jesus would be born in early October and off to college by January. Stop. Just wait.

Can we not just be pregnant for awhile?  There is a reason for gestation. Good things need time to grow. We are supposed to wait for the seed of new life to grow and be big enough and developed enough to be born healthy.

In the church, we do plenty of things wrong, but one thing we get sort of right is the waiting.  This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent.  We don’t call it Christmas because the baby has not been born.  We wait. We watch.  We will light just one candle. I know, it is a ridiculously simple decoration.  One blue candle? Yes.  We will read scripture about God doing a new thing. We are going to watch, wait and see what might grow.  It’s okay to just be pregnant.