My wife started her Christmas shopping a month or so ago. I think my sister started last spring.

For me, Christmas always seems to show up by surprise. Typically, I’ve focused on all the normal stuff I’m doing. Then I get little, ungentle, reminders that, “Christmas is in a couple days! You aren’t ready!”

So, I run around and shop. Miserable. (Less miserable now – thank you Amazon!) Then I go to a Christmas Eve service and try to shift from 5th gear to 1st. I try to become contemplative about Silent and Holy Nights for 45 minutes.

My mind drifts and wanders. I don’t feel like I’ve downshifted at all. I feel like the engine is still running at high RPM’s but the transmission is in neutral. Doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t sound right.

A couple of years ago, though, I decided I wanted to actually enjoy the Christmas season. Christmas sweaters and parties aren’t really what do it for me. So, I put some thought into what I really wanted out of Christmas.

Peace.

As it turns out, “Peace” is one of the great promises of Christmas. But it is also one of the great absences.

I wanted to bring Peace back into Christmas.

The First Christmas and the Initial Complete Lack of Peace

So, I grew up in church. In most of the pageants or nativity scenes, there is this idea of the silence and “peacefulness” and calmness of that night. Joseph and Mary usually look serene. They peacefully accept the innkeeper’s kicking them out onto the street.

Don’t buy it.

I’m pretty sure that the first Christmas was anything but peaceful. Having had three kids, I think I have some insights here.

My guess is that if I had just dragged my wife, on donkey back, cross country in her last week of a pregnancy – the trip probably wouldn’t have felt peaceful. Our nerves would have been shot. She would have been super uncomfortable and unhappy.

I’m starting to wade deep into reflections on the unfair combination of helplessness and responsibility that new dads feel.

Then she finds out that I hadn’t made arrangements for a place to stay ahead of time.

Now we’re stuck in the shed out back. I had choice words with the innkeeper. The night isn’t getting any better.

She goes into labor, I have no clue what I’m doing, she’s not real confident in me at the moment – and we deliver right there on the floor.

No peace in that scenario.

Maybe a little peace after the delivery and we figure out everyone made it fine. That’s kind of a nice moment.

But then the shepherds show up. They stink, they are basically teenage boys and they are gawking and loud. They completely disrespect visiting hours.

And they didn’t bring anything for us to eat. And they hang out too long.

So, it’s an intense night. An emotional night. Possibly, might even feel like a holy night (in the sense of unique and unlike any other night.) But not silent. Not peaceful.

That’s why churches don’t let me direct the Nativity Pageants.

Peace in the Context of Chaos

But, there was still a promise of Peace. Angels seem to show up left and right in the story and they are always talking about, “Peace!”

I think they said this a lot because “Peace!” wasn’t the most obvious thing happening to anyone. So, they were letting everyone know, “It’s crazy out there but you have been offered Peace. You can receive this. Peace is yours for the taking.”

 Five Ways to Experience Peace

 Let Go & Simplify: Unless it brings you a sense of joy – do less. Decorate less. Cook less. Party less. Buy less. Wrap less. Unless you really love it. Your hors d’oeuvres can be carrot sticks. You can let the charity tables gift wrap your presents. Don’t go to the obligatory party – stay home and relax with the family.  At least half of our chaos is self-generated.

  1. Accept: Accept what you can’t control. I have to accept that there is no way to stop everyone from buying my kids a million toys – all of which make noise and/or are comprised of a million pieces. We ask, we plead, I’m nearly in tears. Nobody listens to me. So, I accept. And reflect on return policies.
  1. Receive: Say “Thank You” and learn to savor. One thing my dad taught me was how to appreciate chocolate. He’s not this way around most things – but if you put chocolate in front of him he stops, slows down, pops a piece into his mouth and slowly lets it dissolve. Chewing chocolate, to him, is essentially a sin. Savoring is a discipline. An art. An experience. Learn to savor the niceties, the moments, the gifts, the experiences, the decorations, the people that you rarely see. Don’t chew your way through it all. Receive it.
  1. Take Time, Reflect, Be Grateful: Give yourself time to catch up with yourself. Some time ago I began an exercise of noting the emotion I woke up with each day. I didn’t think I had an emotion. But I did. When I took a few moments to just stop, reflect and identify it – I learned a lot.

Some days I woke up happy and excited about the day. Other days I woke up feeling anxious or irritated. Just taking the few moments to check in and see how I was starting each day gave me an opportunity to choose my next steps – instead of just free-falling into the day.

I’ve mentioned this many times before – Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to shift your perspective and emotions. But this requires that we stop, take time and reflect.

 Do Just One Thing: What is one thing, that by so doing everything else becomes easier or unnecessary? This is a magic question that I learned from Gary Keller. Figure out your one thing for this Christmas season. Do that. Content yourself with it.

 Why make things any more complicated?

I do wish you a Merry Christmas and Peace this year. Peace for your family and loved ones. Peace over your business endeavors. Peace in your house. Be well.

 

A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – written during the Civil War. Fitting for today:

Christmas Bells

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

Then from each black, accursed mouth 

The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

It was as if an earthquake rent
he hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Merry Christmas!

from our family to yours!

 May Your Christmas Season be Truly Blessed

Hope Counseling Center – here when you need us

Helping People ~ Healing Families