Two years ago we spent Christmas with my sister-in-law and family in England. Then we spent the New Year holiday in Northern Ireland with some friends. We explored the countryside, the glens, and the castles near and around Belfast. My birthday happens to fall on New Year’s Eve, and on my birthday we drove up and down the hills, got out now and again to battle the cold wind across the loughs and the Irish Sea, and took pictures in the rain of simultaneous rainbows and brilliant blue skies.
If a day could be magical then this day was. I remember thinking two things:
- I’ve never spent a better birthday, nor will ever spend a better birthday than this.
- Very few things are better than you expect them to be and this day and this place is one of them.
It surprised me because very few things meet our expectations, first, and then there are very few experiences that actually exceed them. For instance, we browse through a brochure from a hotel or a resort, look at those strangely angled photos of one of the hotel rooms or the pool and we tell ourselves that it looks truly amazing. So we book a weekend for our anniversary. And then we get there and, yes, it’s nice, but never does the actual place exceed what we believe it to look like from the photos. It’s just a hotel room with mediocre room service, and it’s just a pool that is much smaller than it looks online.
My youngest brags that for her mom, Christmas begins the day after summer stops. I have to laugh when people act worried that they may be beginning Christmas too early by getting out the tree in November because I’m the type that begins playing Christmas music the day after Labor Day.
For me the holiday season is something I look forward to so much that I like it to encompass all of autumn as well. Almost as much as the kids who are excited for Christmas morning, I look forward to the whole holiday season.
And nearly every year I want it to be “Ireland,” but it turns out to be the random hotel room with the cold pancakes. I pack up the tree after an exhausting 25th and think that Christmas is what it is. It should be the “happiest season of all,” but rarely does it live up to that.
But I’m not sure that it has to be a disappointment. In fact I’m positive it shouldn’t be. We let work stress, financial stress, family stress, and scheduling stress steal the “expectation” out of our season. The season during which we are supposed to celebrate friends and family and generosity and celebrate the coming of God to earth is supposed to be covered in joy and ease.
Christmas is a season built for expectation, but we build all of our expectations around the wrong things. When we expect the holidays to be easygoing and full of laughter and peace, yet we schedule ourselves silly, expect our families to act differently than they’ve always acted, and spend far more at Anthropolgie than we make, then we are doing this wrong.
I believe God really does want to surprise us. He wants us to have the wonder and the amazement that we want too, but we seem to get in the way of ourselves.
It might be too late this holiday season to create the perfect Christmas, but I do think we can do a few things differently to help our season meet our expectations.
1. Let things go. Just let them roll. I promise, it will be okay. If your pie doesn’t come out, it isn’t the end of the world and your children will survive without everything on their lists.
2. Remember that people are people. Your father-in-law will act as he always acts, your aunt’s house will feel way too far to drive to like it always is, and your brother will still tell his inappropriate jokes with the children around. It happens. Family is about love and grace.
3. Let a few things go off of your schedule. It’s okay if you don’t make the neighbor’s holiday gathering. It’s okay if you can’t get to the school Christmas party on time. You don’t have to see everyone you’ve ever met in the month of December. You can follow-up with them in January. It’s okay.
4. Let go of what you think Christmas should be. There are a few things that are important, yes, but let your season take you where it will. Maybe your kids don’t decorate cookies this year, maybe they build a fort instead. Maybe you all get the flu (let’s hope not) and spend the holiday just the few of you around your own tree. Maybe things are different this year.
5. Take some time each day to be still. We have to fight against the fury of the world during the holidays and everyone will tell you that you have to keep moving. But they are wrong. Be still.
6. Expect Jesus. The Advent season is about expectation. Expect Jesus today. Expect Him tomorrow. Just expect Him. Let Him surprise you like He wants to.
Let’s wrap our expectations, not around perfection and schedules and accomplishments, but around Jesus. We will never be disappointed. It will be Ireland and more every time.