I closed my eyes and gently pressed two fingers on my right eyelid to stop it from twitching.
The holidays were getting closer, and my brain would not stop reminding me of all I needed to do, gifts I needed to buy, plans and decisions I needed make. Then there was laundry to wash, groceries to buy, appointments to schedule, calls to return, and my daughter’s birthday party to plan.
Why doesn’t everything just do itself this time of the year so I can handle the extra stuff that comes with the holidays? I wondered.
Hurrying around my house trying to make progress on my list, my chest started to feel like a huge hand was squeezing the air out of it.
I had been in this anxious place before leading up to the holidays, and I didn’t want to be here again. But I was the only one who could stop it, so I stood still in the middle of my dining room and took a few deep breaths.
I pulled out a piece of paper and sat down to make a list of my unending thoughts, ideas, desires, and expectations. Looking over my long list, I took another deep breath. No wonder I felt overwhelmed.
Out of nowhere, this statement interrupted my thoughts: You don’t HAVE to do it all.
Immediately, my internal dialogue argued, How can I NOT do some of these things? I’ve always . . .
You don’t have to do what you’ve always done. You could just do what matters most to you and the ones you love.
It sounded like something someone older and wiser would say, and I knew it was straight from God’s heart — a gift of grace and truth I desperately needed.
It wasn’t easy, but I decided not to do it all. I put up fewer Christmas decorations, bought teachers gift cards instead of gifts, and did all our shopping online. And with the help of my husband and kids, we created a shortened version of our Christmas traditions.
The one I struggled with most was hanging lights on the outside of our home. It takes so much time, and our kids don’t care anymore, but I love the warm glow of white Christmas lights when I come home on winter nights.
So late one December afternoon, I decided to pull out our aluminum ladder, stretch tangled light strands across our yard, test to see which ones still worked and hang white lights around our front door and windows.
An hour later the sun set and the sky darkened, creating a perfect backdrop for my lights. I wanted to see how things looked so I walked out to our front sidewalk. As I stood there enjoying the lights, the happiest childhood memory of my dad’s house covered with hundreds of bright Christmas lights showed up like a movie trailer in my mind.
With that memory came the biggest smile and an overwhelming sense of delight in my heart, which caught me by surprise.
My childhood had been marked with sadness, fear, and anxiety caused by father’s extreme mood swings and traumatic memories that accompanied his undiagnosed mental illness. There were good times too, but his unpredictable nature felt emotionally unsafe at times, leaving my heart wounded and confused.
I had forgotten how much my dad loved Christmas lights and never connected my love for them back to him. Maybe it’s because putting up Christmas lights had just been another exhausting task on my list in the past.
But because I wasn’t in a hurry that night, I lingered long in that moment and savored the wonderful memory of my dad.
More Christmas memories of my dad came as I hung more lights in the cold that night: him driving us around looking at Christmas lights, him pretending to see Santa and Rudolph, bags of groceries and Butterball turkeys we delivered to families in need, along with gifts for their kids filling the trunk of his car.
I think the best part of not doing it all is being able to be fully present in what we do.
Doing less allowed me to experience more. Instead of hurrying to finish the lights and tackle another task, I had time enjoy and receive a very unexpected gift. I was able to take a deep breath of grace and know that, despite his brokenness, Christmas brought out the best of my dad.
And that may be the reason I never do it all again. Because not doing it all brought out the best of me last Christmas, and that’s a tradition I definitely want to keep.
Sweet friend, if you need permission and encouragement to NOT do it all this year, let this be my early Christmas gift to you: You really don’t have to do it all. And here’s a calming Christmas prayer to help.
Doing less allows us to experience more. -@reneeswope: Click To Tweet