When the Manger Feels Empty

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
— Galatians 4:4-5

I have a secret. And it’s about Christmas. And it might be something you don’t want to hear.

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Christmas doesn’t depend on you.

If you didn’t do another thing between now and the 25th of December, Christmas would still be Christmas. Honestly.

Some times we feel a lot like Mary, going into labor in the middle of the street, don’t we? The days of December tick by so fast and we barely have time to catch our breath. Suddenly, just like that, Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day arrive. Ready or not, here it comes. And we feel so not ready. If only we had an extra couple of days. Or maybe a week.

The idea that what we do is what makes Christmas Christmas is a lie.

Because the truth of what makes Christmas what it is for us as Christians remains true regardless of how ready we feel or what we’ve done to prepare. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus, our God, Savior and King, came to earth as a baby; as a Christian this knowledge comes easy, right? But the part we often neglect to remember is that the entire reason He had to come in the first place was because we could not do what needed to be done.

Now I want you to read the Galatians passage again:

“When the time had fully come, God sent His Son…”

The Bible tells us that the time had fully come for Jesus to be born. But it sure wasn’t because Mary & Joseph were ready. It sure wasn’t because the most amazing inn had its best room available. And it surely wasn’t because the world was a safe place for Jesus to be. But still, Paul tells us that the time had fully come according to God’s plan.

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This Advent season, I’m using the letters in the word manger to help remind me that it’s not about what I’ve accomplished in my preparations that makes or breaks the holiday:

Motive

The Christmas cards are fun. The decorations are beautiful to look at. The cookies are oh-so delicious. But what’s the why behind your actions? Is it helping to prepare your heart for His coming or is it distracting your focus? Is it enriching the season for your family or is it stressing you (and therefore, the others in your home) out and causing arguments and exhaustion? Are you enjoying your preparations or are do you look at them with a feeling of obligation or dread?

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
— Galatians 1:10

Ability

Not everyone is Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines. One of my friends has incredible patience to sit down with her kids each year and have them help her hand make every Christmas card they send. Another is an incredible host and absolutely loves having people over. Another makes the most delicious cookies with unbelievably intricate frosting decorations. Yet another is extremely generous and has the financial means to purchase great gifts for everyone and anyone. I am none of the above. But I’m learning to accept that. God made you YOU, with your own set of talents and abilities. It’s only an exercise in frustration (and a whole lot of debt!) if you try to magically become someone that you’re not. It’s ok to buy — and not make — the cookies. It’s ok to get Papa Murphy’s pizza on Christmas Eve. It’s ok to say “no” to sending cards. And it’s ok to spend ten meaningful dollars on a gift for someone who you know will spend way more than that on you.

Need

Consider the needs of you and your family this year. Has it been a rough one financially? Your family members don’t need grandiose gifts to know that you love them. Has it been an exhausting one with the addition of a baby? Maybe this year you don’t need to run around to all of the family events. Has work been more stressful than usual? You don’t need to make a half dozen different kinds of cookies simply because it’s what you always do. What about your spiritual needs? Do you need to connect with God and dig deeper into the Word before Christmas arrives? Let that be at the top of your to-do list.

‘Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’
— Luke 10:41-42

Grace

Oh, those troubled relationships. Things only get harder at the holidays, don’t they? The questions of who will host, when will we eat, what will we eat, when will we go to church, whose Christmas program will Gramma & Grampa attend this year…it goes on and on. Not to mention the idle chit-chat at the get-togethers themselves. It can be exhausting. (For tips on how to handle these relationships, be sure to read Lisa’s blog post from earlier this week if you missed it, “4 Ways to Nurture Challenging Relationships this Christmas”.) But even the healthiest, friendliest relationships can strain under the weight of the season. Let grace be your guide in these situations. Ask yourself, “Is this a battle worth fighting?” Maybe it is. Or maybe, it’s best to just move on and let it go.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
— Philippians 2:3-4

Expectations

I remember my first Christmas after becoming a mother. I had offered to host Christmas Eve, thinking it would be easier than packing up half the house and trying to get my girls to nap somewhere else. I had this picture perfect first Christmas with my babies in my mind. I got them adorable outfits with matching tights, I found a dress that didn’t show my still-pregnant-looking belly and I decked out the table like something in a Pottery Barn catalog. And the day came and one of the girls had a blow out in her tights and needed to be changed before anyone even arrived. I spent what felt like half of the evening in my bedroom nursing and barely sat at the table which I had so carefully decorated to eat. I went to bed crying that night — hormones were probably partly to blame but if I’m being honest, I was full of disappointment. It didn’t even feel like Christmas because life got in the way. I was expecting a magical day full of lighthearted laughter, great conversation and babies who followed their schedule perfectly. The celebration of the Savior’s birth, which doesn’t change, was happening right before my eyes and I refused to join in because it wasn’t like I had planned. Evaluate your expectations: are they realistic? Are you focused on the things of this world which disappoint us time and time again?

Rest

I don’t care what you have to do, but find time to rest during this Advent and Christmas season. Schedule it if you have to. Say no to that one last commitment which is going to put you over the edge and steal more time from connecting with your heavenly Father. Literally set a timer for 5 minutes and sit in a chair, eyes closed, reflecting on what Christmas means to you as a child of God and soaking up just how much the Creator of the world loves you.

You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
— Psalm 4:7-8

I’m praying for you this Advent, my friend. Praying that the devil’s lies about Christmas are replaced with truth: The truth about Christmas, the fact that the King of the world came as a tiny babe at just the right time to do what we were unable to do for ourselves.

No, Christmas doesn’t depend on us. And for that, my friend, we can be eternally grateful.

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Finding Rest in Your To Do List

Do you ever make yourself a to do list?

I like to make them sometimes I think purely for the satisfaction of crossing things off and seeing how productive I've been during the day. It gives me motivation to stay organized and to continue tackling all the different tasks from day to day. I don't make them everyday, but mostly on days when I feel like my brain can't remember anything or when I need an extra kick in the pants to get started. 

Is your to-do list never ending, like mine? 

I often feel a little overwhelmed when writing my list. How am I going to get all these things done with my kids creating disasters right and left at the same time or between shuffling my kiddo to 4K and back or if I want to spend any quality time with my family at all? Perhaps you have the same problem -- not enough time with too many tasks.

What if I told you to add just one (or maybe even a couple) more things to that list.

eh?

Hear me out... or read me out or whatever. 

When our to do lists are too long and our lives are nonstop, these are the times we need to take time to pause. 

Time for rest and rejuvenation.

Sometimes you need just a little time for you -- to refill your cup before pouring yourself out again for others. A little reset or recharge time when you are just. so. done

So here are just a couple ideas to reset. You'll notice in my list that I am doubling up the "task" with both a spiritual side and a personal side. When I make time for my spiritual needs, I always feel more rested and ready to tackle the world. I've tried relying solely on myself before (and I'm sure I'll try again), but it never ends well. I become overwhelmed easily. I lose sight of what really matters in life, and it's not peeling the carrots, folding the laundry, or scrubbing the toilets. Centering on Christ and what He has done for me gives me better focus and motivation. 

So my challenge for you is to do one (or more) of these this week. They're totally simple, don't worry. See if it improves your outlook, boosts your mood, and brings you closer to Him.

1.) Grab yourself some coffee or tea -- whether this be a fancy splurge at Collectivo or out of your favorite mug at home. Open your Bible and read. (Best to enjoy this without children present so the beverage can be enjoyed while warm, but hey, if that's not possible you can always zap it in the microwave!) 

2.) Go for a walk or a run with or without your children. Take note of all the beautiful things with the changing seasons. Point out all of God's blessings to your kids. Talk about what you are thankful for. If you are solo, listen to last week's sermon or a podcast or some Christian tunes. 

3.) Do something for someone else. I find when I take time to do something for someone else, I feel so much better myself. Send a postcard to a friend (or even just a text). Make a meal for a family you know. Donate. While you do it, pray for that person. 

Let us know how you do! Have more simple suggestions to share? Let us know!

Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

finding rest

I got a lot of things accomplished today. I got a workout in, cleaned both of the bathrooms, wrote a bunch of thank-you cards, washed the diapers, reorganized a ton of storage items, and prepped dinner! Don't you just love productive days? You know what is even better? Resting after an accomplished day. Putting your feet up. Watching TV. Enjoying a glass of wine or a bowl of ice cream. Ahhhhh.... so restful!

Isaiah 40:28-31, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

In our world and in our busy lives, it can be difficult to find rest.

We have so many things to do! Bring the kids the school. Pick the kids up from school. Grocery shop. Plan the meals before grocery shopping. Vacuum the living room. Clean the bathroom. Wash the dishes. Go to target. Buy all the Christmas presents. Squeeze in a few workouts. Bake all the things. Go to church. Go to advent church. Go to Bible class. Find time for a few devotions. Pray. Spend time with your spouse. Spend time with your kids. Spend time alone.

The weeks get really full really quickly, don't they?

finding rest

Often, when overwhelmed and exhausted, it can be difficult to see any rest in sight. Sometimes there are just too many things to get done and not enough time to get them done in. During these moments I can't help but think of our heavenly rest to come! If we think that sitting with our feet up with ice cream feels restful, think of eternal rest with our Heavenly Father! We will have all the time in the world to rest and sing praises to our God (maybe enjoy some ice cream with Him too?!). And not only is it rest from our earthly, physical tiredness, but rest from our trials, temptations, and our sinful selves. Complete and total forgiveness is the ultimate rest!

So if the holiday crazies are getting you a little bit down (like me), remember we are but strangers here. Thanks to our Savior, heaven is our restful home!

Revelation 14:13, "Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the LORD from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

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