I think I’ve found the perfect Bible verse for Christmas.
It’s not your normal verse. Not ‘In the beginning was the Word’ or ‘For God so loved the world’ or ‘For unto us a child is born’, or anything like that.
It’s a different one.
But I think it’s suitable.
It’s this one: Philippians 4:13
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Now this verse has a bit of a bad rap.
People have used this verse to say that they will succeed in their business or pass all their exams. They use it to say that things will go well with them because they’ve told Jesus to ‘make it so’. But that’s not what this verse means.
In his letter, in the lead up to this sentence, Paul says that he’s learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Whether he’s in need, or has plenty, whether he’s well fed or hungry, it doesn’t matter. He knows that he can do all things through God who gives him strength.
Paul has learned that whatever happens, God will be there with him.
Christmas can be very hard for some of us.
Everyone in my family has had conversations in the last few weeks with people for whom Christmas is a really difficult time. People who have difficult family relationships. People who are mourning. People who are lonely.
For some of us, (cough *introverts* cough) Christmas is exhausting just because it is full of people and fun and good times.
Christmas is a time that requires extra strength.
But that’s God’s gift to us. He gives us strength. Strength to the weary.
So whatever you’re doing this Christmas:
if you’re the one cooking the whole meal for the hordes this Christmas
or you’re going to eat your mother-in-law’s famous roast
if you’re surrounded by people
or doing Christmas day on your own
if you’re going for three straight days so you can visit all the family
or if you’re mourning the loss of a loved one
if you’re still frantically shopping to make sure all the presents are bought
or if you’ve been organised since July and everyone’s getting a goat from a charity anyway
if you’re leading the Christmas Eve service, the midnight service, and the service for Christmas day
or if you’re not going to church at all
if your Christmas decorations have been up since mid-October
or you haven’t decorated even one room in your house
Lean on Him who gives you strength. He promises to never leave you. He knows what you’re doing, how you’re just barely coping, or how much you’re giving to others. He will be there for you.
You can do it, you can do all the things, through Him who gives you strength.
We’re in the middle of it now. Right in the middle of all the Christmas activities.
Take some time to breathe.
I’m going to put some suggestions up on this blog that you may not be able to implement until next year, but I thought I’d put them up anyway. Next year’s Christmas will come around soon enough, and some things you might be able to do this year.
But before I get started on the dos and don’ts of Christmas celebration, I want you to stop and think. Stop and breathe, stop and ponder on what it is that is important to you about Christmas.
Now, I know that if you are a Christian, you’re going to say that the most important thing is that we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus. That’s obviously true. But think about how you spend your Christmas. If someone looked at you from the outside, would they say that this is the most important thing to you?
No judgement here at all. I think that for me, I love to celebrate the birth of Jesus by heading in to church for the Christmas Eve midnight service, but celebration of family comes very high up on my list of priorities for Christmas. And you can tell that by the fact that I have a Christmas Eve celebration with my children, a Christmas Day celebration with my parents and a Boxing Day celebration with my in-laws, my children and my parents and anyone else who wants to come along (it’s HUGE). It’s obvious, from the outside, what my priorities are.
Whatever is your priority, how are you making time to focus on that thing? Are there activities that you do that are spending time on things you really don’t prioritise? How could you lower the amount of time spent on those things, and increase the amount of time spent on your priorities?
I think that one of the stressful things about Christmas is the fact that we are all running around trying to meet the priorities of other people and do things that we don’t value. I’m not saying this is the time of year to massively annoy your close family and friends, but with communication, compromise, and a few well-placed boundaries, we could all have a quieter and more enjoyable Christmas.
When I was a young child, Christmas in our family was a huge burden. We had a Christmas Eve church service, a Christmas Day church service, and then lunch with my mother’s side of the family and the evening meal with my father’s side of the family. By the time we rolled ourselves from one huge meal to the next, us kids were ratty and looking for presents (more presents, and yet more presents), and the adults were exhausted.
So we changed things. One family spent Christmas together and the other side met on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas, if you’re not British or Australian).
As life went on, things changed more as things do. Us children grew up, got married and had children of our own. Now there were even more in-laws to keep in touch with. So now, as I said, we do our small family Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve followed by the midnight service, then lunch with my parents on Christmas Day. Then on Boxing Day we go to Moz’s family for the whole day. And as for my wider family? We do Christmas in late January or early February. The weather is better, there is more chance of having a swim, and everyone is less stressed and more able to relax.
There are other options, of course. Scottie’s family (the morning host at Ultra106.5 FM) does the big Christmas with all the family every second year. One year Christmas is small, one year it’s huge and lasts for a week or so. I think that’s a really good idea.
Tsh Oxenreider suggests that if you celebrate the whole of Advent it takes the pressure off getting Christmas just right. She has written a book called Shadow and Light that you can find at https://www.tshoxenreider.com/advent along with an Advent playlist, a whole lot of art work, and some other tools to help you make the whole season beautiful.
Are there traditions you are doing that don’t suit you? Are there traditions you would like to try? One year I made my own advent wreath and lit the candles each week. I enjoyed it immensely but I haven’t brought that particular tradition into the following years.
A new tradition we have started in our family is the Secret Santa tradition. This makes gift giving so much easier, especially now we are adults and are so more difficult to buy for! We use the website drawnames.com.au, which even has a gift giving guide if your particular person has been difficult and not filled out a wish list.
If you’re feeling stuck with all the cooking, perhaps it’s time to let others have a go. What’s the worst that could happen? You can stock some packets of chips in the freezer so that no one will starve. Or everyone can eat pretzels to their heart’s content. One year we had a charcuterie board competition, where each family brought their own imaginative cheese platter to the big family celebration, another year, a dessert competition was the go. Getting others to bring a plate like this spreads the work around and makes it fun at the same time.
The main thing is to figure out your priorities and boundaries, and then to communicate clearly. And I have found that if you hold everything loosely (like telling your adult children that they can choose when to come and see you), you end up getting a lovely surprise when you see people making your company a priority in this busy season.
And finally, remember that some people don’t have a busy Christmas. For some, this is the most boring and the saddest time of the year. Your best Christmas present may be just to notice and to give your company and time to someone who is alone. Jesus sacrificed his home in glory to come to us as a tiny baby. His throne became a manger. His throne room a stable. Is it too much to ask that in response we give up some of our precious family time to the lonely ones around us?
May your Christmas be blessed whatever you do this year. And may you remember the reason for the season and rejoice in the coming of our Saviour.
My lovely Mother-in-law has a philosophy about wedding anniversaries. She says that if your marriage is having trouble, then your anniversary is the most important day of the year. You have to make it perfect. And woe betide the spouse who forgets the date. But if your marriage is good, if you’re investing in each other throughout the year, if you communicate well, then the anniversary isn’t so important. It’s nice if it’s nice, but it’s not the end of the world if it’s not.
Which is a very good thing, really.
Moz and I have had some doozy wedding anniversaries. We’ve had a couple on Scripture Union camps, where we shared our cabin with not only our children, but our nieces as well. Fun and all, but not the best for romantic pursuits.
Then there was the one in Vanuatu where it rained all day, there was no power (our fault, we’d left a speaker on all night and drained the solar-powered batteries), all our battery operated devices ran out of power and there was almost nothing to do. We played crib with a packet of cards we had bought as a gift for Caleb. When the clouds finally cleared and the rain stopped, our host asked Moz if he could help him out – one of their goats had died and needed to be buried.
On one anniversary, Moz had been given the option to go sailing with my uncle so we spent the day apart. Which wasn’t so dreadful, but it did happen to be the day where I had to make the decision to have our cat put down. Another gem of an anniversary.
We’ve had some good ones as well, but either way it doesn’t matter. We can celebrate our day on the day, or we can celebrate our marriage at another time. We know we’re all right, and we make the effort through the year to rejoice in each other. It’s fine.
I think the same philosophy applies to Christmas.
Christmas day can be a day filled with stress. It can be a day we feel intense pressure to ‘get it right’. To make it perfect. To have the absolutely most special family day of the whole year.
But think about it, you’ve been putting effort into the family for the whole year. You have shown them over and over again that you love them, and they you. Christmas day is a special day, but it is only one day. Even if everything falls apart, you can come together on another day to have another go.
Let’s let Christmas go a bit this year, hold it more lightly, laugh if things go wrong and tuck the stories away to share at a later date and make others laugh too.
Rest in the knowledge that you’ve shared love throughout the year, take the pressure off this day, and let it be the type of special that it needs to be.
May this Christmas be joyous and peaceful for you and those you love.
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I wasn’t sure what to write about in today’s blog and then last night Moz and I went to Nine Lessons and Carols and I knew.
I thought that someone who reads this blog might not know the whole story of Christmas. You might think you know what Christians believe from what you heard in Sunday School or during the end-of-year school assembly. You might be piecing together the story from Christmas cards or bits alluded to in movies (I don’t think that famous Christmas movie, Die Hard, has a whole lot about the story though).
As I sat in the beautiful chapel, listening to the readings that spelled out the whole story, I thought I’d put them up in my blog today. You too can begin at the beginning and read through to understand what it is that Christians are celebrating this time of year.
You might be surprised – there’s a child sacrifice averted in the nick of time, there’s a prophecy that was told long before the Roman Empire even existed, there’s the threat of divorce and shame. And there’s great rejoicing too.
So have a click on the links below, read the story for yourself, and see what you think. I’m happy to chat about any of it, just email me at email@example.com
If you’re a churchgoer of the traditional persuasion you may already know that the church year started on Sunday. The first Sunday in Advent is the first day of the church year.
Somehow it’s not having the same effect on me as January 1st does. There’s something about the world having a huge party the night before, and a public holiday, that makes New Years Day feel special.
Having said that, I felt like I wanted to do something for Advent this year. I want to make the lead up to Christmas something different. To prepare myself.
I am not one of those who puts a Christmas tree up in November. If you are one, more power to you. I find I’ve had enough of the tree taking up my living room once it’s been there a couple of weeks, so I wait a little longer to put it up.
I am also not organised enough to make up an Advent calendar of any significance, and I don’t want to eat extra chocolate every day before Christmas. (I was going to say, ‘eat chocolate every day’ but I realised that I’m probably going to do that anyway if the past few weeks are any indication.)
Just an aside, I have really great friends who have done an amazing thing for their kids. They’ve made up an advent calendar, in each little draw there are a few pieces of Lego and a page of instructions. Each day, the girls will pull out the draw and add something to the growing Lego construction. At Christmas time they will have a full Lego toy, and it’s one of those three-in-one things so they’ll be able to pull it apart and make the other two on Christmas day.
I was never going to do something that organised.
But I decided that there was something small that I could do to make the time seem a little more special and that is Advent candles.
I went to the local everything cheap store (and marvelled at the overwhelming amount of sugar wrapped in plastic junk that is available to all of us). I found (eventually) some candles, and then after a little more searching I found candles that were unscented (so I don’t spend the whole of Advent with a stuffed up nose). And I found a little board.
I’ve made my own Advent thingy. It’s not really a wreath, it doesn’t have greenery. But it’s Advent-ish.
Each Sunday I will light another candle. One for each of the Sundays, and the purple one for Jesus on Christmas day.
I chose not to worry about the pink one for the ‘Joy’ Sunday, and I think that technically all the white candles should be purple, and the purple one, white. But see the earlier comments about scent. All the purple candles in the store were scented and one candle is more than enough scent for me.
I’m hoping that lighting candles each week gives enough of a slow down moment to make the lead up to Christmas less hectic as I take the time to remember what it’s all about.
Oh and I saw this amazing Advent calendar on Facebook that I thought I’d share with you too. Maybe we can make this month a precious and joyful time and put some good back into the world.
What are your Advent traditions? When does your tree go up? Is anyone else doing a clever Advent calendar of some sort?
Step 1: Budget. Put aside money through the year. At least twice as much as you think you’ll need. (If you’ve missed this step then Step 1 might be buying a TARDIS. You can go from there.)
Step 2: Watch American Ninja Warrior or Ultimate Beastmaster or some such strength/parkour adventure competition game show the night before.
Step 3: Write a list. A complete list. Don’t forget to ask everyone in the house what they need you to buy to make it feel like Christmas.
Step 4: Pick a buddy that will have fun with you while shopping. Singing and dancing along to the shop music is perfectly acceptable behaviour.
Step 5: Decide it’s going to take a long, long time to do this.
Step 6: Park at the very far end of the car park. Why not? It’s easier to park and you’ll get to stretch your legs.
Step 7: Stop and buy a coffee on the way in. This is particularly effective if you’ve decaffeinated yourself for months beforehand. The caffeine feels like a Christmas miracle. A large chai can also work if you’re not that into coffee.
Step 8: LARGE trolley. The smaller ones have all been taken anyway.
Step 9: Visit every aisle in the shop. But reframe each aisle as a level in the American Ninja Warrior or Beastmaster show. We are now playing Ultimate Hardcore Grocery Challenge. Each aisle/level has different challenges – some have pillars in them, some have people going up the aisle on the left and on the right, some have that person stopped right in the middle that holds up traffic both ways, some have people you need to stop and chat to, it’s all part of the game.
Step 10: Check the list at the end. Do you have everything or is it time for a bonus round?
Step 11: Pick a checkout with a friendly check out chick/chap that you can chat to. Remember to try not to wince when the total comes through, you’ll be eating this stuff until the end of January.
Step 12: Putting it all away when you get home is part of the game. Or is it a new game? Tetris, maybe.
I know that everyone says that they don’t feel Christmassy and all every year, but I was definitely feeling something different about the end of the year this year, and just now it hit me what it is.
Both my children have finished school. This is the first year in 18 years that I haven’t had an ‘end of school’ routine with a child. I haven’t had any final assemblies, any prizes or awards, any end of year activity days.
And yes, Moz is still a teacher, and would normally attend all these things, giving me some sense of normalcy, but this year he got hit with the horrible cold thing – the one that ends with the everlasting hacking cough (apparently) – and wasn’t able to attend any of the end of year things for his school at all.
And while I’ve finished up work for the year, I’ve been doing that slowly and in pieces for a few weeks now. There was no big last-day marker.
So this year the end of the year has come in a dropwise, petering out, unmarked fashion.
And it feels weird.
But in another way, it’s been really nice. We’ve taken it slow. Our tree isn’t up yet (the picture is from 2013) and I’m not worried about it.
Tonight the kids both come home – Jess from Canberra, and Caleb from a four-day road trip – and tonight we will start to celebrate Christmas and end-of-year-ness together. I’m really looking forward to it.
With two adult children we’re starting a new set of traditions.
I have a friend who has moved to a small mining town in Western Australia. This will be her second Christmas ever without her wider family around. She also needs to start a new set of traditions. And I think she’s feeling a little weird too.
Then there’s my friend whose father-in-law passed away just last night, and things have changed for that family too.
We have such high expectations for the Christmas period. We build them year by year. We can do it all ourselves but we’re given unhelpful help from Christmas movies, TV shows, advertising, and all the marketing guff that goes on.
For some people this time of year is incredibly hard as they battle loneliness, addictions, and so on. But even for those of us blessed with happy families and first-world wealth the changes that each year brings can shock us and hurt us as we approach a milestone like Christmas Day.
I find it helpful to go back to the foundations. For me, the foundation of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. That is enough for a huge celebration no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
The second foundation stone for me is the celebration of family. My own husband and children, my parents and siblings, my in-laws, and my church family. No matter what the day brings I have so much to be grateful for.
I hope that you can find something to be grateful for this Christmas, even if you celebrate through tears.