The magic elixir of tryptophan and hot toddies hadn't even taken full effect in my system last Thursday, when the first email push notification arrived. Before I could un-button my pants, sale emails cluttered my inbox.
Bold letters and % signs shouted at me from the tiny screen on my mobile phone.
"Psst. Hey, you!" they hissed. "Don't get too comfortable. We know you're "grateful" and all, but seriously - there are deals to be had. Promise it'll only take a minute. What could it hurt? We're actually trying to HELP SAVE you money. There. There. It won't hurt a bit. 40% off THIS!!! 50% off THAT!!! See?? Painless..."
Apparently Thursday is the new Friday. You can baste away AND shop to your heart's content. Two holidays at one time? Say it ain't so! But don't go too crazy. Black Friday deals are a steal and all, but what about Cyber Monday? If you buy the commercial-grade-barista-worthy-espresso-maker today, how do you know you're not missing out on an even better bargain tomorrow?
You don't. Sorry. No time to ponder. The sale ends at midnight tonight. The mass-marketing pressure cooker can be overwhelming. Timeshare Christmas shopping theology at its best.
Now, before we start feeling too over-whelmed by a heaping serving of steaming hot guilt, wondering if we're molding our kids into entitled little Christmas mongers, we need not worry. Why? Because we can temper the consumeristic package with "Giving Tuesday," of course!
Wait ... Do we spend or do we save? Do we give or do we receive?
This whole business has my mind tangled up in one hot mess. Maybe I should just announce to the kids that we are torching the Christmas wish lists. Stop looking at catalogs. Turn off the TV for the month of December. We will clear our minds of any wishes whatsoever.
Simplicity. That's the name of the game! Nothing for us. We have everything we need. (And we do!) After all, isn't better to give than receive?
Absolutely! It brings tremendous joy to give. No doubt. But it's also kinda fun to receive -- isn't it? I like giving goats and sweaters. I like receiving philanthropic gifts in my name and cute earrings. Can't we all just get along?
I propose that throwing in the towel on all things consumer in order to get back to the heart of Christmas is not the answer. I mean, not really. Nor will it lead us to complete inner-peace and resolution. Oh. I suppose it may. For a while. But eventually, in a day or two or 365, Western Christmas as we know it will return. Consumerism will come knocking. Unless you up and move to your own private island off the coast of Greenland (which would take some significant capital, by the way), marketers will find you. And once again you will be forced to make a decision. To take a stand on this complicated issue.
So, just how, pray tell - do we navigate the chaos of Christmas? You know, keep the "Christ" in it and all that?
I believe author Richard Foster shines a light on the answer (or at least a good bit of it) in his book, Celebration of Discipline when he reminds us of the simple, revolutionary words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:31-33:
"Do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well."
What does Jesus say to do? Seek First the Kingdom.
Foster purports, "Nothing must come before the kingdom of God, including the desire for a simple lifestyle. Simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom... Soren Kierkegaard considers what sort of effort could be made to pursue the kingdom of God. Should a person get a suitable job in order to exert a virtuous influence? His answer: no, we must first seek God's kingdom. Then should we give away all our money to feed the poor? Again the answer: no, we must first seek God's kingdom.
Well then, perhaps we are to go out and preach this truth to the world that people are to seek first God's kingdom? Once again, the answer is a resounding: no, we are first to seek the kingdom of God. Kierkegaard concludes, 'Then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is, first seek the kingdom.'"
Silence and seeking. Two intensely personal actions can lead to a freedom from anxiety about this season or any other...
Foster suggest there are three inner attitudes we can adopt that can help lead us to this place of spiritual alignment with God no matter where we live:
1. Understand that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from God.
2. It's God's business, not ours, to care for what we have. God is able to protect what we possess. We are merely stewards.
3. We must allow our goods to be available to others. If our goods are not available to the community when it is clearly right and good, then they are stolen goods.
So there you have it. Some potential guidelines. As I see it these bring some good news and some bad news. The good news: It's intensely personal. The bad news: It's intensely personal. No formula can bring true freedom. Only one person can. And He is - indeed - the reason for the season.
So how do you navigate the chaos of Christmas? How do you "seek first the Kingdom" in this, or any other season?
Oh I just hate this whole issue! Because I have to seriously figure it out. One thing I do know is that it's not realistic for me to become Amish, or a Puritan or a Quaker within the next 3 weeks so the balance must be found between the earthly-how-many-presents-can-we-pack-under-the-tree syndrome and the heavenly precious moments that are possible when we take our eyes off the "stuff." I'll add another issue to the mix: how do you manage your time during the month of December? Do you say yes to every nutcracker ballet, choral performance, Christmas craft show and ugly Christmas sweater party? Or do you seek first the kingdom in that layer as well? I think I know the answer - but figuring this out ain't for sissies! Can I get an Amen?
I needed to hear this! I have been perseverating on what sort of strategy to implement to counteract Spencer's (8 year old) need to always have more. Lately, I have noticed in Spencer an increased dissatisfaction with the millions of toys he owns. He LOVES Legos, but after finishing a 1000 piece ($250) Legos Star Wars ship, he is done and then wants another bigger one, so why buy him anything??? Or we can do eight million fun things in a day, but if he can't play on the iPad, then the day is a disappointment. I heartily despise that! I literally took a huge sigh of relief when you wrote, "Seek First His Kingdom." Now I remember how to parent just a little bit. How to try and compete with consumerism. How to develop a grateful heart. And I guess the best way to teach it, is to do it. How quickly I forget.