Have a Real New Year

Anybody looking forward to throwing out the candy canes, eating spinach and going back to work? Me too, and at the risk of sounding like Scrooge again, here’s the last thing I’m going to say about getting real at the holidays.

If I find myself depressed at the New Year it’s usually for the following reasons:

1. I’m overfed.
2. I’m bored.
3. I’m self-absorbed.

Photo Credit: skeeze

Photo Credit: skeeze

On Overfeeding: The impulse to share and bless is a holy one for sure, and science has proven giving feels good. But sometimes our networks are small and the people within them are already obese with blessing. So our lovingly crafted pies are buried under a feast large enough for three times the crowd. It’s so lavish, it’s convicting. Plus, we don’t have the Tupperware, everybody’s pants are tight and we’re all overwrought, but New Years is the finish line, so we choke down pie we don’t want, because it’s unthinkable to trash a homemade pie. I wonder, is the solution less pie or larger network?

On Boredom: God help you if you’re around me when I’m bored. According to the Myers Briggs personality test, I’m an ENFJ. What are you? That means I’m a big extravert who likes to take care of people and boss them around. When I’m not doing that I am easily convinced my life is a waste of time. That thought occurs to me nearly every morning and when my hands are idle. It used to bother me, but then I read the Bible and found a good explanation for it:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

I know I’m up against things I can’t see and when I’m moping around, navel gazing, they gain ground in my head. Friends, the answer is not to be busier, but to choose which thoughts can stay and which ones must report immediately to Jesus. That way if I’m sitting in my bathrobe at noon, like right now, I can rest and not feel like a loser. It does take a little practice though.

Photo Credit: Mark Weaver

Photo Credit: Mark Weaver

On Self-Absorption. Is there a holiday that encourages self-absorption more than New Years Eve? Certainly, self awareness and reflection are good things but there is no joy in selfishness. I know. I’m an expert. So if joy is what we want, we have to aim higher than just losing 10lbs, because, besides ourselves, who does that help? And where in the scriptures does Jesus advocate self-improvement? He doesn’t. He advocates dying to ourselves. The good news is, he said what you give will be given back in big, amazing measure, but you go first. Just like he did.

And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:2

So here’s an idea:

What if over the next 11 months, we set out to make some new friends – needy ones – whatever that means, money, time, mentoring, food. That way next Christmas we can not be bored, and satisfy our impulse to give money, candles, infinity scarves and pie to people who actually need it. Who knows, maybe those friendships will morph into other opportunities at Memorial Day, Easter and Halloween too.

Not sure how to do that? Here’s my prayer, feel free to borrow it.

Lord, because I love you, I want to give. What does that look like, today, in my exact context? Please make it obvious, so even I can’t miss it. Inconvenience me. Show me who needs to see you today. Thank you. Amen.

Real New Year everybody!

Have a Real Christmas

Photo Credit: Bert Kaufmann

Photo Credit: Bert Kaufmann

In the last five days, I’ve had a dozen or so conversations with people who are trudging though the season: People who feel like failures in gift giving, phonies at parties and the only person on earth who doesn’t adore the holidays. If you know me very well, you know I am one of them.

But I’m no longer afraid to tell you that because:

1. I know I’m not alone.

2. I have a warm, well-lighted fortress I run to every time I get discouraged. It arrives in a manger tomorrow.

The bottom line is I’m ok with all this and I want you to be too.

What’s interesting about these conversations is, almost universally, nobody feels safe to admit they are lonely or grieving or disappointed or sad. It’s like we know the Hallmark version of Christmas is actually quite fragile, but we want it to exist and nobody wants to be the one to shatter it. So we smile and play along, then berate ourselves for not having a better time.

Beloved. Stop that. He knows. He sees you.

Photo Credit: SnarkyM

Photo Credit: SnarkyM

We know, in the midst of the sparkle, people are lonely and broken and the holidays amplify that. So what I want to say is, it’s ok to be lonely because you’re not married and you’d like to be. It’s ok to miss someone who died and to feel their absence like an ache. It’s ok to be sick about someone who is languishing in jail, or to cry for your family and your dog as you do something hard on the other side of the world.

Jesus sees you and I wonder if it would please him more to see us abandon some, not all, of the pageantry in favor of authentic emotion. Maybe we don’t want to do that because we don’t want to ruin it for the kids, but what better gift can you give your kids than to demonstrate how to manage joy and sorrow at once? That is a courageous gift.

So if Merry Christmas feels like a tall order, maybe have a Real Christmas instead.

Here are three strategies:

1. Don’t wipe the mascara streaks off your face before you walk in a room. When someone asks what the tears mean, tell them. What if they take a deep breath and cry too? What new thing will come into being between you?

2. Chose, right now, as a practice, to notice what is, rather than what is not. In my case: Legs that work. Eyes that see. Music playing. Dogs sleeping. Fire burning. Fuzzy socks. Poinsettias. This is more than just counting your blessings. It is a deliberate practice, one where we choose the object of our focus. As the Apostle Paul says:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Phil 4:8

Photo Credit: Darian Wong

Photo Credit: Darian Wong

3. Stop and breathe. Really deep. Low and slow. Match the duration of your inhale to your exhale. Maybe do this in child’s pose, which some people think looks a lot like surrender.

If it helps, imagine a manger in front of you.

Real Christmas everyone.