There are many compasses we can use to guide our lives, a fact that is especially clear this time of year. The compass of the dominant culture and its emphasis on the "Christmas Machine" has a strong pull right now, inviting us to both do and buy more. This same compass also encourages us to make strive to make this Christmas the "best Christmas ever!" I don't even know what that might mean, but I certainly know that approaching anything with that kind of pressure and expectation is the surest way to ruin it. Imagine you were going to have some friends over for an evening of dinner and fun. Now imagine that your goal was to make sure that this would be the best dinner gathering with friends ever! Again, I am not sure quite what that would even mean, but I do know that approaching any occasion with this mindset will most likely heighten the anxiety which could then ruin rather than enhance the experience. Christmas is a hard time of year for many people. Holidays like Christmas are markers and reminders of losses and past gatherings that we have experienced in our lives. A loved one who has always been with us to celebrate Christmas is not with us this year. Someone has died since last Christmas, or a relationship has ended, or a dear friend or family member has moved away. This might be a Christmas where we are all alone, or one where financial difficulties are magnified and greatly limit our ability to celebrate, as we would like to. This might be a Christmas overshadowed by significant health issues, either for ourselves or someone we love.
As we remember how difficult this time of year can be for many people, we clearly see how dangerous and in fact painful a mindset of "make it the best Christmas ever" or trying to create the "perfect" Christmas can be. So if the mindset and compass of the dominant culture prove to unhelpful and stressful, what compass might we use instead to guide our decisions and our experiences as we approach the celebration of Christmas?
Here's a rather obvious idea. Why not truly make the meaning of Christmas your guiding compass this time of year? The compass of Christmas points in a very different direction than does the compass of the dominant culture. Specifically, it points the way towards Christmas by reminding us that:
- Presence is more important than presents.
- The best gifts cannot be purchased at a store.
- The Light is stronger than any darkness or sadness we may be experiencing at this time.
- Spending time with or making things for friends and family is a holy gift.
- Caroling with and for others is a gift for the soul as is the gift of visiting someone who is alone.
- Giving a gift of time or money to a local cause or charity can mean more than any material gift we might buy.
- The vulnerability of sharing with others any sadness we are experiencing creates an experience of love and intimacy, which is, of course, the heart of what Christmas is all about.
- Listening, loving, and caring are the greatest gifts we can share.
- The most important thing to keep in mind this season is not just what we do or give to one another, but is that we have been given the greatest gift of all, the gift of Love by God.
If you find yourself feeling stressed this time of year, take a moment to assess which compass is truly influencing your mindset and choices. As with any journey, the compass we use to guide our way everyday makes all the difference as to where we end up. If we choose wisely these next few weeks, our journeys toward Christmas are much more likely to be full of authentic joy, peace, and love.