I love reading letters to younger selves. If I were to write a letter to my younger self I would choose this month to do it. It would short and to the point:
Don’t get so worked up. You are loved by the Creator of the universe.
Let that be enough.
Your 44 year old self
Back in my twenties, before we had children, my main goal was to make sure people liked me. I didn’t know that back then so it wasn’t like I woke up in the morning saying, “How can I make sure everyone I encounter likes me?”
But it was it pretty close to that.
My in laws were… demanding. They had a lot of traditions already in place. The expectation that we would participate in every. single. event. was something Lee and I never discussed before we were married. I think because of my people pleasing ways and Lee’s bend in the same direction we just assumed we could make it work.
We never asked each other what we thought was important about the holidays.
Even when we added children the assumption that we would be at every gathering, on time no less, didn’t change. There were gifts to be bought and food to be made. Meanwhile we were struggling to make ends meet in just our ordinary lives. The added stress to our minimal extra cash was a lot. Nobody forced us to participate. We were invited, not threatened. Still, the unspoken, yet obvious, theme of ‘If you come you are part of the family. If you do not…”
Inevitably, what ended up happening was this: I got very worked up.
I didn’t share with Lee, except through explosive and tearful outbursts, that the lead-up to the holidays weren’t fun. The time we spent with family was fine, minus the fact that I was exhausted from stress and too much preparation.
One year something terrible/wonderful happened. Our oldest girls were around 8 and 6 and they got strep throat the day before Thanksgiving. When the nurse came back in with the positive test results the relief that flooded my heart was extremely telling.
The kids were bitterly disappointed but Lee and I were thrilled.
For years we’d been cramming three Thanksgiving meals in. We’d never had the big meal in our own home.
We called Cracker Barrell and ordered four meals. I made pumpkin pies. We lit candles at our own table. We sat around and watched movies. The antibiotics kicked in by Thanksgiving evening and the kids started to feel better.
It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories, because it finally felt like ours and not theirs.
I want to be careful to say that I do not blame anyone but Lee and I for our feelings. Again, no one was forcing us. The issue was that both of us were first-born hard-core people pleasers, plain and simple. We could have talked this through before we were married, or at least before we had kids. We were not the victims of family functions.
There’s just so much you don’t know at the beginning of a new thing.
We don’t regret any of those years that we ran around like mad trying to get everywhere on time. I don’t regret our kids being overly tired at the end of all. I don’t even regret the money we spent. I do regret the zen desk garden we purchased for Lee’s dad.
The thing is this: Lee’s dad was killed in a car wreck almost ten years ago and he is estranged family is estranged now. We haven’t seen any of them in years.
We didn’t see any of that coming. Those years that I was crying and sick to my stomach because of all my uncomfortable feelings were the only ones our family would have with Lee’s family.
That definitely gives me perspective.
Now, I’m not saying that you should run yourself into the ground during the holidays because someone could die. Death is a reality in this world for all of us. I think it’s silly to let that truth guide decisions that we make.
I am saying that boundaries are essential and healthy. We had choices that we didn’t know about.
We could have:
- participated but come at a time that was convenient for us
- participated but not in the gift exchange
- shown up after a meal
- skipped some gatherings
- said, ‘We’ll let you know what our plans are.”
- Invited them to ours house, even though it was small
- divided up the gift buying/wrapping/baking between the two of us
We didn’t have the tools to do that at the time, though. I don’t hold that against our younger selves. However, we have learned from our mistakes and simply refuse to get worked up over the holidays. Because when you’re worked up and upset you miss the gift that is Advent.
You miss the chance to do things slowly.
You miss the message that Christ came to bring us home.
Frantic is not part of the nativity story. Feeling like a failure is not in the Great Rescue Plan. Silent night, holy night doesn’t have the same ring when you’ve ground your teeth every night for a month.
Worked up is more like the work of the enemy.
I believe that’s what that nasty devil loves: strife at the holidays. People worked up and arguing does not leave much room for thinking on the beauty of Christ coming into the darkness to bring us light.
So, brave ones, let’s not get worked up. Let’s not get churned up. Let’s not Pinterest ourselves into forgetting about the gift of these holy days.
Let’s not give gatherings and events more power than Jesus has in our lives.
Instead let’s do simple and slow. Let’s look at the calendar and choose what we love, what we need. Leave the shoulds and the have-to’s off.
Be brave, misfits, and set up some picket fences on your calendars.
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