I was honored to be invited to share at a Christmas party for MUMS, a beautiful community of young moms at my church. After speaking almost exclusively to college students for most of this year, it was a delight to speak to people closer to my own life stage. It was so easy: I just preached the sermon I myself needed to hear.
I was talking to a younger friend after Thanksgiving, a friend who is in her early 20s with no kids. When I asked how her Thanksgiving was, she said it was a good Thanksgiving, but she felt like her mom felt so much pressure to make things perfect, to make it a HOLIDAY. She wished her mom could relax and enjoy it more.
As we catapult toward Christmas, those words from my friend keep ringing in my ears. I am asking myself:
What will my kids remember about the holidays from these growing up years?
I want them to remember a mom who enjoyed her kids. A mom who enjoyed the family traditions we’ve built around the holidays.
But I recognize the temptation to spend so much time building those traditions and “making Christmas memories” that I’m not enjoying anything as the memories get made.
When you’re the one in charge of making things enjoyable, it can make it really hard to ENJOY them.
Do you feel that tension? I think I’ve felt tension about Christmas my whole life.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, so Jesus and church weren’t a part of Christmas for me. For our family, Christmas was presents. And Santa. And time off of school.
And, since my parents split up when I was 9, Christmas was shuttling between my mom’s and dad’s houses, listening to them negotiate who gets the kids when. And being raised by a single mom barely making ends meet, Christmas was about never having enough money.
I know now that my mom’s primary love language is gifts, so I understand how stressful that was for her, to scrimp and save to be able to give us each one present and still be able to keep the electricity turned on.
That was what Christmas meant to me growing up: money, stress, a worried mom trying hard to make it special for all of us.
I became a Christian in college, and Christmas became real to me for the first time – a celebration of Jesus, Emmanuel, God WITH us.
I didn’t get married until well into my 30s, so in those days I’d soak in the PEACE and Jesus celebration at my church all December, but I was always home with my family on actual Christmas. To this day I’ve never been to a Christmas Eve service at my home church.
Then I married Matt and left my family behind in Texas to come up here to the Good Life in Nebraska, and actual Christmas weather at Christmas time.
For those of you who don’t know, I am married to Matt Meyer, one of the college pastors here. Matt was married before me, to a lovely woman named Julie, who is mother to our 15 year old, Luke. Julie died from complications of breast cancer just after Luke turned 3.
Luke was 5 when I married Matt, so I married into more responsibility and traditions than most women get to right away. Christmas-wise , I had lots of dreams and plans and intentions, not to mention Christmas traditions of my own. Less than 6 months into marriage we had to blend our Christmas expectations and figure it out, with a 5 year old who was pretty attached to doing things just like he and his dad had done them the year before.
It was a lot to negotiate.
Because Christmas is about Jesus, but Christmas is also about a lot of other things.
That year is when I realized for the first time: Christmas is really complicated when you’re the Mom.
Christmas is complicated for moms because (as everyone in this room has probably discovered…) Christmas is mostly mom’s job.
I mean, maybe some of your husbands are really great at Christmas gift planning and shopping? Or you have husbands who are great at thinking up meaningful crafts and activities?
My husband is AWESOME, but y’all, he feels absolutely no pressure to think up holiday traditions that will make memories for our kids. He enjoys them, and loves to participate. But he doesn’t feel driven to plan those times like I do.
Even though he didn’t really want to, he put lights up on our house this year. And if it ever snows, he scoops the drive (thank Jesus because I am a Texas girl, I don’t do snow removal.)
But He doesn’t see the need for teacher gifts. He feels no shame at all when our neighbors give us a loaf of banana bread and we have nothing to give them in return. He is a great husband, and loves our family well. But that man is not looking at “tablescapes” on Pinterest and feeling like a failure.
All those external pressures that make Christmas complicated: Mom’s job.
In addition to the external pressures, Christmas is also complicated because of internal pressure I bring my own self.
Especially with my non-Jesus Christmas background, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I am just determined that for our family, CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT JESUS.
Jesus and joy and peace and NOT presents and materialism and please ignore the fact that you have 5 sets of very generous grandparents, so in reality Christmas is a giant landfill of materialism.
This internal pressure complicates things because it leads me to be the crazy mom crying in her room because her boys would rather play video games than participate in the “meaningful activity” she lovingly planned for Advent. Or the super crazy mom yelling at her kids to “SHUT UP WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE PRINCE OF PEACE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!”
I think of my own sweet Mama working so hard to make Christmas special, all by herself, for her kids. And I realize – I’m living out exactly those same patterns of stress and pressure, now with Jesus stamped on them. And I want a WAY OUT. I don’t want Jesus to be just another thing on my holiday to do list.
I love to decorate for Christmas. I love crafts with my kids, and advent calendars and fun, meaningful traditions that will weave together to form a lifetime of memories for my boys. I love how our kids respond now to the traditions and decorations they see every December. They greet them like old friends, it is so precious to me. But I don’t want those things at the expense of my own peace.
I don’t want to be so busy celebrating Jesus that we miss actually living WITH Jesus. If these holiday things blind me to Emmanuel, God with us? If they cost us PEACE? Not worth it.
So a few years ago, I sat down and made a Christmas manifesto. 3 things to serve as a guideline: Guardrails, if you will, to keep me from veering off the road into crazytown.
#1 Do what you WANT. Celebrate Christmas in a way that works for YOU.
Do you like to bake and cook? DO THAT. Does the idea of making a tray of 8 different cookies for each of your neighbors make you want to move? Then don’t do that!
Do you like hosting parties? Host away! But if you have enough introvert in you, the holidays probably already offer all the partying you can handle. Good for you.
Are handmade teacher gifts your thing? MAKE THEM. But if like me, a few years ago you made darling bags of homemade biscotti for each of your son’s teachers, including the specialists because he REALLY wanted to do gifts for his music and art and computer and PE teachers? And then when you were checking his backpack in January, you found THREE bags of biscotti? You might want to just do gift cards for the main teachers and call it a day.
And remember that comparison is the thief of joy, and we are all on the same team, this isn’t a crazy Christmas competition.
Facebook and Instagram can be our enemies here. If you find that social media is stealing your joy and making you feel like you suck at Christmas, then maybe you need to step away for a little while.
Step back and ask yourself: What do I WANT to do? Do that. And let the rest GO.
I have enjoyed Christmas so much more since I started practicing this.
The second guideline on my Christmas manifesto was to ask myself “How does the way we celebrate Christ reflect the heart of Christ?” It is just so easy to celebrate Jesus in a way that doesn’t have anything to do with actual Jesus.
It is so easy to celebrate Jesus in ways that don’t reflect who He is at all, AND to celebrate Him in a way that brings out the least Jesus-like parts of myself.
Jesus. This God-man, born in a barn, who as a homeless adult said, “the birds have their nests and the foxes their dens, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head…” We celebrate this God by giving people who have more than enough…. Even more.
Our God who was born into a blue collar family in a backward part of a powerless country, who ate with tax collectors and sinners. Who “had no stately form or majesty that anyone would notice Him…” We celebrate this God by competing and comparing and performing and spending.
Who is this for?
Please PLEASE don’t hear me trying to send us all on a guilt trip. For me, this isn’t a reason to feel guilty, it’s a guideline. A guardrail to keep me focused on Jesus, and to keep me from veering off into crazy-town. Our family does still give and receive gifts, but we have been working hard to simplify. And we’ve been asking a LOT of questions about why and how much and to whom we give.
This has also been a good heart check for me. Even in teaching my children the “real meaning of the season”, teaching them about Jesus, I can get so caught up in my plans and my agenda that I forget that my first job from Jesus is to “let the little children COME.”
I forget that when I’m approachable, when I love them unconditionally, and receive them with open arms, I am living out my high calling to represent their heavenly Father… who is always approachable, and always loving. Is my Christmassing making me more or less like Jesus?
“How does the way we celebrate Christ reflect the heart of Christ?”
#3 The 3rd guardrail in my Manifesto is: Cultivate a spirit of peace in my own heart.
I want a peaceful family SO BADLY. But I was born into a crazy family. And now I’m raising a family full of boys and peace feels very far away.
I’m sure every one of us has learned by now, it is an IMPOSSIBLE goal to enforce a spirit of peace in your family. You can’t inflict peace upon small children – on any children, really.
But we CAN choose to walk in peace ourselves, because peace is not circumstantial, it is a state of the heart.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulders. His name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
PRINCE of peace.
Beth Moore says that peace is the fruit of authority – when we are surrendered to the authority of Christ, His rule, His will, His desire, we live in PEACE.
What will it look like for us Mamas to surrender to Christ this Christmas season? What does it look like to surrender to His authority?
To submit to His LOVE? To submit to the truth of Christmas that we don’t have a God who expects performance and perfection, but a God who is PRESENT?
Maybe some of you live in peace without putting effort into it – I’ve always felt like I’m an inherently un-peaceful person. For me, peace takes intentional time with the Prince of peace, and deliberate choices to live according to my values, which keeps me in a place of peace.
For me this means space and place, planning a set aside time to be present to God, especially in busy seasons. Sometimes this means reading God’s Word and praying and journalling. But it also means making time to sit quietly in the light of the Christmas tree, before the kids wake up in the morning or after they go to bed, and just BE with Jesus. PEACE.
For me submitting to Christ also means getting really clear about my boundaries. There are a lot of demands and expectations at this time of year, how do I decide what to say yes to?
I want Christmas to be about connecting with Jesus and connecting with our people – so that is the filter through which we make our decisions.
If Christmas is going to be about connecting with Jesus and connecting with family, what new traditions can we start? And to make room for those, what needs to go? What am I doing to please others or perform and put on a show? What is getting in the way of me connecting with Jesus and my family and others?
Peace is a choice.
So there’s my manifesto:
#1 Do what you want.
#2 Celebrate Christ in a way that reflects the heart of Christ.
#3 Cultivate peace.
These practices have been really helpful to me over the past 2 years, and it was REALLY good for me to think through this again with y’all today. I keep thinking of my friend, and wondering what my kids will say when they’re in their 20s, 30s and beyond.
What will my kids remember about the holidays from these growing up years?
I want them to remember a mom who enjoyed Christmas and the family traditions we lived out year after year.
I want them to remember a mom who enjoyed her kids, her husband, her people. And most of all, I want them to remember growing up with a mother who enjoyed Jesus. Because He is enjoyable. He is JOY. THAT is what we celebrate this Christmas!