PARENTING TOPIC: Make it personal

Your Sunday Best

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

By Terry Scalzitti

Growing up, I can remember my mom saying, “Be sure to put on your Sunday Best!” For most kids, that meant you ought to be clean, tidy, and looking perfect when you go to church. But at the core of this well-meaning admonishment is a comparison game a lot of us never outgrow.

The trap we fall into is comparing our worst to everyone else’s “Sunday Best.”  We all do it. Walking down the hallway at church, smiling and waving hi to a friend who seems to have it all together. . .we begin thinking to ourselves, “Why can’t I be more like her?” or “Why can’t my child act like theirs?”  We quickly recall our worst moments and imagine others’ best moments in comparison. How can we avoid this dangerous trap? One way is to be sure that our faith is an exercise and not a “standard.”

When we treat our faith like a standard, we compare our motives, decisions, and actions to a standard we can’t meet. We’ve been told that we need to be “Christ-like.” The problem is when we fall short of Christ’s standard (which we always will).  On the other hand, if as parents we treat our faith as an exercise that we put into practice every day, we will understand that there are growing pains that will happen through successes and failures. That’s the difference between a standard and an exercise.

A runner who trains for a marathon never starts training by running 26.2 miles on their first day out. They’ll start with a few miles and build each day. In other words, they fall short every day during training. But instead of feeling like a failure during their exercise, the runner gains confidence by practicing. Imagine if every time we failed as a parent, we understood that it’s a chance to exercise our faith believing that Christ “in us” can help us overcome every obstacle, difficulty, and challenge.

When we treat our faith like an exercise, we walk away from every moment, win or lose, knowing that we can learn from them and better ourselves in the process. The next time you compare your worst parenting moment to someone’s best, remember that your Sunday Best isn’t going to look like anybody else’s. ..but it’s yours still the same.

Terry Scalzitti is Associate Pastor for Adult and Family Ministries at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale. He and his wife Jennifer have a son, Connor, and spend their free time enjoying the outdoors and watching Terry’s beloved Chicago Cubs.

5 Signs You Might be a Boastful Parent

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

There’s an ongoing debate about the impact of social media on kids. My guess is you’ve got an opinion on it.

But instead of dumping on our kids, let’s talk about something we can control a little more directly.

How are you interacting with social media as a parent?

More specifically, has social media become a platform for you as a parent to preen a little about the achievements and excellence of your kids?

Now please understand, I’m a big fan of social media. My personal view is that social media isn’t good or evil; it simply reveals and amplifies what’s already there.

We like to talk about the things we are passionate about. And we are passionate about our kids. But I tend to agree with a few articles I’ve read recently.

Robert Brooks makes some excellent points in this piece about how parents have taken to using social media to brag on their kids. It’s gone way beyond “My Child is an Honor Student” bumper stickers (which has more than a little swagger to it) to a full blown ego strut. If we spoke out loud at a dinner party the things that we often tweeted or updated online, we might dismissed as being rude, bragging, or showing off.

Tim Elmore has recently written a great article for the Huffington Post about the implications of bragging, over-affirming parents who, he says, are raising a generation of kids with high arrogance and low self-esteem. I find his insights piercing.

So if we reframed the question, we could ask it this way:

Have you taken to boasting, bragging, and otherwise flaunting your children’s accomplishments online?

Probably not a single one of us wants to say yes.

I’m not real thrilled about asking myself the question, but the articles have made me do some soul searching.

Am I a braggart?

Am I proud?

Do I boast?

Because if so, I need to stop.

Do you wonder if you are one of those boastful parents? Here are 5 signs you might be one:

1. You’re as passionate about people knowing about your child’s achievement as you are passionate about your child’s achievement. Don’t get me wrong, parents are supposed to be proud of their kids. But pride may have won the moment when you become as passionate about other people knowing how awesome your kids are as you are about your child’s awesomeness.

2.  You feel a need to make your delight public. I love to keep people close to me updated on my kids’ progress. I have two sons I’m very proud of. But telling grandmas and grandpas, the wider family, and some good friends (who also care about our kids) is different than trumpeting it to everyone you know. If you feel a need to make their best moments public, you might well be prone to boasting.

3. You only celebrate your own victories. One of the reasons braggarts are so difficult to like is because they are self-absorbed. They only want to talk about themselves, and rarely ask questions about others. If you can’t share the spotlight, genuinely delight in the accomplishments of others, and not get jealous when others do “better”, pride might be gaining some real estate in your heart.

4. Your gratitude isn’t that genuine. It’s easy to bury boasting under an “I’m so thankful that….insert brag here mantra,” as in “I’m so thankful that my son placed first in his class and crushed all the other kids.” (That’s a little sarcasm, just so you know.)  Your private gratitude will always be deeper than your public proclamation. Sometimes true wonder and amazement cannot be expressed in 140 characters or less.

5. You don’t like to give credit to others. Some kids are just gifted. They actually are first in the class. They get all the trophies. And some of you have a child like that. So what do you do? I think humble parents are often last to take the credit. Many will talk about God’s grace, their kid’s hard work, solid coaches, teachers, friends and mentors, instead of giving themselves full marks. For example, “So thankful for everyone who made my daughter’s final year of elementary school such a great one” makes a much better status update than “Top of her class, again!!!!”.

The main reason I can write about this is only because I have to struggle through these things regularly. And I certainly don’t always get it right.

The battle against pride is so important. The last thing I want to do is lead a narcissistic life.

Scratch that.

Even worse would be this: being even partially responsible for the next generation losing the humility and wonder of knowing a God who is gracious to his children and loves us far far beyond our deserving.

That would be the last thing I want to do.

What are you learning in the struggle against pride? Are you bothered by boastful status updates?

Patience = Money in the Bank

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

By Terry Scalzitti

Some friends of mine recently told me they were at their wit’s end. They had two children who—in their words—were “driving them crazy.” Since they didn’t think that destination would change anytime soon, they asked for some practical ways to improve their patience with their kids. Should they count to ten?  Should they walk out of the room? While those might seem like a few good go-to options for most parents, they’re can actually be counterproductive.

My friends were puzzled by my response. I told them that patience is a lot like “capital.”  Much like money in the bank, we all have different amounts of Patience Capital or “PC” in our banks. From time to time, our children will make a withdrawal from our banks. When our accounts run dry, we typically say things like “I’m running out of patience” or “I’m trying to be patient with you.”  In these moments, we’re actually on overdraft protection mode! The reality is that we all must take some steps to re-build our PC accounts. Here are a few ways to grow your PC accounts so that you won’t bankrupt your patience!

1. Spend consistent quality time with your children. Many times, our children make their greatest withdrawal from our PC accounts when they want our attention. Spending intentional time after work or on the weekends with your children outside of the normal routine will put “PC” back in your account. Remember what Reggie Joiner says: “It’s not quality time or quantity time, but the quantity of quality times.”

2. Build clear expectations by creating a rhythm in your home. Every family has a unique rhythm. Yours might be double-time or adagissimo (very slow). Whatever it is, these rhythms help children have clear expectations for their time. When children know what to expect at certain times during the day, they will develop initiative and drive which helps them develop independence. When children develop independence, they are able to have personal boundaries which helps moms and dads not dip in their PC savings account.

3. Develop clear consequences for poor choices. Specifying clear consequences for our children and following through with them helps our children know where the boundary line is. Too often, parents will move the line with each infraction which encourages our kids to push the line. When our children push the line, we dip into our PC accounts and run the risk of over drafting .

4. Remember that emotions carry a PC withdrawal fee. In those inevitable moments when our children push the line, we run the risk of taking things personally. In these moments, our emotions can accelerate PC spending. When we remember that poor choices are part of the training process for children, we are able to budget our PC appropriately.

Following just a few these suggestions will help you build a PC surplus which will allow you to avoid running out of patience. Spend your PC wisely!

Terry Scalzitti is Associate Pastor for Adult and Family Ministries at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale. He and his wife Jennifer have a son, Connor, and spend their free time enjoying the outdoors and watching Terry’s beloved Chicago Cubs.

Practicing Friendship

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

I really think we could learn a lot about friendship from our kids, especially when they are young. I’m always amazed at how easily kids can make friends on the playground, at the ball park, or in line at the grocery store. Maybe it’s just easier to strike up play when you’re younger than conversation when you’re older. They also must have short-term memories. They are screaming at each other one minute and laughing together the next! That’s a lesson in forgiveness right there!

But knowing how to be a good friend over time is not always intuitive for our kids. My daughter, Sara, came in one afternoon as dramatic as any girl would . . .upset that no one liked her. It broke her momma’s heart. She just didn’t understand how no one wanted to play with her. If you knew my Sara, you would know she is sweet, fun, and creative. But she can also be a little bossy.

I was thankful for the opportunity to impart a little wisdom. Rather than coddle her and bash her “friends” like I was tempted to do, I pointed out that it’s not always easy to know how to be a good friend. And that maybe she could practice becoming a better one. Someone they would want to be around. When the time was right, I shared this advice with her:

1. People love it when you compliment them. Have you ever told your friends you really like their ideas? You liked what they were wearing? You thought they were funny?

2. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what you want to do —even if you don’t feel like doing what they want to do or you think your idea is better. Good friends give and take. Especially when it comes to sharing ideas, conversations, and activities. And no one likes to be told what to do, not even you!

3. Do what you wish they would do for you. Think of what would make you feel special, and do it for others. Bring them snacks. Let them borrow something you like. Write them a sweet note. But don’t expect anything in return. Because that’s what good friends do!

4. Don’t take it personally. Your friends are trying to figure out how to be better friends, too. We all tend to think about ourselves more than others, so sometimes you just have to give them a break.

I was intent on not lecturing, just offering some ideas that might help. But Sara didn’t seem to even be listening. I imagined she thought I was being ridiculous. Maybe she was still wallowing in her self pity. She was completely silent through her tears and never said a word in reply. Still, I let her know that no matter what, I loved her to the moon and back.

A couple of days later, she flew in the house—ecstatic. She said, “Mommy, it worked!!” I had no idea what she was talking about. She had to remind me, “Those things you told me to try, they worked!! I’m practicing how to be a good friend, and it’s working!”

I’m sure there’s no greater joy than to know you’re helping your children grow in areas where they might flounder on their own. I know you have your own wisdom to share with your kids on how to be a good friend. As far as my advice, I probably have some practicing to do, too!

How are you helping your kids be a better friend?

Karen Wilson works at Orange and is the Managing Editor for the OrangeParents blog. She and her husband Mark have two children, Elijah (10) and Sara (8).

5 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Tell The Truth

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

My grandmother used to tell me about a parenting strategy she used to us to get my mom and uncles to tell the truth when they were kids.

If she suspected one of her children was lying, she would line them up and tell them that she was going to inspect their foreheads. Every time one of the kids asked why, she simply said, “Because when I see your forehead, I can tell who’s telling the truth or not.”

Inevitably, as she went down the line, the child who was lying would cover their forehead so my grandma couldn’t see. Then my grandmother would proceed to them and say “So it was you. Now I know.”

Clearly, she was a genius.

I suppose using a game of deception to encourage honesty might not be the best parenting idea going, but you have to give her points for ingenuity.

What my grandmother struggled with is what every parent struggles with: how do I get my kids to be honest?

I suppose some of you have some parenting tricks you’d love to share (we’re all ears here), but here are a few strategies that can help you foster the kind of atmosphere that values truth:

1. Start talking about honesty early. If you begin the conversation early, you can establish honesty as a core value in your home. You can reward a toddler’s behavior every time they tell you they did something bad. Well that wasn’t right and we’ll have to do something about it, but I’m SO glad you told me the truth. Thank you! That’s so important!

2. Discourage dishonesty even more than you discourage the crime. We all make mistakes. But we don’t have to lie about them.   If your child does something wrong, consequences are in order. But if they lie about what they did, make the consequences greater. If all you do is punish the act, you might be giving them unspoken incentive to lie about the act.

3. Don’t lie. I was going to say this more tactfully, but maybe we need to be direct. Almost all of us tell white lies from time to time. Ever been caught  in front of your kids trying to come up with an excuse to get out of something? Oh, just tell them you’re busy, I know you really don’t want to go. Or maybe your kids have overheard you talking about how to get that ‘extra’ day off on your vacation. Well, you could call in sick. Ouch. They model what you do more than they model what you say.

4. Search for a way to tell the truth. While this might not work well with two-year-old, but as your kids get older, explain the dilemma you find yourself in when you are tempted to tell a ‘white lie’. For example, you might say, “I really want to tell her I liked the brocoli salad, but I didn’t. So I found the things I did like and told her about that. . . such as, “I so appreciate all the time and effort you put into making the meal. Thank you!” It teaches your kids to search for a way to tell the truth when we all have trouble finding it. And it teaches them to value honesty in every situation.

5. Talk about your struggles. As your kids get older, talk about your struggles to tell the truth. Tell them about how easy it is to lie in order to not hurt someone’s feelings, and how you really have to wrestle with being 100% honest at work in every situation. When you let them know it’s still a struggle for you, it validates the struggle they feel within themselves. It’s also another way to establish the value of honesty as a core value not just in your home, but in your lives.

What are you learning about valuing honesty in your home? What would you add to the discussion?

Innocent Little Liars

Friday, March 8th, 2013

by Karen Wilson

Your cute innocent little children have deceived you. They are not who they appear to be! If you haven’t already caught them in a lie, chances are you will. And more than once—as toddlers, as young children, and as teenagers.

At first you might want to try to suppress laughter as you watch them unknowingly betray themselves.

  • They’ll tell you they didn’t eat the chocolate cake that is smeared all over their face.
  • They’ll try to persuade you they brushed their teeth, but not let you smell their breath.
  • They’ll say they found that trinket in the parking lot, even though you saw them eyeing it in the store.

Eventually petty lies turn into big whoppers and you may one day be heartbroken to realize your teenager is living a double life.

But lying is a common childhood offense, much more so than you might guess, and they start testing their skills at a very young age.

One study found that some four-year-olds lied once every two hours and some six-year-olds lied once every 90 minutes. The study also found that 96% of all kids lie. (I bet the other 4% were lying about it.) Lying is actually a sign of cognitive development. In another survey, 80% of high school students  admitted to lying to their parents about something “significant” in the past year.

Once they learn to lie, does it even make logical sense for our children to tell the truth when it might

cost them something they really want,
affect their grade,
make them seem boring,
or get them punished?

Kids will inevitably want to choose the easier route and lie their way to safety, just as we are often tempted to do. They will lie to get what they want, but they keep lying because they want to stay in our good graces, and to avoid punishment.

Mostly they lie to protect a relationship. If only they could understand that when the truth comes out, it’s even more devastating to the very relationship they were trying to protect.  (If only we understood that too!)

Here’s the bottom line. Your child lies to you. All the time. Don’t let their innocence fool you. In the words of Bill Cosby, “Children are brain-damaged.” They haven’t figured it all out yet. They make stupid mistakes and you should expect them to tell crazy lies too.

But dishonesty should not be ignored. It’s our job as parents to show our kids how to value honesty­, grow in integrity­­–and be trustworthy even when they make mistakes.

Most parents would agree that honesty is a trait they want most for their children. But how does that actually play out in our own home?

Do we focus more on the crime that caused our child to lie or the lie?
Do we create a safe place for them to tell the truth?
Do we keep our own word?

We have to be intentional about teaching our children to choose to be HONEST even when it’s hard. Not only will it keep them out of trouble, but it will affect every one of their relationships, and their overall quality of life.

How do you react to your kids when you catch them in a lie?

Tune in next week! Carey will share 5 ways to encourage our children to be honest.

Karen Wilson works at Orange and is the Managing Editor for the OrangeParents blog. She and her husband Mark  have two children, Elijah (10) and Sara (8).

Falling Short

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

My husband and I are short people. We knew long before each of our boys was born they didn’t stand a chance. Height was not in the cards.

Several months ago the county fair was in town, so on opening night we headed out with our family and some friends to experience what only a county fair can offer—shockingly greasy food and highly entertaining people watching. Once there, my 3-year old set his sights on one ride he was determined to experience. And when it was his turn to hop on the ½ mile an hour train going in one painstakingly small circle, he was told he didn’t make the cut. Too short.

To my surprise, he didn’t seem too heartbroken. But I was. And in hopes to avoid what could easily lead to an emotional upheaval—in me more than my son—my husband quickly navigated our family to the games instead. There we were robbed blind—but at least spared more disappointment. Disaster avoided.

And then about a week ago, out of the blue, my son, Asher, asked me, “Remember when we went to the fair? And I didn’t go on any rides? I was too little.”

Just like that, the wound was fresh again. It was the first time Asher indicated that the pain from a previous experience had been internalized—and remembered. He may have been quick to hide it at the time it happened, but something about that night stuck with him. It told him he literally didn’t measure up and whatever his little mind had processed about himself as a result had taken hold.

It is every parent’s nightmare and every parent’s reality. It is going to happen. The day your child’s pain is no longer fixed with a kiss, a hug, or a distraction. When you realize your arms could never reach far enough to keep growing and wandering extensions of yourself as close as you want—or as safe as you’d like. It’s the day they grow up. And the day we dread. We can’t stop it, prevent it or fix. We simply bear it.

Soon after Asher was born I found this quote from George McDonald, “A parent,” he writes, “must respect the spiritual person of his child, and approach it with reverence, for that too looks the Father in the face and has an audience with Him into which no earthly parent can enter even if he dared to desire it.”

It’s wise advice. Respect the “personhood” of your child. They have God’s ear. But it is more than that too. On days when pain cuts our kids in ways we can only imagine (though we imagine excruciatingly well) it is good to know there is a God who is closer.

On the days when we know there is more going on inside then they are capable of—or choose—to articulate, there is a God who sees. On the days we are no longer trusted to assume their hurt—though it is clear it exists—there is a God who shoulders it instead.

I could work myself into a nervous frenzy forecasting my son’s future and the potential hurt that awaits. I could work myself into a near breakdown when I realize that many of the potential hurts will be likely realities.

Rejection. Fear. Failure. Insecurity.

These aren’t mere surface wounds. These are heartbreakers. Chances are they are coming. And certainly I won’t be able to do much—or at least enough—about them.

Which is why I am glad God can. George McDonald got it right. Respect your child’s audience with God. But also be grateful for it.

Be glad that when you can’t do for your child what you hoped you might, God can. Be thankful that it isn’t our responsibility to fix every emotional or physical bump, bruise, or cut—because our capabilities are sorely lacking.

Be deliberate about allowing God to be the parent we think we should, or wish we could be. Permit Him to do what we long to do—but what only He can do well—be their Father, their Fixer, their Healer, and their Confidant.

Sarah Anderson writes for the XP3 student curriculum at Orange. She is married to Rodney Anderson and is mom to two bouncy boys, Asher and Pace.

A Little Known Secret

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

As we’ve already seen earlier this week, parenting can be emotional.

I also think the combination of sleep deprivation and living in close quarters for years with several other people (an arrangement we call ‘family’) drive people to emotional depths and heights they didn’t know they had.

The idyllic picture of what family life could be (complete with picket fences and picnic baskets) slips away quickly as the sounds of malfunctioning dishwashers, endless repeats of Dora the Explorer, explosions on PS3, and voices on edge fill your home.

You wonder how you could have signed up for this.

Maybe you’re in a tough season as a parent. You know the right thing to do but don’t feel like doing it.

Been there.

There have been seasons in my life during which:

I didn’t feel like I was in love anymore, but I didn’t want to get a divorce.

I thought I didn’t have the skills I needed to be an effective parent, but I certainly didn’t want to leave my kids.

My relationship with God felt flat and even meaningless, even though I was a Christian (and in my case, a Pastor).

What do you do when you feel that way?

Here’s what I did. Being a Christian, I believed that God wanted me (in all seasons) to lead my family and love my wife.

But there were whole seasons where I didn’t feel like doing that. No surprise here, but (as I would learn as I sat down with a good counselor) the problem wasn’t as much with my wife and kids as it was with me.

Despite my struggles, in those seasons where I didn’t feel the emotions that I thought family was supposed to bring, I did one thing: I tried to stay obedient.

I didn’t leave.

I didn’t quit.

I did my best to trust that a better future would come.

I was amazed to discover what happened next. My emotions caught up to my obedience.

I came through the tough seasons when I was basically trying to do the right thing but not feeling much of anything, only to discover than my emotions came back. They caught up with my obedience.

Maybe you’re in a tough season as a parent. You know the right thing to do but don’t feel like doing it.

My encouragement? Do the right thing. Talk to someone around you (even a counselor), and try to be as obedient as you can and do what you know is right.

And here’s what I think might happen: your emotions will eventually catch up to your obedience.

Because we pushed through things, my marriage has never been better or richer. Sure, we have disagreements, but we are so thankful we didn’t call it quits when we both felt like it.

My relationship with my two sons runs stronger and deeper than I ever imagined it could. I’m so thankful I didn’t just pack up when I wanted to.

It hasn’t been easy, but now we are reaping the benefit of trying to do the right thing in hard times. And  it’s so worth it.

So hang in there, and you might discover what many have discovered. Eventually, your emotions actually do catch up to your obedience.

What about you? Have you ever experienced this?

New Year, New Heart

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

So it’s a brand new year. Here’s a question to kick off 2013.

How’s your heart?

The heart is pretty vital. It’s what we live out of really; it’s the wellspring of life. Our hearts help us feel the highs and lows, navigate wonder and mystery, keep our imaginations stimulated and our dreams alive. It is the place where hope and faith live.

While I don’t know about you, I have found that the longer I live, the more intentional I have to be at keeping my heart open and fully alive.

I think that’s true for a lot of parents. When you’re in your twenties, your marriage is fresh, being a parent is cool. . .sort of, except for the sleepless nights. But you hit the wall of real life somewhere in your thirties or forties and a natural casualty is your heart.

For almost all of us, as time goes on something happens to your heart.

It gets hard.

You grow cynical.

It stops beating the way it used to.

Too many disappointments.

Too many people let you down.

Too many hopes dashed.

Too much fear that maybe your family isn’t turning out the way you once dreamed.

The signs of a hardened heart start subtly but eventually become hard to miss:

You don’t really celebrate and you don’t really cry.

You stop genuinely caring.

What used to be meaningful is now mechanical. Everything that used to be fun is now an obligation.

Passion is hard to come by. For anything. Including your marriage.

You no longer believe the best about people. Even when you meet someone, you’re thinking about what’s going to go wrong, not what’s going to go right.

So how do you get your heart beating again? Believe it or not, you can get your heart back in 2013. It will beat again.

Here are five ways to renew your heart:

1. Push past your feelings. Sure, there are seasons where what’s supposed to be meaningful feels mechanical. Do it anyway. Go to work. Kiss your spouse. Hang out with your kids. Read your Bible. Pray (even if you feel you’re talking to the ceiling). Just because you don’t feel like it’s real doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Eventually, your emotions will catch up to your obedience.

2. Get some rest. Fatigue and overwork can numb your heart. Sometimes I find my heart grows hard because I’m not resting. Get eight hours sleep for a week. Take a day off and do something you love—like going on a hike, exploring a city or reading a great book. Even God took a Sabbath. If you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take you.

3. Don’t over-personalize your failures and successes. My kids remind me all the time that I can take things too personally. They’re right. If your life is going well, it might not be because you’re so awesome. And if things are sputtering, it might not be because your so incompetent. Take the long view.

4. Decide to trust, again. This one is huge. Because most of us are once-bitten, twice-shy, it’s so important to consciously re-engage your heart and trust people again. Someone may have hurt you, but not everyone will. Yes, you will be vulnerable, but trust again. God did. And still does. Jesus’ arms were wide open when he died, despite the pain of the wounds and the scars.

5. Fight isolation. Community is the problem for most of us (it’s hard to get hurt all by yourself). But community is also the solution. You will want to be alone. Don’t. Solitude is used by God. Isolation is used by the enemy. Talk to God. And talk to a friend. Find a mentor. Process privately while leading publicly. And yes, sometimes go see a counselor. My very first trip to a counselor over ten years ago happened because I realized my heart had gone hard. We were coming out of a very difficult time as a church and it really impacted my marriage. The counsellor’s help was providential. Time with a counselor is one of the reasons my heart still beats and can still leap and soar today.

So those are some ideas that can help you care for your own heart.

I don’t know which method for renewal resonated most with you, but I do know this:  your heart can become new again.

And one day, you’ll look back on this season when your kids were young and be so thankful you did what you needed to do to get your heart healthy again. It’s not just an investment in them—it’s an investment in you.

What’s helped your heart find new life in a tough season?

Your Imperfect Christmas is a Front Row Seat

Monday, December 24th, 2012

It’s no secret that Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year.

And the tension is that by this point, Christmas Eve, all the ‘how to avoid stress’ tips from the I’ve-got-everything-together-why-don’t-you people  seem too little too late:

  • Start your shopping early. (Some of you are reading this on your phone at the mall. There are three more shopping hours till Christmas, right?)
  • Eat in moderation. (But you’ve already been to six Christmas parties, and Christmas has barely begun.)
  • Spend less. (You tried. Really tried.)
  • Don’t say ‘yes’ to every family gathering. (But how could you say ‘no’? And now your holiday is anything but a vacation.)

I could go on, but it wouldn’t be helpful. The truth is that no matter how much we plan ahead, there is stress associated with the holidays. Which is incredibly good news. Especially given that it’s Christmas. The stress you’re feeling this Christmas (or the grief, or the emptiness) is exactly why Christmas arrived in the first place.

Jesus arrived on the planet not because we had it all together, but because we didn’t.

Jesus wasn’t born into a world where everyone got along perfectly.

Jesus didn’t come for us because we were exceptionally well organized and on budget.

Jesus didn’t come into a world where families were perfectly behaved.

Jesus didn’t arrive on earth because spouses got along beautifully and never argued.

Jesus didn’t move into a world where people worshipped without ever doubting.

He came into a world that desperately needed GRACE. What if your imperfect Christmas is actually a front row seat to grace?

Grace is a much misunderstood concept. It’s never earned. It’s not deserved. Because if it were, it wouldn’t be grace. Grace is simply undeserved love. Love that came to you not because you’ve got it oh-so-together, but because you don’t. That’s Christmas. That’s the Gospel.

And if you look hard enough, it’s actually in the tension this Christmas where you might see grace the most clearly:

At dinner with that terribly awkward relative. Grace never discriminates. Grace is favor that is unmerited, and your favor can be too.

When the kids expect too much. In the same way that you get frustrated with the expectations of your kids, God must at times get frustrated with the expectations we bring to him. Yet his love remains.

When you see the homeless. Jesus was born in a feeding trough, and the announcement of his birth went to common shepherds. God has a heart for His people.

In your exhaustion. Grace comes when we need it most. . .and it never runs out.

Sure, it would be nice if we did a little better next year. But that should never kill the joy, the power or the message of Christmas. In fact, it underscores it.

The surprise of Christmas is this: it speaks to us in our weakness even more than it speaks to us in our strength. And because of your imperfect Christmas, you might have a front row seat to see what Christmas is actually all about.

So Merry Christmas!