Tag Archives: Christmas

How to Get what you really want this christmas

What if this short message could absolutely deliver what you really want this Christmas?

Do you know what that is?

What do you really want?

IMG_4721Deep down, we all want the same thing. But so often we don’t know it until we can get quiet and listen to our deeper hearts.

In fact, I think just doing that–just saying no to the destructive demands constantly drawing our attention away–that may be the way to the peace and joy we’re really looking for.

So how? How do we block out the myriad distractions, and open our inner eyes to see better what we really want?

This is what I want most this year. And after the incredible challenges and distractions we faced in 2016, I’m willing to bet this is actually what most of us really want for Christmas.

To get it, we may need to quit ignoring the truth. The truth our deeper selves know.


Last year, when Charlotte came home from a class Christmas party with her gingerbread house, she said a younger boy had teased and “pretended to attack” the girls the whole time. And her anxiety over that, of being a target of aggression, even the kind that doesn’t actually entail assault, it felt all too familiar.

I remembered I’ve been a target of bullies too.

I wanted to call the cops on this cretinous demon child.

Who does he think he is? Who are his parents? Are they complete jerks?

As a kid, survival sometimes means hiding from the destructive demands of bullies, to live and create and seek beauty another day. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned there are many of us who face this, the quiet ones, the melancholies and creatives, the “deep rollers.” I began to teach Charlotte about boundaries and defending her space, even as I started practicing more myself.

But I believe all of us need to learn to say no to distracting demands.

The message in church had been on the necessity of making room. Of taking responsibility for making room in our hearts for Jesus. As John the Baptist instructed followers, I was convicted to repent of the destruction and distraction I’d allowed others to bring on what I knew was my sacred space. Their demands had long forced out and prevented me hearing the call, and my deeper need.

John’s repentance wasn’t for doing more for God, but remembering our duty to honor him by making room, getting away, and listening for that “voice in the wilderness.” In our distraction today, we’ve filled up our wilderness with all sorts of things we consider our obligations. We, like they, are “missing the mark,” the very definition of sin.

But for the Baptist, getting away from all that distracted from God was “making room” for Christ. This was getting right by Him. This was repentance.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought repenting meant being sorry for who I was–a weak, self-centered boy preferring peace and quiet to the real work of loving God and others. And that’s often true. But it’s not sinful to need space to recharge and get away to hear God within. And this year, it might finally make a sort of spiritual sense, at least for me:

Repentance is not merely confessing your sin. Repentance is also making a change to make room for God.

DSC_0201I think this is true whether we’re innies or extraverts or doers or thinkers–or anything in between. It’s only the way I’ve found to embrace the freedom to be me and recognize the primary place of God in my life that provides permission to get away and make space.

It’s been a very freeing idea to pursue this year. Why had it taken me so long not to feel deficient for needing peace and quiet?

You can get so used to feeling weak, so constantly feeling like a broken person, unable to withstand the “normal” busyness and noise of our modern culture. But if you had not just a right, but a duty to act against it, to defend your heart and make space to worship and be changed by God alone, it could free you up to better understand this deep love we all need.

DSC_0044It’s been a radically different view of repentance for me. And it’s still growing in me this year as I come to Christmas once again. I believe that longing for a solitary, one-on-one experience with God is built into the human heart.

I believe this longing for a solitary, one-on-one experience with God is built into the human heart. It’s the comfort and acceptance and permission we all want most, this and every Christmas.

This desire for that kind of unity, just such a singular commitment, this is the oppositional way, the deeper desire his true followers share.

Isn’t this how love might “abound in more and more knowledge and depth of insight?”

And maybe it’s only from this protected space that we can learn to meet the needs of our needy world with any real love to share. Filled up by that primary relationship, we may become recharged and reformed by Him.

That’s what I’m looking for this Christmas.

Safe, embraced and known.

Will you renounce all else and make room in your heart for him this season, to receive the greater gift of a deeper love?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….

– Philippians 1:9-10a

For the higher purpose, this season and throughout the coming year,


Getting What You Really Want this Christmas

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….

– Philippians 1:9-10a

What if I promised this short message would absolutely deliver what you really want this Christmas?

Do you know what you really want?

IMG_4721We all have to ask. Because so often we don’t know until we get quiet and can listen to our deeper hearts.

And doing that absolutely requires closing our eyes to all that’s constantly drawing our attention away.

But once you’ve blocked out the myriad distractions, then you can reopen your eyes and see better what you really want.

This is the only way to ensure you get what you really want. Honestly, I know this, but I still forget it all the time.

Charlotte comes home from a class Christmas party. She shows me the gingerbread house she made and tells me the kindergartener brother of her friend wouldn’t stop teasing and play-attacking the girls the entire time. And Charlotte’s anxiety over being picked out to receive “fake” kicks and punches in the face has kept her from doing much decorating. Somehow, being harassed and chased with makeshift weapons sort of does that to her.

I, of course, immediately want to call the parents and demand an explanation for this cretinous spawn of hell who’s obviously going completely neglected as the youngest of 3–and of course, this is also the family who’s in the midst of adopting 3 more from some African country they heard about through their church. I want to tell them what I frequently want to tell parents adopting more kids: When you show us you can handle the ones you have, your village will vote on whether you can have more. Until then, we have a responsibility to society to oppose your negligence and stop the carnage.

DSC_0132I’m kidding, but it can almost feel that bad. I don’t dislike these parents or not see how hard their life is or what motivates them to endure the chaos and even embrace it. They’re saints. But for me, it’s a matter of survival to escape their mayhem and live to decorate another day. I’m just one whose battery wears out faster than most.

Of course, the message in church today (second Sunday of Advent) was all about this need to escape. Or was it just how I heard it? But instead of the usual conviction for being me (probably 89% of the time), this time the message felt affirming. Don’t you love when that happens? Pastor Jim spoke on “Heading Toward Christmas by Another Way,” preparing, and making room in our hearts by doing what John the Baptist said and did–namely, getting away from people to eliminate distractions. And he equated this letting go, this getting away from all else as “making room” for Christ, i.e. getting right for him, i.e. repenting.

I know–I thought repenting was kind of an “I’m all wrong” kind of thing. But this kind, in the context of silence, recharging in the desert like the prophet, it finally made sense:

Repentance is not about admitting you’re all wrong. Repentance is all about admitting your need to let go, to make a space, to make room for God.

DSC_0045And this is true for innies and extras and fighters and peacekeepers–it’s only in that freedom from familiarity of outside influences that we human beings can get truly unburdened.

I love this idea, I thought. Maybe I’m not so deficient after all!

I suppose I can get so used to feeling weak, as I heard someone call it, “constantly feeling like a broken extrovert.” But what if I’m actually uniquely gifted with an internal desire to not only get away frequently, but to be only influenced, recharged and changed by God. Alone?

DSC_0044This was a radically different view of repentance for me. It’s still about getting right with God and denouncing the things that are opposed to him. But if we really know what our hearts want, we feel some of this desire. That longing for such a solitary unifying experience with God is endemic to the human heart, these hearts made to love their Maker, who long to wake up and feel his radiant smile of pride shining down on them, who long to please him and finally get free of all that holds them back from full union.

This desire for such full repentance is the oppositional way that may actually be a deeper desire all his followers share.

To be changed, reformed by that singular relationship alone. To be further up and further in… To be free, in the end, of all other relationships–people, places, things, ideas and all other encumbrances–and belong to him only…

Isn’t this the only way we might love more fully? And how love might “abound in more and more knowledge and depth of insight?”

DSC_0045So what if it’s only from this place of purity that we might once again come back, open our eyes, and see how to return to the crowded, needy world with that real love and fire to share? Filled by that primary relationship, we’d be made something new, changed and truly reformed.

Isn’t that what you want above all this Christmas–the peace and reassurance of knowing that love, knowing we’re always safe, held and known in it? Isn’t it what we all want deep down?

And what if we can only get there if we’re willing to head a different direction than the comfort we’re commonly told we need to ensure?

What if getting what we really want this Christmas is a different way than the usual direction we take to prepare for our perfect celebration?

What if the way to that perfect gift is only by letting go of all else to make room in our hearts for him?

Repent. Make room. And receive your greatest gift this Christmas.

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!'”

Matthew 3:1-3

For the higher purpose, this season and throughout the coming year,


Christmas Is a Child

These next 2 weeks with Christmas and New Year's always present a unique opportunity for reflection. And barely hidden depression.

The holidays are always a mixed bag for me. I'll love brief moments of it, feel carried back to a time of childhood safety and love surrounding me. And the rest of the time I'll be Charles Grodin, flinging little socks into overnight bags and searching for those fleeting moments of peace while I strive not to say what I'm thinking and just do all that needs to be done. Bringing those moments back is the very reason I'll operform all the duties and preparations. But I'll still miss many of them. And I will get so fat. And like everyone, I'll excuse my self-discipline from the party and join the collective fool's errand for joy, taking full leave of my senses.

For I deserately need to forget how much older I am; I need to ignore it for just a while and accept the bad substitutes for my lost wonder with food, wine, and sappy music. Like a thick old electric blanket, I'll pull it all around me, the memories of beauty, love, hope, and the pure possibility of new discovery, the ratty old things that along the way became coping mechanisms, compensation for a perspective I'll never recover.

There's so much I can't remember. Somewhere along the way I became old and I suspect those little thieves I live with. They stole all my youthful energy, these same ones I gave life to. They enjoy everything about the holidays, the pretty little midgets. And they never gorge themselves on pie and alcohol because they're too busy soaking up all my happiness. My Christmas cheer will be in their cups again and I'll be left with dirty coal because Christmas is for children and now I'm not one. Now my role is to give it to them and protect it for them the best I can.

But God in heaven, I want a break. A real break from all this adultishness. I want to go back for just a little while. I don't want to think about all the suffering in the world. The wars and famine, the family problems behind all the laughter. There is always so much pain and evil just outside the door, out in the cold dark night. And damn it, I don't want to see it! Please, why can't it just go away for a few moments so I can see through the eyes I used to have again, the eyes that used to know it was all right, that everything was as it should be and would be now and forever? Now nothing is as it should be. Nothing. Even home doesn't feel like home anymore. There's too much I know, too much responsibility for everything to be put right as it should be. And the worst part is I know it will never be put right again.

My parents and grandparents used to work so hard to make sure everything was put right. Christmas would arrive to all kinds of treats. The preparation of months of effort, waiting for its arrival. The food, decorations, presents, activities, and conversations all carried a dense, full-flavored weight. Like a big old fruitcake. Everything was thought out and amazing. Now that's my job and I don't know how to do it. I know now it wasn't really up to the adults how things went, but they fooled me and I loved my ignorant bliss. The frustrations hidden, the strings all under perfect control. Now I know the tremendous effort to hold even the smallest celebration together, to preserve the integrity of "celebration." So easily it can become anything but.

And so often today, the ties of family, the significance of our all being here at all, it seems to go unnoticed completely. We turn blinded eyes to the very things that make seeing worthwhile. And for want of seeing, we gouge our eyes out with selfishness and fear. I know why I get depressed–I'm afraid of losing that child I was. Selfishly, I try to stuff in the trappings and wrappings to bring him back. But he can't come back, and that's good. That's as it should be. Let me put that right, at least. If I can let that child go, I can embrace the new ones better. And maybe somethere in there I'll find the very things I've been fighting to recover.

Why shouldn't we use them to get back a little joy through osmosis? Their happiness should be our escapism, our escape from all the reality outside. Isn't that what Christmas is about? A child bringing hope in the darkness that we might escape. We've been waiting so long, fighting so hard, seaching to recover this small truth. But of such as these is the very kingdom. And a child shall lead them…

So come now, little ones. Come into our broken-down world and make us whole again. Let us look in your eyes of unbroken innocence, those eyes that so willingly believe. And let us see your shining faces, bold and bright, turned to watch the great star shining through the dark.

My Confusion-Free Christmas Plan

Alright. I confess. I’m not worried at all about losing the term “Christmas.” I’m also not concerned by Xs in place of Christ. The X is a cross. That reminds me of Christ. Maybe it doesn’t remind others of Christ, but that’s their prerogative. Why should I need anyone’s participation in my decision to be Christ-centered on Christmas? If you’re a stickler for keeping religion in your festivities, great! But “Holy-day” celebrations are still pretty sacred, aren’t they? And even so, you don’t hear anyone going out to get a “holiday tree” or forgetting what day it is when we open all the presents.


That’s right: Christmas with a capital Christ. I think it’s here to stay. So instead of Christians getting all bent out of shape by the ACLU and freaky fringe types, I want to remember there are big cultural problems involved in the fight for Christmas as well–such as losing our cultural identity through neglect and plain ignorance. Sure, sweeping Christ under the rug at Christmas is a fairly time-honored tradition in this country. But our tendency to lump all the holidays together and wish people happiness in all of them may be less about avoiding Christ than a preference for efficiency and inclusiveness. That’s an American sort of thing to do, and frankly, I’m starting to wonder if some Christians really understand that at all. Do Christians really think Jesus is offended at people who don’t want to say his name? There’s solidarity with the past and our fellow man in wishing people “Happy Holidays.” And if I care about making sure someone remembers Christ on Christmas, I’ll invite them over for egg-nog and cookies. There’s no call for being antagonistic about Christmas. Honestly, it looks bad when Christians whine about the ACLU and validate their bigotry, only to wind up making ourselves out to be the bigots when we wish someone a Merry CHRIST-mas!


This “keep-the-Christ-in-Christmas” campaign got me thinking about signing off Christmas entirely. Wouldn’t it be more socially conscious to take a complete and total break from consumerism—government, media, business, technology, economy, taxonomy, whatever? No television, movies, computers, cell phones, iPhones, or video games. Farm-grown trees and basic Christmas dinner, homemade decorations and gifts. I imagine my brother and sister-in-law getting our girls Disney princesses and Polly Pockets as we smile and nod and hand over their crocheted scarves and homemade preserves wrapped in banana leaves…


But there’s another thing that’s here to stay: the great muddy melting pot. Americans are Americans because we’re a mish-mash of cultures and traditions. Does anyone else wonder why we wait for the stuffing to go bad before hunting down a tree farm that isn’t charging $95 to bring home poison oak and a family of wolf spiders? You do? Well, Merry Christmas, American!

These days, I think we’re all doing well just to remember Turkey-and-Football-Day when the retailers have convinced everyone on the block to start putting up their Christmas lights the day after Halloween. In America, our holiday traditions are alive and well. Right here is where the tradition started of using New Year’s to celebrate starting over right before the credit bill for Christmas comes. This year, I want to remember that the holidays (i.e. “holy-days”) are wonderful, messed-up, formerly-pagan-Catholic-redeemed celebrations-of-family-traditions as varied as the snowflakes. And even in a mish-mash, there’s a camaraderie if you’re willing to embrace it.


So “Merry Christmas, you ol’ Savings and Loan!” And this year, as we watch the Christmas Day parade floats, let’s do our best not to try to explain all our varied traditions and just enjoy the spectacle of pop singers, flowers, ostriches, surfers, menorahs, African tribal dancers, and babies dancing in top hats on the monstrous floats. It’s just an American thing.