The post-Christmas blues.
It hit me even harder than usual this year, which is weird because I had it all planned to be the opposite. You know, I had planned on leaving the decorations out until the twelfth day of Christmas, and keeping the Christmas music playing, and other similar festivities.
But, for some reason, I wasn’t feeling it. Something was wrong. Something was off. And it took me a few days to identify it, which didn’t really happen until I began processing it aloud with my husband.
Before I go any further, let me simply state that what I’m about to share is not prescriptive for everyone. It’s simply our experience and something God is teaching us right now. God brings us different lessons in different seasons. He sees each of our hearts and understands where we’ve slipped off the straight and narrow into a ditch, and he graciously pulls us back onto the path. That’s what happened to us this past Christmas.
Also, please don’t misunderstand this post as me declaring this Christmas a wash. By no means! The truth that Christ came as a baby, lived the perfect life, died for my sins, and rose again is still true! And there were multiple moments this Christmas that reflected that and reminded us of truth and I celebrate those and thank God for them. But, there was also some messiness, and that’s what I’m sharing in this post.
At each Christmas gathering with family this year, I felt regret. I felt regret over not giving more.
Now, this is not a monetary issue. It was not based on what others gave to me. And it was not because anyone made me feel guilty. Thoughtful, amazing gifts can be given that cost little to nothing at all. No, the feeling I felt was because I know my own heart. And somewhere along the way, in the search for doing Christmas intentionally and practically, I think I lost the spirit of giving out of a generous heart.
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, ESV).
I wasn’t giving cheerfully. I wasn’t giving generously. I lost sight of this and became something else.
I became too practical.
“Why spend all this money on stuff that people don’t really need? Surely he doesn’t want me to waste money on stuff just for the sake of giving a gift. Why spend money on things that perish? Why risk giving a gift that someone may not even like? What if I guess wrongly? I better not give a gift to this person because what if they feel compelled to match a gift for me of equal value, and they don’t have as much money to spend right now? And she doesn’t need anything – she tells me that every year – so I really don’t need to worry about giving her something.”
This had become my thought process, and this year, while people were or were not opening gifts, I felt a huge stab of pain.
Similarly, I’ve become pretty rigid in following a formula for what we buy our children: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. While this is a great pattern that can guide us, I’d let it become too restrictive. I lost sight of the purpose behind it and instead withheld gifts because it didn’t fit the formula. While I don’t think my children have noticed, I noticed it this year. I knew my heart. And I grieved it.
Perhaps at this point you want to grab me by the elbow, take me aside, and tell me to give myself grace, and not to be so emotional. I thought that, too. That’s why I slowly began processing it with my husband. And as soon as he affirmed and agreed with me, sharing that he felt the same way, that’s when I knew I was right in what I felt.
I realized also that I had slipped into “doing Christmas” on my own, apart from my spouse. Somewhere through the years, I became frustrated at his not meeting my pre-conceived expectations for helping me with ideas for Christmas gifts, so I quit asking him along the way. I quit trusting his input.
Spoiler alert: his tendency is to be more generous. Mine is to be more practical. And by cutting him out, I cut out a lot of generosity in our hearts and gift-giving this year.
So when he affirmed what I felt, and agreed with me, I knew what I felt wasn’t just wayward emotion.
It was conviction.
Now, it can be easy for us to replace conviction with guilt. But here’s the difference: guilt leaves us stuck in the mud where we are, wallowing around and feeling sorry for ourselves. Our eyes are focused on us.
Conviction comes from God, though, and it calls us to repent and turn and get up out of the mud. Our eyes are focused on Christ. And we have a promise that comes with this repentance!
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
While I was tempted to wallow in guilt, I knew what God intended was for me to take my eyes off myself and repent and learn and grow from this Christmas. So we started right away, by my husband’s leading – we decided on and chose a Birthday gift for a family member.
A few days later, I took the kids out with their money and mine, and we each chose Christmas gifts for their Daddy and surprised him with them when he got home.
And you better believe I’m excited to gather and consider and create gifts for next year’s Christmas!
I also began to consider my own childhood Christmas experiences. Not much was labeled intentionally spiritual. There wasn’t a formula for gifts.
I always thought my parents gave generously to us, whether we deserved it or not. I’m sure there were years I didn’t appreciate everything, or had not been living gratefully. But they gave out of a generous heart. There were a variety of gifts, and I’ll never forget how special it was to experience their lavish love in this particular way on Christmas morning. It didn’t negate or discount how they loved us every other day of the year. It simply amplified it. We also read the story of Jesus every single Christmas, and sang a few hymns together. We always gathered with both sides of the family for multiple feasts, Bible readings, gift-giving and songs.
Again, nothing was labeled intentional or spiritual. There were no instagram crafted posts about what my mother or father was doing.
But I never, ever doubted their love for me. I felt it. I felt their generosity. And now more than ever, perhaps, it illuminates the gospel and helps me understand even more my heavenly father’s lavish, generous love for me when I don’t deserve it.
Christmas is not about receiving or giving the perfect gift. As I learned from Rachel Jankovic recently via her podcast, What Have You, we should even go as far as to prepare our children to understand this by making sure they know that they likely won’t love every gift they receive, and others likely won’t love all the gifts they give away. That’s not the point. We’ve already been given the perfect gift through Jesus, and we imitate God’s lavish and generous love by giving generously and cheerfully and thoughtfully to others, regardless of how old they are, whether or not they need it or ask for it, whether or not they deserve it or are grateful for it, and whether or not it’s expensive or cheap. We give because Christ gave.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Because of God, because of Christ’s work on the cross, let’s give – generously! Let’s lavish our love on our friends and family. Let’s be okay with the mess, the wasted ribbons and wrapping paper, the lean years and the abundant years, and let’s give generously and cheerfully out of our hearts. My mother-in-law often gives a letter to each child and daughter-in-law or son-in-law, and although it doesn’t cost money, it costs time and thought and effort. I guarantee you it takes her more time to write those thoughtful letters than it would for me to hit checkout on an Amazon cart. While Amazon can be a blessing, I have started to use it as a practical escape from having to put forth much effort. When I actually went to a store and searched and considered what to give someone, I experienced so much more generosity and cheerfulness! Neither avenue is wicked, but our hearts can easily take things of value and turn them into vices. May we identify and fight against this! May we give generously and cheerfully, however that looks!
Again, why? Not because we can give perfectly, but because God already has. And while we live in the already/not yet of this world, awaiting our future Kingdom, we imitate the material aspect of the incarnation as much as possible so as to keep our eyes on the second coming of Christ.
God’s love was not practical or efficient. It was sacrificial. It was bestowed on those who did nothing to deserve it. Christ’s gift of his birth as a baby in a manger, his life as a human, and his death on the cross was not practical.
But it was obedient.
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
So, friends, whether you follow a formula, or give everything your heart desires, whether you have unlimited funds to give all the gifts you want, or if all your gifts center on experiences and words and inexpensive but valuable, thoughtful items…let’s examine our hearts and be sure that we are doing whatever we choose out of a heart of cheerful generosity, out of a heart that is worshiping our Savior, the perfect Gift given by the perfect Giver.
Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is not always the most practical. It won’t always be labeled intentional. It won’t always be worth an instagram post.
But it may be the most obedient thing we can do. Let’s pursue that form of worship above all else.