“December 7.” That date meant I was late for advent. I kept repeating the day in my head as I pushed open the barn door to my office and walked towards my mis-matched chair and desk.
I had every intention of starting the advent activity, from Focus on the Family, on time with our children. Our 3 kids, ages 6, 4, and 2, were excited about building a nativity as we slowly approached Christmas Day. Wait… slowly? Who am I kidding? Time was rushing by and life was a complete blur of school, work, youth group and coaching.
December 7. This would be the day we would start the advent activity. It had already been a few days since I had sat in front of my computer trying to decide if it would be more economical to print the activity at home on my own printer, or in town at the print shop. I decided it was probably cheaper at the print shop.
Even with that decision made, I pictured the scene of making one more trip into town, getting the kids out of their car seats and running door-to-door in the cold, north-east winds. That thought alone made me shiver, sigh, and press print. After the printing was complete, I gathered up the papers so that I could review them and cut out the first few days worth of cards. We had some catch-up to do.
Trying My Best.
Realizing it was already 4:30, I set the papers on our island so that I could start making pancakes and bacon for dinner. We usually have pancakes as a special treat on Friday’s. Knowing that we would be busy on Friday, I decided to do the pancakes a night early, on Thursday, so that the kids didn’t have to miss out on their favorite dinner.
After I poured the milk into the mixing bowl and added vinegar to sour it, I started searching for the flour. I soon realized we had none. Not in the cupboards, not in the fridge or freezer, and not anywhere else. There was no way I was making another trip off the farm and into town today. So, I decided that I would make chicken sandwiches.
And then comes the Guilt. Guilt, guilt, guilt. This was not guilt that anyone else was putting on me, or making me feel. No, this guilt was all my own production. Guilt that my husband and I have been so busy with work. Guilt that I have been busy with church commitments. Guilt that we have been dragging the kids along to the basketball games and practices for the 8th grade team we coach. Guilt that I wouldn’t be making pumpkin pancakes. And of course, guilt that we were starting our advent activity late.
As I was allowing myself to wallow in this guilt, I reached for the advent activity papers. As I touched the papers, I noticed my hand was in something wet. The advent papers I had set on the island had gotten covered with water. I had worried about the cost of the ink, and now that same ink was running in streams down the papers.
I only felt a moment of disappointment as I looked at the damaged papers. But then I looked past the damage to the colorful message of grace that had been splashed and splattered all over those papers. I saw the prophecies fulfilled, I saw the peace of that night, I saw the scandalous grace, and I saw the beautiful hope. Without the mess, I would have been too “busy” to remember the message.
God is so good. He knows that I need to be kept firmly in reality. I seem to think that if I run really fast and work really hard, I can make everything perfect and right. I seem to think that the process doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I believe that the only moment that matters is when I’m caught up on everything, the house is clean and everyone is smiling. God knows better.
The journey and the process are not just an after-thought to God. The journey, the fumbles, the mistakes, and the victories… That’s what God is using to refine us. God is so full of grace and wisdom, and He knows that for me in particular, I need to be kept humble by life’s little failures. Advent activities with streams of ink running down it are exactly what I need in my life.
Faith That Lasts
We don’t live a cookie cutter life. Our life isn’t a hallmark Christmas movie. We are real people with real commitments. And just like you, we do our best to serve our families, serve our community and serve God. Sometimes, though, we fall short, sometimes we over-schedule (Hello, November and December), sometimes we’re late, and sometimes we just forget to show up. Our Christmas tree is a bit crooked, the windows are covered in tiny finger prints, and the toys seem to have a mind of their own and wander all over the house.
Our kids don’t find happiness when we as parents create a falsely-perfect world around them. If we allow our kids to believe that true joy comes from a fake reality that’s impossible to up-hold, then it shouldn’t be hard to understand when they end up unsatisfied with life or faith.
Do our kids want perfection? No, they don’t. Because they’re kids, though, they might think that they do. The other night, my oldest son asked me, “Mom, if you could wish for just one thing, what would it be?” I didn’t even have to think. The answer was immediately in my heart and on my lips. “All I want is for you guys to grow up knowing God, loving God, and serving God. Everything else will follow that.” He looked at me quietly, blinked, and said, “I wish for a lizard.” God made him a pretty funny little man.
They don’t yet understand why we do what we do, or why we think the way we do. And as parents, we’re so blessed to go on this journey with our kids. If our main focus is to protect our kids from every bump, stumble and uncomfortable moment, we’re setting them up for failure. If we want our kids to grow up with an authentic faith that won’t crumble at the first challenge or imperfection, we need to live a real life. A real life can be messy and hard and busy… but a real life is the only way to have a beautiful, full, genuine life.
I’m so grateful for the very first Christmas. Grateful because it, too, was imperfect… by intention. A small baby, hunted by authorities, born to a single, unmarried, young girl in a stable. This is how Jesus came. Jesus left his throne in heaven and came into this world so humbly. That, in itself, is a lesson to all of us who are in pursuit of a “perfect” life for our children.
Yes, I’m starting the advent activity late. But now, our advent activity is real. In a very small way, though, with my hurried, crooked cuts, and the unintentional water-color art, my kids are seeing life for what it is- real. Flawed, imperfect and in need of the grace of our beautiful, perfect Savior.
We love our kids. Ultimately, though, they need more than us. They need Jesus.
So, what are your family plans for focusing on Jesus this Christmas season? Let me know in the comments!