A beautiful family, in perfectly coordinated sweater, and with unified hearts, sit around a perfectly shaped and decorated (real, not artificial, of course) Christmas tree, sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows. A cheesy smile on each face, as they open gorgeously wrapped gifts that are not only exactly what the receiver wanted, but given in the purest desire from the bottom of the giver's heart. Inside, the house is not only decorated beautifully, it's in perfect order. Outside, the ground is covered in a fresh, white snow. And, in the next room, there's a long dining room table covered with a feast fit to feed a king...and his family...his court...and his entire kingdom. Every dish is filled to the brim, looks absolutely scrumptious and perfectly browned turkey, fully intact and steamy hot, sits right in the middle of the table. Peace, joy, love...Christmas bliss.
It's a sight right out of a Hallmark movie, right?!
Then there's reality.
You make the long trip to Grandma's house despite a long week of caring for puking kids and the treacherous, icy road conditions of the day. You're stressed out before you even arrive. The kids run off as soon as you get in the door. And, before you can even get your coat off, one of them is crying. A cousin hit them in the head with a toy. You try to comfort amd lecture about sharing, both at the same time. Child hanging on you, you begin to "pit out" in your holiday sweater (of course, you are the only one wearing a sweater...and the house feels like it's 500 degrees). Grandma's in the kitchen slaving away over the meal while three other family members try to help. Someone scorches the potatoes. Grandma, hair all disheveled, looks like she's going to cry. The turkey completely fell apart, so she's disassembling it piece by piece. And you think, "At least it's not dry and chewy like last year." The guys are camped out in front of the TV watching football. Grandpa is asleep in the recliner. The house is a mess due to the kids running in every direction. You stick the gifts you brought under the lopsided, artificial tree that is covered in handmade ornaments of years past, wondering if even one of them is something the receiver will like. The kids helped you wrap them and they're plastered with scotch tape. You bought every one of your family members a gift even though you couldn't really afford it because, well, that's just what you've always done; it's what's expected. Uncle Bill, who you haven't seen since last Christmas, approaches you with a hug. He proceeds to tell you about his recent hemorrhoid surgery. You zone out as he goes into detail. You look out the window; the ice has turned to slush. You're reflecting on all that's wrong with this picture when someone yells from the next room that little Johnny just threw up... again. Ugh! You're stressed out, tired, sweaty and disappointed before the party even really begins. This is not the Christmas you signed up for.
Darn, those Hallmark movies, right?!
I really think unrealistic expectations can ruin our holidays; unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves, our families, our get-togethers and even our gifts. Life isn't perfect. People aren't perfect. WE aren't perfect.
But, so what?!
We put so much pressure on ourselves and others that we can miss the joy in the midst of reality's chaos. It's a blessing to be with our families, and yet we can miss the blessings if we're so focused on our unmet expectations. If we focus on all that's wrong, and focus on all the wrong things, our stress level will rise and we will miss all that's right. It can be tough, but we can choose to simplify. We can choose to accept our lives for what they are...and our families for who they are.
"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them." Romans 12:9
Four things that have helped me to Simplify and Save My Sanity through the Christmas season:
1. Cut back on the gifts. This means not giving gifts that you can't afford or that you think are unnecessary. Just because you gave them a gift last year (or every year as long as you've lived), doesn't mean you have to give them a gift this year. Giving gifts that come from a begrudged heart defeat the whole purpose anyway. The gifts you do give, give joyfully, expecting nothing in return. It might be hard at first. But, trust me, it gets better...and it takes a lot of pressure off.
2. Don't overextend yourself or overbook your family. This is especially important if you have young children. There are so many things going on in December! Think through your commitments and look over your calendar before committing to yet another event; be realistic. This may mean saying no to a few things, even good things that you want to do. However, remember balance and maintained sanity are your goals.
Note: Keep in mind, sometimes we also can't make it to events we committed to because of realities like vomiting kids. Let go. You can't control it!
3. Take time to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Do this as an individual, but also as a family. The more our minds are set on the true reason we celebrate, the Savior Jesus Christ, the more other things will seem less important. Choose to invest time in meaningful activities that nurture your faith and renew your perspective, and that of your family.
4. Choose to love and accept your family, both immediate and extended, just as it is. So you're family isn't perfect. Guess what, no one else's family is either. It's okay. Choose to overlook their faults and little annoyances to see the blessings of the moment. And thank God for an opportunity to love as He does, humbly, unselfishly and wholeheartedly. Remember this moment in time will never come around again. Use this time to love on those you...well, love. It still won't be "perfect". Embrace the imperfection.
I don't have all the answers! However, I really think if we let go of our unrealistic expectations; if we simplify and embrace reality; we will find joy this Christmas season...along with our sanity. :)
Today I'm joining the Third Thursday Blog Hop. Head on over to Jill Savage's blog, by clicking on the link below, to see what others had to say on the topic "No More Perfect Holidays".