The season of celebrating is almost upon us – and for a little more than a month – from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve – we will start seeing the surge of “picture-perfect” family moments on social media.
The Thanksgiving dinner table laden with beautiful pies and centerpieces. The kids gathered around a freshly cut tree on the Christmas tree farm. The family jammie pictures from Christmas day. The cozy Christmas movie and hot chocolate nights. The caroling parties, the tree-decorating parties, the gingerbread house-decorating parties, the sledding parties, the family reunion parties.
And we anxiously start preparing ourselves for those “camera-ready” moments, certain that we need to document and prove our holiday cheer to everyone we know.
For so many years I had this idealistic vision of Thanksgiving or Christmas day which I would construct in the days leading up to it. I would imagine the scene exactly the way I wanted it to be, then I would imagine taking a picture of it and posting it online and everyone would love my beautiful life.
And then the day would roll around and someone would be sick or late or crabby (usually me because things weren’t going according to my pre-planned vision), and Christmas day wouldn’t line up with how I thought it was supposed to be. It certainly didn’t line up with how everyone else’s Christmas day appeared to be going on social media.
There is so much hype built up around “experiences” – traditions – warm fuzzies – Christmas-card-worthy stories – and I always seemed to buy it. I’d do the countdown and the decorating and the checklist of “Christmas traditions” and I would expect that it would bring me joy. Because after all, if you follow the Christmas formula of family, food, presents, snow, and games then you get the result of happiness, right?
Well, except life is actually not that predictable. It can be – and so many times it is. But there will still be selfish hearts that get in the way and demand perfection. There will be irritations, sometimes the dog eats half the pie on the counter before you realize it, and sometimes the little ones throw a fit because they wanted more presents.
That is actually reality.
Not the kind of reality that we like to Instagram about.
But the reality that reminds us that life isn’t always hashtag picture perfect.
And the reality that points us to our need for the Savior that was born into all of our mess to save us from our selfish expectations.
Because when we make our expectations the center of our holidays instead of Christ, we will find a world of disappointment and frustration.
And when we make our expectations the center of our holidays, we end up hurting those around us when they fail to meet up to those expectations.
Instead, what if this year, we shatter our expectations and embrace the struggle that the Advent season came to redeem? What if we slay our expectations by being present and grateful for the gift of what we have been given? Because the most beautiful memories are formed when we cherish what is happening instead of being frustrated with what isn’t happening based on unrealistic expectations.
What if we prepare our hearts for the upcoming holidays to focus on the relationships more than anything else – more than the decorations, the gifts, the pictures, or the traditions?
What if we choose to let some things go so that we can sit with a friend in grief – minister to an overwhelmed new mama – bring Christmas cheer to a shut-in – spread Gospel noise in our neighborhood with cookies and caroling – and teach our kids that the joy of the holidays is in loving others the way Christ loved us – not in forcing everything to always be an Instagram-worthy picture?
Because we have to ask ourselves, “Do we want our pictures of the holidays to turn out better than the relationships that are formed through loving each other, despite all the mess?”
We have to expect the mess, because hearts are sinful and selfish, and life doesn’t go according to plan. But maybe that mess is exactly the thing God wants you to minister in, trust Him through, and lean more fully into His grace to get you through it.
So maybe your Christmas doesn’t look exactly like everyone else’s. And maybe it doesn’t look exactly the way you wanted it to. Or maybe it does.
But are you so focused on that one picture-worthy moment that you miss all the other ones happening unexpectedly? The ones you’ll remember for years to come – like that moment of anticipation right before you start eating a mouth-watering Christmas meal?
Or that moment when everyone is laughing so hard over the ridiculous stories produced by Telephone Pictionary?
Or that moment when you go for a walk with your sister and drink in the fading pink skies over trees that look topped with dollops of frosting?
Or maybe just the moment of savoring the Christmas story the way your dad has always read it every year before you open gifts?
Some things never change. Some things do. But I’ve learned that the best way to love an experience is by going into it with a focus on the relationships – and loving my people more through that experience, no matter what happens.
And whether or not it was caught on camera, I’ve learned to savor each memory in my heart as a precious gift from the One who graciously gives us all things.
It started with a baby in a manger thousands of years ago.
And it ends with the joy of being given such a life, such a family, and such a day as today, because that baby came to live and die to give us fullness of joy in Him.
So this holiday season, I am choosing to be grateful for what I am given, not anxious and griping over what I don’t have or the fact that it’s not exactly what I expected. I am choosing to be present with my people and to love them as well as I can, remembering that their souls are more important than a perfectly filtered picture.
Because Christ is my true gift – my joy and my delight.
And if I have Him, then everything else is frosting on the cake – frosting that might be a little messy and uneven, but still sweet in every way. And that will always be picture perfect.