By Katie Helmreich
Don’t panic, but it’s November. Blink and it will be Thanksgiving. Blink twice and it will be Christmas! THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO!!
When Elise, my eldest, was five or so she had a couple imaginary friends. My favorite was Calorie. Calorie seemed nice. Her printer was constantly breaking down, so she called Elise a lot for tech support. You’d often see Elise pacing the living room talking into her toy phone, massaging her temples, saying, “Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?”
The two imaginary friends that really caused trouble were named Lüthla and Güthla. Lüthla and Güthla were twins, and they fought constantly. Have you ever had to put imaginary friends in time out and take away the imaginary tricycle they were fighting over with your daughter? No?
What do Lüthla and Güthla have to do with November and Holiday prep? Well, one memorable afternoon Lüthla and Güthla called Elise and demanded a surprise birthday party. Elise could face imaginary dragons without flinching. But imaginary party planning? She was a stressed-out wreck: “Now ALL of the sudden I have to make a bunch of food, and bake the perfect cake, and get their favorite ice cream that they never have at the store because it’s weird, and invite a hundred people, and pick up the elephants from the zoo, and decorate the whole house!!!!”
I tried to tell her it wasn’t real.
She literally made up all of these expectations.
She even made up the people expecting them!
Lüthla and Güthla can throw themselves a party if they want one, I suggested, and the surprise will be how much work it is!
Elise wasn’t having it. This was real. (It sure felt real!) And my sweet, stressed-out daughter just couldn’t let her friends down.
It’s kind of a cute story about a child’s imagination, until it occurs to you: How many things have Lüthla and Güthla written on my holiday prep list this year?
The number of traditions to remember, events to attend, and gifts to give seems to build every season! Without meaning to, we find ourselves so stressed out and overbooked we can barely take in the blessing of time with our loved ones and our Savior. We struggle to slow down, to soften our hearts in true gratitude, or to soak in the miracle of Christmas.
Take a few moments and think through your to-do list before you get caught up in all the doing. Which things are absolutely central to your values? Which bring you closer to Jesus? Which serve God and other people? Which bring you closer to your loved ones?
Before the calendar fills up, block out time for those things. Freely cut any that are counterproductive or that don’t seem as important as they once did. We need breathing room in our days and weeks so we can grasp the meaning of things happening around us and in us.
As you consider your busy calendar, ask your family and friends which traditions are most important to them. Often we assume others around us have much higher expectations than they actually do. You might be surprised at the simplicity in their answers.
Thinking these sorts of things through in advance makes it easier to spot ways to stack goals with favorite activities that otherwise get lost in the shuffle.
For example, family Advent devotions are high on my list and we’ve struggled with them in the past. We get behind and feel like we have to catch up. The chaos of getting the table cleared quickly after supper and the drama of keeping everyone around for devotions without fighting is just plain ridiculous. Then there’s the fiddling with candles and the fights over who’s turn it is the blow them out!
I’m done letting Lüthla and Güthla plan our Advent devotions!
I asked my family about their favorite parts of the holidays. My family really loves quiet time by the tree, gingerbread cookies, and reading stories together. So this year I plan to make cookies early in the season so we can take our gingerbread into the living room and read our Advent devotion by tree light each evening. We’re going to read Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide, which is a retelling of the Christmas story through the eyes of a boy in Bethlehem. It’s set up more like a novel with 25 short chapters. How could we resist making time for that? And if we fall behind? Reading a couple extra chapters will actually be fun!
Lüthla and Güthla have had quite an affect on the culture around us, especially this time of year! Imaginary expectations cause real stress.
But they’re not real.
Feels real! But it’s not.
Let the world do its crazy thing. They can throw their own party; you get to choose differently.
So take a look at your to-do list sooner rather than later. Don’t let Lüthla and Güthla plan your Thanksgiving or Christmas. Instead ask, what is Jesus speaking into my holiday planning? How is the Holy Spirit shaping my response? What promises of the Father cover me as I take my next steps?
By faith, you have hope: real, lasting, mind blowing hope. By the power of the Holy Spirit you have joy: joy and contentment, knowing nothing can separate you from the love of God!
Because of this Bethlehem Babe, you have peace: true peace. Peace in the midst of a busy season. Peace that surpasses understanding, even next door to Lüthla and Güthla’s flashing, blaring, elephant Christmas rave.
These next months can get crazy. But I pray that, as you follow Jesus in this season, you find it easier and easier to spot imaginary and unreasonable expectations. I pray that the Holy Spirit would guide you in new ways to live in God’s peace. And I pray that God the Father would bless and keep you as He shows you just how much He loves you!
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 (ESV)