Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Christmas Tradition I Could Do Without

We are in the middle of America in the middle of a consumerized Christmas season. And I've found that I am totally loving our new huge Christmas tree (gift from a friend of my Mom). I have felt mesmerized in our living room the past few evenings, with our tree lit up and all the ornaments sparkling. It makes the season of Christmas feel truly magical, reminding me of our Christmas trees growing up in the mountains of NC (when we had our own Christmas tree farm). And of our artificial tree in Tianjin for 12 years, when our kids would sleep under it every Sunday in December and on Christmas Eve. I have a special heart connection to Christmas trees.

But I've discovered that I don't have a heart connection to the Christmas tradition of gift-giving. I have absolutely no desire to make a list for those who have asked us what we want. And I really don't feel like wandering the aisles and filling our own shopping cart with gifts, just because there's the obligation to give something. I don't think it's because I'm being a Scrooge. But I've been trying to figure out why I feel this way.

Two years ago was our first time in 15 years to celebrate Christmas in the US. I loved being with both sides of our families and experiencing all of their traditions that we had missed while we were overseas. I thought then that my not being able at all to think about or purchase gifts was because we had just adopted David and Daniel and were in those survival-first-two-months with them in our family. But I've realized that I feel the same way about gifts this year. Maybe it's because gifts were really not such a big deal to our Christmases in China. And I don't know what to do with that here...

I felt shocked and disheartened by the news report of a Wal-Mart employee in NY being trampled to death by shopping madness on Black Friday. And that makes me--even more so--want to stay out of the consumer scene.

Maybe that's why this week I've been drawn to Richard Foster's book Freedom of Simplicity, and have been uplifted by his challenge to live a centered life of simplicity. It has felt like a breath of fresh air, and has brought to mind this verse, "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16) The following passage is from his chapter called “Inward Simplicity: The Divine Center:”

“We dash about here and there, desperately trying to fulfill the many obligations that press in upon us. We jerk back and forth between business commitments and family responsibilities. While we are busy responding to the needs of child or spouse, we feel guilty about neglecting the demands of work. When we respond to the pressures of work, we fear we are failing our family. In those rare times when we are able to juggle the two successfully, the wider issues of nation and world whisper pestering calls to service. If anyone needs a simplification of life, we do.

What will set us free from this bondage to the ever-spiraling demands that are placed upon us? The answer is found in the grace of Christian simplicity. This virtue, once worked into our lives, will unify the demands of our existence; it will prune and trim gently in the right places, bringing a liberty of soul that will eliminate constant reversions to ourselves...

Within all of us is a whole conglomerate of selves. There is the timid self, the courageous self, the business self, the parental self, the religious self, the literary self, the energetic self. And all of these selves are rugged individualists. No bargaining or compromise for them. Each one screams to protect his or her vested interests. If a decision is made to spend a relaxed evening listening to Chopin, the business self and the civic self rise up in protest at the loss of precious time. The energetic self paces back and forth, impatient and frustrated, and the religious self reminds us of the lost opportunities for study or evangelistic contact. If the decision is to accept an appointment on the human services board, the civic self smiles with satisfaction, but all the excluded selves filibuster. No wonder we feel distracted and torn. No wonder we overcommit our schedules and live lives of frantic faithfulness.

But when we experience life at the Center, all is changed. Our many selves come under the unifying control of the divine Arbitrator. No longer are we forced to live by an inner majority rule which always leaves a disgruntled minority. The divine yes or no settles all minority reports. Everything becomes oriented to this new Center of reference. The quiet evening can be enjoyed to the fullest because our many selves have been stilled by the Holy Within. The business self, the religious self, the energetic self, all are at peace because they know we are living in obedience. There is no need to wave the flag of self-interest, since all things good and needful will be given their proper attention at the appropriate time. We enter a refreshing balance and equilibrium in life...

When we live out of the Divine Center, thoughts and decisions flow from the Fountainhead. All relevant data are considered, to be sure, but decisions stem from a source deeper than facts and figures. Once we have understood the mind of the Father, we can speak our yes or no with confidence. We will have no need to reverse our decision if the winds of opinion change, for we have spoken out of deeper Reality than the latest Gallup poll...

This kind of living communion does not just fall on our heads. We must desire it and seek it out. Like the deer that pants for the flowing stream, so we thirst for the living Spring. We must order our lives in particular ways if we hope to quench that thirst. We must take up a consciously chosen course of action that will draw us more deeply into perpetual communion with the Father.

I have discovered one delightful means to this end: prayer experiments that open us to God's presence every waking moment. The idea is extraordinarily simple. Seek to discover as many ways as possible to keep God constantly in mind...

It is wonderful to walk onto a grade school playground and inwardly lift every child into the arms of Christ. Or to ride in the back of a bus and invite Christ to visit with each person that boards. Carpenters and plumbers and electricians can fill the homes in which they work with the light of Christ, praying for each member of the family (or, if it is a new home, for the family which will live there). Grocery store clerks and retail checkers can pray for each person who passes through the line, imagining him or her drawing closer to God. In my work I write many letters, and each time I sign my name I try to pray for the person to whom the letter is addressed. It is great fun to imagine the recipients opening the letter and being strengthened with a fresh sense of God's presence. There are thousands of these little experiments you can try, and very often you will be startled by the results.

And most wonderful of all is what happens inside us. More and more we develop what Thomas a Kempis called a 'familiar friendship with Jesus'...

Of all the inward changes we experience, the most awesome is that we begin to know Jesus' Voice. We become inwardly acquainted with the language of the true Shepherd. Humbled under the cross, we are able to increasingly discern the true Spirit from the clatter and clamor of human voices, and even the hollow voice of the enemy who comes under the guise of an angel of light. We begin to live in guidance. Inward prompts give unity to our decisions. All the demands for service are somehow filtered through the Light. Our lives are being simplified because we are giving attention to only one Voice, and our yes and no arise from the Center. We no longer rush puffing and panting through our jam-packed day, yet somehow we accomplish more. Thomas Kelly witnessed, 'Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming.'"

I would much rather live a life of Sheperded Simplicity than that of Frantic Faithfulness. Wouldn't you?

(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of "Tradition")


  1. Love this. And it is along the same lines with a lot of what God is teaching me, so I always feel like repetition is a kind of sign from Him that I'm on the right track. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Just reading this is an encouragement, Jodie. Thanks for sharing this with us...

    1. I'm really happy to know it resonated with you, Lenore.

  3. Thanks for linking with Velvet Ashes ... I love the invitation of "The freedom of simplicity!"

  4. I've thought sometimes about how one of the benefits of living abroad is that there's not as much expectation about what you will or won't do at the holidays (including gift giving or not gift giving). I must admit that I am a total gift giver, I love sending mail and gifts, even if they're small...but I also know what you mean about not wanting the holiday to revolve around that, and have sometimes felt the tension around who to give to and what to give....and its sad when we can't focus on the simple joy of knowing Him because it's covered in stuff accumulation. Thanks for this reminder to keep it simple.

    1. Yes, Julie, I agree that living overseas gives you some freedom to make Christmas what you want it to be. Asking that He would you give you and your husband special memories together as you focus on the season of Advent and all that it means for you.



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