Three times now, I have done it again. The first time was several weeks ago when I gathered the family to watch the Season’s premiere showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I had saved a screenshot of the holiday TV schedule to my camera roll so I would have it handy. I actually created an event on my phone for it. It was the first Monday of Advent, and I was adamant that our family would calmly sit, gathered together, a heap of happiness watching a childhood favorite to kick off the Christmas season.
So there we sat– the boys, Mark, and I. Where was Louisa? I had called her downstairs several times. So after waiting and waiting and waiting for her to come down the stairs, I resorted to texting her, beckoning her from her bedroom where I’m sure she was Snapchatting, Netflixing, or Instagramming. Charlie Brown is about to start, and we all must be present for the opening scene! Maybe I could get her attention with some cute emojis.
It worked! Seconds later, I heard her pitter-patter down the stairs. Ok, so not really pitter-pattering. Daily I have to face the fact that she is no longer a toddler in feeties, despite my yearning for those days to reappear. But regardless, Louisa obediently made her way into the den, took her spot in the chair beside me, and set her phone aside. I let out a sigh of contentment.
But then this beautiful scene became awfully messy. Minutes after I posted the sweet, idyllic photo of Linus and Charlie Brown, in the darkness of our den, with our dog Moz snuggled on my lap, all hell broke loose on the sofa across from me. The boys wouldn’t pay attention to the show. AT ALL. They poked and prodded and pinched and became a heap not of happiness, but of mayhem. Right there, smack in the middle of Linus’ heart-to-heart with Chuck. Did they not even care? Do they not even want to watch this? This is a tradition… don’t they like it anymore?!
“This is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPENING!”
I inwardly screamed.
And then my scream became audible. Yelling at the boys. Telling them that WE ARE GOING TO WATCH THIS AND LIKE IT! We are going to be a happy, get-along-y family and watch Charlie Brown and his friends and his tree and his dog and that bird and the most important thing ever, the Linus Monologue! So sit down, shut your mouths and be still! Oops. There I was, Shoving Advent. I wrote about it last year, and I recently re-read that entry. I could basically hit Rewind and write the same post again. Sadly, it seems that nothing has changed.
So I threatened the boys that if they didn’t settle down, they would be getting “Naughties” from our elf, Tinsel– he leaves little report cards each morning indicating what he had reported to Santa the night before. (I know… cray cray… but it occasionally works.) Anyway, the wild mayhem did, in fact, leave them with a bad report card. Charlie walked away with the dreaded Naughty. Thanks to Tinsel, I was able to inflict my vengeance on the boys– for ruining my vision of an idyllic 30 minutes of Rockwellesque bliss.
And then as I sat there stewing, taking deep breaths, counting to ten and trying to lower my blood pressure, words that I had just spoken (well, ironically screamed) at the boys came right back at ME:
That’s what I so badly wanted my children to do, but it hit me hard at that moment. It’s also what God is calling me to do. Just — be — still. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) It’s a phrase that we often use with one another when life is out of control. When it’s out of our control. We become paralyzed by fear and overwhelmed with worry and anxiety– and the only way out of that is to recognize that He is God and we are Not. And in this Season of rushing and running and decorating and buying and partying and overindulging and outdoing and overcompensating, I was trying… I really was trying to just — be — still. So why did I still have such unrest over something as silly as watching a cartoon with my family?
Then one week later, it happened again. The second Sunday of Advent– our family actually seated around the table for dinner and lighting of the wreath and reading from Scripture. I silently patted myself on the back: Well, done, Shannon. This is what it is supposed to be like. And you aren’t even tardy this time. It’s the Second Sunday, and we are actually lighting the Second candle. It’s a small ‘Shannon Miracle’! I breathed a sigh of contentment. But that, too, was short-lived. Soon there was arguing over who would be opening the little presents provided by our church… sulky attitudes… and then of course spilt milk. I mean, spilt milk always has to have its place at the table, right? I don’t recall if I cried at the table like I did last year when I shoved Advent, but regardless, my heart was not right, and I sat at the table alone after the rest of the family had left. What am I doing wrong? I sat alone in my self-pity.
And then last Saturday happened.
For the past five-ish years, our family has made the small trek to deliver presents from our church congregation to a Cabbage Patch family in need. We arrive at our designated time on Saturday morning outside the Chapel, load the trunk of the car, enter the address into our GPS, and off we go. I always insist that we listen to Christmas carols, and I usually talk with the kids about the reason why we do what we do and try to make it meaningful for them. I want them to find Joy in the act of giving and being an instrument to bless others. And I want them to want to be doing it– I don’t want this tradition to just be my feel-goody thing that we do. Without going into detail, I will just say that one child was upset to be missing her field hockey practice, and the other two children were getting on each other’s nerves and both grumpy. It was anything but a warm and fuzzy, ‘hearts are full’ car ride. Like Mark said, “This happens every year.” I’ll just say that I cried on the way home.
I was done shoving Advent.
It seemed to alleviate the pressure… because the next evening we enjoyed a low-key, low-expectation Advent– lighting the Joy candle. Albeit, while we did shove through six days of readings in 20 minutes, the kids had fun and were enthusiastic about reading the daily devotions. Maybe it had a little bit to do with the prizes (the bubbles were a hit) but nevertheless, we did share Joy together that night. Not shoving Advent seemed to be working…
And I found it easier… to Be Still.
I guess it was around that time that I knew what the theme for my Christmas cards would be– should be– this year. Oh, they are still spread out around my living room floor, not yet compiled and photos not yet printed. Hole punch, paper scraps, straw ‘hay’, and all. But since I have decided to not shove Advent, they will go out ‘late’ this year. I remind myself that Christmas actually begins on the 25th and lasts 12 days, through Epiphany. So they will be right on time, actually. And even if they go out in June, they will still be right on time.
Because it’s not just on Christmas Day, but every day, that Jesus enters in to our broken world to share his Love. Which was yesterday’s Advent candle– Love. And I imagine we will get around to lighting it when we are still enough to listen to what the Word has to tell us.
Merry Christmas. And may you find time to Be Still… in your Messy.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
~ Psalm 46:10-11