Tuesday, December 19

Christmas blessings

Hello, friends. It's been a long time since I've written anything in this space. It's been a long, hard year at our house, and continuing to show up here just hasn't worked for me. But I've missed being here and especially missed interacting with you all.

Now it's less than one week until Christmas, and I'm excited to say that I'm going with my husband and sons to see a movie tonight. See if you can guess which one:

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” sing Clark and Ellen as their station wagon zooms down a freshly plowed highway. Russ and Audrey roll their eyes in the back seat. The search for the perfect Christmas tree is about to begin.

Yep, we found a theater with a special engagement of Christmas Vacation on the big screen. You know, I never saw this movie when it was first released, but then I had three sons. . . and watching Christmas Vacation every year became one of our family traditions. I know, I know—it’s dated, it’s silly, and sometimes it’s inappropriate, but year after year we follow along as the Griswolds make their way through December. We laugh until our sides hurt as Clark cuts the rope binding the Christmas tree (“Little full. Lot of sap.”), pours egg nog for Cousin Eddie into a moose-shaped mug (“Drive you out into the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?”), and investigates the noise in the living room (“Squirrel!!”). If you’ve watched Christmas Vacation over the years, I’ll bet you have your favorite lines, too.

Of all the heart-warming Christmas movies available, all the beautiful musicals, all the rollicking comedies, why does this one endure? Why do we watch it over and over? Clark Griswold is a farcical character, so why do we identify with him so enduringly?

I think it’s because we’ve all been there. In our sometimes crazy-busy lives, who among us hasn’t aspired to create the perfect Christmas?

Who hasn’t tried to create a lasting memory by tracking down the perfect tree? Or attempted a stunning lightscape in the front yard? Or labored to plan the merriest holiday party? Or slaved to cook the most toothsome holiday meal?

We have good intentions. We want to make the holidays memorable for our families. And everywhere we look, we find inspiration. With all the magazines we read, the blogs we peruse, the Pinterest boards we scour, and the Instagram photos we scroll through, we’ve convinced ourselves that every element of the perfect holiday should be within our grasp.

This influencer has a different tree in every room of her home, each one decorated with a particular theme.

That influencer boasts the most beautiful front-door wreath and garland we’ve ever seen. 

One magazine features the six most elegant holiday desserts ever created, while another provides recipes for ten kinds of homemade candy that we simply must try.

We start with good intentions, and we work hard to create something special. But as we collect more and more inspiration, our plans for Christmas have enlarged to include more, more, more.

Somehow we imagine that we can take the best elements of everyone else's holiday plans and combine them into one stupendous effort. Clark Griswold called it a "fun old-fashioned family Christmas." These days I have my own term for it. I call it the Mythical Composite Christmas.

Many years ago my husband told me that I was constantly comparing myself to everyone around me. He said, "You choose the best attribute of everyone you meet, and you assume you should share that attribute. You've created for yourself a Mythical Composite Woman made up of all those attributes, and that's who you think you should be."

I struggled with comparison for so long that I finally wrote a book about my journey of wrestling with it. InterVarsity Press published the book, called Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison*. (You can read about the book and even read the first chapter here.) I'm finally finding some freedom from the trap of comparison.

But then Christmas comes, and if I'm not careful, I'll slip right back into my old ways of trying to create the perfect Christmas. This year, I'd like to leave the farce to the Griswolds, so I'm taking my own advice.

In Mythical Me, I tell a story that I'm remembering this Christmas. One week I was rushing around like crazy, trying to pack too many activities into too little time. In the middle of one of the busiest days, a friend asked how I was doing, and I answered honestly: "Frantic."

My friend pressed for details, and I shared them: in addition to the normal activities and responsibilities of the week, my son was celebrating a milestone birthday, I was hosting a dinner party for an important client, and I was preparing for a business trip that would keep me away from home for a week. With a haircut and a dentist's appointment thrown in for good measure, I had way too many things to do and not enough time to do them, at least not the way I wanted to do them.

And how did I want to do them? Well, I had great examples. One of my friends makes each family celebration unforgettable. Another is an ace hostess. Yet another glides through business trips with apparent ease. I wanted to perform at least as well as the people I was comparing myself to, if not better than anyone else could.

Had I stopped to think about how privileged I was? Did I pause to consider how rich my life was? Not one bit. Instead, I let myself be frazzled by trying to be the best at everything.

My friend prayed for me, and I heard God's voice speak to me. Simply and clearly, God said, "I made you to bless, not to impress."

Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized that truth. The reason I was working through my long list was to bless people. When I got stuck in comparing myself to others, I lost sight of that purpose. My talented friends had inspired me and taught me, blessing me with their examples. But when I started comparing myself to them, I twisted that blessing into a kind of contest that no one could win.

This is the trap I'm especially susceptible to at Christmastime. Maybe you struggle with it too? Then maybe you'd like to join me.

We were made for mutual blessing, not comparison and competition

This year I'm choosing to remember God's words to me: "I made you to bless, not to impress."

When freed from the burden of wanting to impress people, we are able to bless them and be blessed by them. That's the way God designed us to be, at Christmas and all other times.

May you be both blessed and a blessing to others this Christmas! 

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  1. So happy to see this message from you. May you have peace in your heart this Christmas! Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.

  2. This is so perfect for all of us. I have had to turn over so many duties this Christmas to others and in the process learned it is ok to be Blessed by others too. Merry Christmas and may you enjoy all of Gods Blessing this Holiday.

  3. It's good to hear from you again. I had wondered if something was wrong and hoped all was ok.

    It's all too easy to get caught up in comparisons. I've had to accept the fact that others may be "ten talent" Christians while I only have a couple. The important thing is just to serve God and bless others in the ways He has placed before us.

  4. Wow! That comment above about ten talent Christians! It was so encouraging to me today.

    SO happy to hear from you, Richella. I am so sorry to know that you have had a rough year. I pray God will bless and heal and help in every way and that 2024 will be a much better year for you and your family!

  5. I came to terms with all of this years ago and now the holidays are so much more enjoyable to me - It was nice to hear from you again and I wish you a wonderful holiday and happy new year!

  6. So happy to hear from you, Richella! Have a Happy, joyous and blessed holiday season! Creatively, Beth

  7. Great to hear from you, Richella. I am so sorry for your difficult year, I am right there with you. I hope your Christmas was wonderful not comparing it to someone else! Happy New Year Blessings!

  8. It's good to see a post from you today. I am sorry your year has been so rough. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about "comparisons" - you expressed it beautifully. I too struggle keeping the balance. Thank you! Patty

  9. I'm so happy to see you! I've been frequently popping over to see if you were here. I'm so sorry your year has been rough, sending warm comforting prayers your way.


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