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My least favorite thing about Christmas

I must admit–assuming the usual caveats about Christmas being about Jesus–that the actual date of December 25th is one of the most difficult for me.

I do adore my Christ. I do love the celebrations. I love the church services, and the church family. I love the sermons I get to study, write, and pray over. I love the usual busy work that surrounds the offices leading up to Christmas. But where I struggle the most is when after these festivities, everything closes for Christmas day. Well, everything but my restless mind.

I've learned–to my discomfort–that I enjoy being busy, even if I'm not doing much in particular.

Because I am busy with my thoughts, or busy in conversation, or walking a busy street. Yet on Christmas day, I'm robbed of my busyness when every venue, outlet, and commercial expression is taken from me. It's the one day in the year I can't do anything. This is, on the surface, a classic first world problem! Yet a guy who's that stimulated by productivity will sometimes mistake productivity for faithfulness to God. And this is where I sometimes have a problem. I'm learning that they aren't the same.

Perhaps I equate being busy with being faithful because I really just want to know that what I'm doing matters to God.

The only way I can secure that is through busyness.

(Cue the sad music, and the sermon on how the gospel frees us from thinking we can secure God's love through hard work).

Yes, I know. I shouldn't think that ever. But I do. Who doesn't? And Christmas, it turns out, is the forcible action that confronts my idolatry. It does this by keeping me helpless. Silent. Not busy. There are no chores to do. No errands. There are no check-lists to keep track of, no vision to cast, and no sermon to prepare. I can't meet with anyone, because they're all with family. I can't think deeply about things, because friends and extended family punctuate every minute with the laughter of inside-jokes. There is nowhere I can go to find a “safe place,” by which I mean, work. I am unsafe. But from what? Well…myself, I suppose. My idol of productivity–of busyness.

Christmas exposes me as my own worst enemy.

And sometimes it takes the town shutting down to pull me out of my comfort zone. I'm learning that silence isn't all that bad–though it feels like it–and is even a great outlet for prayer, as counter-intuitive as that seems. But I still don't like it. Perhaps that's my problem: words (in prayer) help me feel productive; the discursive thoughts Richard Rohr often warns about in his instruction on contemplative prayer, that we mistakenly assume are meritorious to God. Rohr, in his book, A Lever and a Place to Stand, suggests “Prayer beyond words” instead (59). So I tried it. But it's increasingly uncomfortable to leave words behind, when words are all you do in life.

We have to have a slight distance from the world–we have to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for meditation, for prayer in what Jesus calls “our private room.” However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same, loving it, feeling its pains and its joys as our pains and our joys. ~ Richard Rohr, 2.

In other words, we must all learn to withdrawal in holy silence, yet re-engage the pressures of “productivity” when our spirit is revived; after all, we're never not supposed to be productive. The Bible simply chooses an alternative: fruitfulness.

Our lives are not supposed to be marked by busy work, but by the characteristics (the fruit) of the Spirit.

Sometimes this happens when you're busy, and sometimes it happens when you're not. After reading Rohr's line, I experienced an epiphany: God used December 25th to slow my life down enough to show me that he doesn't need me. Yet in the sermon I gave the night before, I also explain how the birth of His Son proves that he wants me (and you). Now, we're on another level.

Because while it's uncomfortable to feel unneeded; it's downright devastating to feel unwanted. But to be unneeded while knowing you're still wanted is one of the most liberating things the soul can ever know.

And on this Christmas week, I'm trying to ride the border of that mysterious truth, if only because the shutting down of Santa Barbara forced it upon my over-productive mind. And to think some people don't believe in effectual grace! Tsk tsk. That's what a busy mind will sometimes do to you. Can I share something with you, from one mad thinker to another? (One that I robbed from a local bumper sticker)…

Slow down Santa Barbara.

God's presence is worth the reflection.

Habakkuk 2:20 ~ The Lord is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence.

 

Why crowding your calendar with good things is a bad thing

I only do one big event a year.

I often get baffled looks from people when I tell them that Reality’s young adult ministry (Adorn) does few programs or events.

I guess I can understand why—aren’t college groups supposed to be filled with a lot of activity? Shouldn’t we be offering something for college students to do during the week in addition to our main worship gathering?

3 years of doing Adorn has made me confident in saying “No.” In fact, college groups should be simple for similar reasons that OUR personal schedules should be simple: mission.

Here’s why Adorn keeps the calendar clear…

1. It allows us to stay on mission

Adorn exists so that people can know Jesus together and expand his Kingdom. Anything that does not directly affect these objectives is clutter. And clutter waters down our mission. Any programs we do have are all focused tightly on our mission. For example,

  • Our weekly worship gathering brings people together to get resuscitated on Christ in community with one another. It’s weekly, because regularity is an important aspect of cultivating our worship of Jesus.
  • Our annual Lake Trip is the one big event of the year for us. It brings strangers together who would not ordinarily cultivate relationships at our weekly gathering, and results in dozens of baptisms in Christ and his church.
  • Every four months a crew bands together for a small recreational activity called Assassins! Essentially a grown-up version of hide-n-seek, it helps us to enjoy life together as a community, and also serves as an easy form of mission in expanding the Kingdom of God in Santa Barbara, as hundreds of people who would never enter a church, show up to participate in the game.

2. It allows us to be on mission

Wait, wasn’t that the first point?? Well, kind of, but with a different nuance.
  • The first point has to do with Adorn’s mission as a gathering, and the opportunities we are going to offer the members of the gathered Friday night community.
  • But this second point deals with what we do outside of Adorn on Friday nights.
See, if we crowd your calendars with a bunch of frivolous activities (or even productive ones), you won’t have time to be on mission throughout the week.

How are you going to reach your neighborhood, school, workplace, friends, and family if we require you to participate in Adorn events and programs throughout the week? Busyness is counter-productive to mission.
Simplicity allows us to be with vision, and on mission, not just in ministry, but in our personal lives.

How about you? What are some of the most difficult things about creating simplicity in your life?

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