One time, in the middle of putting out our family’s prayer letter, I declined a call from an acquaintance. When my husband walked into the kitchen, I had this look like your dog would when it pees on the carpet.
I explained my sheepishness. “Why do you feel guilty about that?” he asked, direct as ever.
“I want to be the kind of person who will drop everything and be present with whoever needs it,” I shrugged.
His eyes had this kind look around the edges. “You know you can only be present by shutting other stuff out, right? You’re present with our financial supporters [my husband and I are supported missionaries] right now. When you’re present with someone else, you’re shutting out other things you could be paying attention to.”
We all know what it’s like to compete with a smartphone—so many apps and chats open, pinging and calling for our attention. So often, in my attempts to be everywhere, to be everything to everyone, I’m not “all there” with anyone.
Being present is about in the here and the now . . . and not being somewhere else. And for us to be present, it’s fair to say there are boundaries involved.
I don’t usually associate Christmas with a need for boundaries. But maybe I should. Because whenever Christmas comes around, we often find ourselves running off toward a lesser goal—having that dress for the party, stimulating ourselves with every activity, or finding the perfect gift—at the expense of more important goals. Like peace. Authentic joy and community. Worship.
“Where our treasure is, there our hearts will also be” (Matthew 6:21)—we sense this in our hearts. We know that the holes in our lives are never filled by more stuff, food, activity, or the approval of others, but we still inadvertently find ourselves sucked in by the busyness of Christmas. And soon, being present with God is stolen by schedules, material stuff, and worry. As Scripture says: “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
At Christmas, my heart can be going in about 167,856 directions at once. Packing! Advent with the kids! Decorating! Cookies!
I’m just not all there with Him.
So, I’m pulling ideas together to help me (and hopefully you too) hone in on being “all there” this Christmas—starting with our audience of One.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
To an already-packed schedule, Christmas can feel a bit like “more bricks, less straw.” If your goal is being present in the ways that matter, cut out a few of the “have-tos” that aren’t necessary.
For instance, could we do photo Christmas cards rather than hand-signing them, or could we let go of cards altogether? Could we shorten time with family to make sure we have time for quieter days of a Christmas within our own hearts? Opt for coffee curled on the couch with a friend, rather than a party that leaves our heart feeling alone, regretful, or jealous?Allow a little more margin for a peaceful, thoughtful state of mind, rather than one rattled and sprinting to keep up.
Pray that God will open your eyes to what entangles and distracts your heart from really soaking in the Christmas message this year—and that you’ll have the courage to cut it loose.
2. Take the Time to Listen
If you’re moved by music, spend a few dollars and a few extra minutes on your favourite music app for songs that will get worship rolling around in your head and your heart.
Right now, on my playlist are The Worship Initiative’s “Sing We the Song of Emmanuel” and Sovereign Grace’s “Who Would Have Dreamed”. And of course, there are some oldies-but-goodies, like Mercy Me’s “Joseph’s Lullaby”.
3. Find Food for Your Thoughts
Download an advent devotional to help bring your attention back to what truly matters. I enjoy John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy devotional advent, with its 25 short devotional readings to help me keep Christ at the centre of the Advent season.
You could also try journaling your thoughts. I love journaling because it requires me quieting my soul and shutting the door of my heart (Matthew 6:6). It forces me to listen to not only what my heart really wants and says, but to God’s still, small voice that can get lost amid the third stanza of “Frosty the Snowman”.
You could also consider a fast from your phone for a day, or even social media for a while, to chew on something of substance rather than the electronic equivalent of candy canes.
4. Hijack Your Traditions
My kids love decorating the Christmas tree and twisting lights around our porch. Strong traditions and memories feed strong relationships. But not all our traditions help us worship deeper at Christmas.
So, think: How can we steer some of them toward what matters eternally?
Maybe that means setting aside cookies for a lonely neighbour, sending personalised cards to friends who need it the most, or hanging ornaments with the different names of Jesus on it.
Kids too can learn about being present with God. Consider an advent calendar that leads your family closer to Jesus. Alternatively, younger kids might enjoy making Jesus a birthday cake (cake mix! whipped cream! Keep it simple) and singing “Happy Birthday” on Christmas.
5. Hone in on Jesus
Pick one name of Jesus (“Prince of Peace”), a verse (Luke 1:38), or a character from the Christmas story that sticks out. Or ask God to point out one.
Then spend time soaking in it as you go through the season and listen as God fleshes out its meaning. This year, sensing a need to believe in God’s promises, I’m meditating on Luke 1:45: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
6. Be Present in Worship
Author Gary Thomas writes of the various ways we worship as individuals: Through nature, restoring justice, or through our intellect.
Worship for me looks like playing an instrument and singing by myself or taking a walk after working inside all day. I read poetry by Christians, write some of my own, or make myself a latte for a quiet prayer time, with the sun filtering through my window.
Carve out time for the ways you worship, being present through a walk outside, a prayer in the quiet of the Christmas tree lights, or even while dropping off a cup of cocoa for a neighbour.
7. Ask Him to Show You the Main Thing
You’ve heard the old warning: If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. He likes to make me busy through all I do for others—sometimes beyond the good works God has for me (Ephesians 2:10).
This may seem like a “duh”, but consider a question like this one:
God, I know how everyone else thinks I should spend my day today. How do You want me to spend it, to be faithful to You and love well? Help me know how my holiday can be about increased worship and enjoyment of You.
Because a Christmas without worship from the heart? That’s a hollow Christmas indeed. Let’s keep the main thing, the main thing.
This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.