Ah, December. How vast and conflicted are the feelings I have for you.
You are just so FULL: full of expectations, full of activities, full of tasks and to-dos, full of family and friends, full of joy and anticipation, full of nostalgia, full of memories and memory-making, full of hope and regret and love and guilt and stress and excitement, and food, so very full of food.
I gotta say, December: I love it when you come, and I love it when you go.
And well, you went. So really, everything in me would like to just pack it up and move on to January now.
But the truth is, December, you taught me a couple things this time around. Sure, it was pretty basic, you-should-know-this-by-now stuff. And yes, most bloggers wrote about these things in, you know, actual December, so as to be helpful to others. But no one has ever accused me of being timely. So, to avoid the same situation next year, let’s review.
3 Simple Things I Learned in December:
1) Good enough is good enough. It just really is. So often I turn a task or an event into a THING. Not everything has to be a THING, apparently.
Take decorating the tree. This is a family event at the Chamberlain house. We turn on the Christmas music, everyone has their designated roles, we ooh and ahh over each ornament and talk about who gave them to us, which kid made this and what grade were they in again? There is generally some dancing involved (actually, strangely enough, this could be said about most Chamberlain family events).
It is very tempting for me to turn this into a THING. We need to block off several hours (in addition to the preparatory hours already blocked off for setting up (very old) tree, fixing lights on (very old) tree, etc). We need the right music, the right treats, the right moment when everyone is in the right mood.
But here’s what I learned this year. One good solid hour on a Sunday afternoon is what it takes to decorate the tree. No one actually has to be in the mood for it. Once the music is playing and the tree lights are on, it only takes one kid finding their favorite ornament for everyone to get on board. It matters absolutely zero where all the ornaments actually end up on the tree. This year, Liam was into grouping like ornaments into little themed vignettes. “Oh, let’s have all the little s’more guys hang out over here. Oh look, your little mouse and my little puppy are playing together on this branch.” (Not at all how I would approach tree-decorating, but in all of December I never walked past the mouse and the puppy without smiling.) At the end of the hour, everyone was still in it, still excited to be together, still talking about memories and rehearsing stories and dancing to Charlie Brown Christmas. And then we were done. It wasn’t a THING, it was just an hour on a Sunday afternoon. And then: everyone back to your homework or your weekly planning or your nap. Whatever.
It wasn’t a THING, but it was a moment. And I’m slowly learning that more often than not, that’s where the magic happens.
2) To-do lists are my friend (Or my boss? Or my bossy friend? Whatever…I need them!) Here’s the cold, hard truth of the matter. Even in my busiest seasons, I almost always have time to do everything I need to do. The problem is that I get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of tasks in front of me. And especially in December, the to-dos are coming from all directions. When I’m at work I’m thinking about everything that needs to get done at home. And when I’m at home, I’m thinking about all the things that need to happen at work. And when I get an hour to actually tackle something in either place, I find myself spinning because I have no idea what to do first.
Enter the humble to-do list. This year I’ve been using a loose adaptation of the bullet journal as my planner. I carry my notebook with me constantly. So when I’m making dinner and I think of 3 emails I need to send for church, I write them down. When I’m at church and I remember that I forgot to stop at the post office to mail the Christmas cards, I write it down.
And then — and here’s the money shot — when I sit down at my desk at church and begin to work, I look at my to-do list for the day and, wait for it….I do what it says to do. When I get home from a day of work, plop down on the couch and think, “I know I have a hundred and three things to do right now, but honestly, I can’t think of one of them,” I look at my list, get up off my tush, and do the thing it says to do.
There’s no decision-making, no prioritizing, no rationalizing or procrastinating. I just do what it says to do. Right down the list. It is simply amazing how much you can accomplish by just doing the next thing on the list. (Half of the people reading this just rolled their eyes, actually said “duh” out loud under their breath and went to put in some laundry. The other half thought, “Huh, I should try that.” You, oh second half, you are my people.)
3) Working hard doesn’t have to be stressful and angst-ridden. We were made to work. Working creates joy. (More on this in the next installment of 7 Things I Learned Growing Up in the Church.) Working hard at something you love is fun. Really fun. And just because we’re busy, we don’t necessarily have to be anxious. We can just do the work. (See above.) And we can even enjoy it.
This December I realized it’s not the work that makes me stressed. It’s a whole lot of other craziness. You ready?
It’s guilt. Guilt that I’m doing this thing when I should be doing that thing over there (you know, if I was a better mom or better daughter or better friend or better wife or better worship leader).
It’s fear. Fear that I’m going to forget to do that really important thing or so-and-so is not going to come through or my such-and-such is going to be a flop or, you know, I’m going to fail.
It’s bitterness and martyrdom. Bitterness that I’m the one that’s doing all the stuff and so-and-so doesn’t even have a clue what it’s like to be in my shoes and if they would just step up and help around here. (Yeah, wow, that’s an ugly one.)
The truth is I don’t have to burden my work with guilt, fear and bitterness. Colossians 3 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” My guilt, fear and bitterness stem from a desire for man’s approval. When I seek only to honor God with my work, and submit my to-do list to His approval, I am freed up to work hard with great joy.
Great joy. December has something to say about that too.
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.