My gene pool generously blessed me with an extra dose of perfectionism.
In case you think perfectionism is a positive trait, it’s not. It’s a disposition that regards anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Basically it means you’re never quite satisfied with what you create or achieve.
When Christmas season came along, my mind used to obsess over every component for the perfect holiday.
The Perfect Christmas would include a classic family photo sent to 100 of our closest contacts. We’d host our annual Christmas party, and create teacher gifts for our four children’s multiple teachers. I was determined to include Advent readings, Advent candles, neighbor gifts, friend gifts, the five big boxes of gifts mailed to loved ones far away. I’d buy multiple presents for our kids, including the many small ones for stockings.
I would speed through it all and finally sit down to enjoy our decorated fresh fir… after the holidays. I was overwhelmed with sadness when I realized I’d missed some priceless moments that were gone forever.
Honestly, the activities were meaningful, but they needed to be toned down. I needed to prioritize the truly important aspects of Christmas–to somehow move from gluttony to grace.
Life happened and settled me into my rightful place. One year we asked a neighbor to snap a picture of all six of us posed on our swing set. (Why didn’t my husband stop me?) In the pre-digital era, I imagined a perfect family photo as I waited days to actually see it. I opened the CVS envelope and my idealistic little brain was jolted. I almost tossed it in the trash.
This photo brought me to my moment of epiphany. It showed exactly who we were at that point in time. A dutiful husband who’d complied with my wishes, me sitting on the see-saw, smiling with my eyes closed, a teenager who clearly wanted to be anywhere else, a silly little towheaded boy who wouldn’t smile, but could make the craziest faces, a compliant sweet little girl with reddish blond hair, and a daughter with autism, who was probably the best behaved. It was awful. Believe it or not, I actually sent that picture. I included my Christmas epiphany about receiving Jesus, the Perfect Gift, even in our imperfect state.
Another Christmas found us in The Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee. We’d made a difficult but important trip from coastal North Carolina to western Tennessee for precious time with a loved one. Heading home on Christmas day, we found ourselves at dusk in a very bleak area. We seemed to be the only car on the entire highway. I panicked when I realized we had nothing to eat. No restaurants were in sight, but we were happy to find an open service station. We bought peanut butter crackers and something to drink. I became meaningfully aware of the first Christmas. What did Mary and Joseph eat for dinner? Certainly not the abundant fare we Americans enjoy. I guess it more closely resembled our humble cracker meal.
I’d thought to bring stocking gifts along for the children. As we settled into our room for the night, our kids happily tore into small presents while sitting on motel beds. I can still feel their excitement over such a small thing. It’s always been one of my favorite Christmas memories.
My heart longed more and more for meaningful rather than perfect.
As years went by, it became harder to get the family together for a picture. I learned that any card would do. Another year I decided not to send cards, and Christmas still happened. Then there was the Christmas when our downstairs furniture was in a POD because of a recent flood. Underfoot was sub-flooring. We sat on the floor with blankets. We didn’t even buy a tree. However, we robustly enjoyed our favorite tradition, The Stocking Hunt.
The Stocking Hunt began when our kids were young. My husband, Tom tied a long string to each stocking, hid the stocking, and handed the children the empty end of the string. The string would take them on a wild goose chase through the house and outside to finally come to the other end and claim their filled stocking. The younger the child the easier the hunt. Through the years, they found stockings in the fireplace, the laundry, the bathtub and even trees.
As years have passed, what has naturally evolved is the most fun of all. The stockings have been set aside and the games have progressed to serious physical and intellectual competitions. There’ve been football throws, BB gun target shoots, immersing your hand in a tub of ice, blowing a ping pong ball while crawling, quizzes with historical facts, athletic teams, musicians and so much more.
Why do I share our tradition? I want you to have a meaningful (albeit imperfect) Christmas, too. Isn’t that what you long for?
Why is perfectionism not the answer? Because it left me frustrated, exhausted, dissatisfied, and unaccomplished. And all the while I missed some truly momentous experiences.
I finally realized that Christmas is about more than the doing and buying and going. It’s now only eleven days before Christmas and my list is starkly different than my Christmas to-do list from the past. I’ve yet to bake or wrap or send cards. Years ago this situation would have freaked me out. I’ll get the necessary things done eventually. In the meantime, I’ll ponder the true Reason and look forward to being with loved ones in Wilmington. I’m so excited about starting Eliza and William on our Stocking Hunt. Also, I’ll enjoy serving opportunities that will bless the truly needy and deserving instead of just blessing the blessed. The years have taught me to have grace for myself. I may even send New Year’s cards this year!
“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”