I read a lovely post yesterday on Instagram, from Ann Voskamp (you can find her as @annvoskamp), inspiring me to think about my Advent and Christmas – Ann wrote “This year won’t be about perfectionism – This year won’t be about performance – This year will be about presence. Just a bit of music, a strand or two of twinkly lights, and being present to your people, being present to His presence.”
This was just a beautiful reminder to me, of keeping my priorities right. I have all sorts of cool stuff planned for Advent and Christmas, but even though none of that is wrong, I need to keep it in perspective. It can be so easy to become focused on the wrong things and seeking for it to be a Pinterest perfect Christmas performance and before I know what has happened, Advent and Christmas have become a burden and not a delight.
Also this year we have some family difficulties and the possibility of not seeing our eldest children at all, which pretty much sucks. I confess recently I was feeling very burdened by that messy situation and Christmas. However, reading Ann’s post reminded me to turn to Psalm 34:8, which is possibly my favourite verse in the entire Bible and read: “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (NKJV). Then I remembered that God is good, all the time, and when I put my trust in Him, I will be blessed. I love this quote from Elizabeth George in her book Loving God with all Your mind: “You become a hope-filled Christian when you remember and grow to know that God is the author of every moment of your life.” That is why all of my messy life problems this Christmas time, whether War and Peace or ABC books, are going to go in between the bookends.
And what are the bookends? In the same book, Elizabeth George describes an awful experience when they lived through an earth quake, although their home was partially destroyed. By a miracle, God had saved Elizabeth because if had she been sat where she normally did at that time in the morning, she would have been crushed. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional time of tidying up afterwards! Surveying the damage in the study, Elizabeth simply didn’t know where to start. The Holy Spirit prompted her to pick up 2 bookends and she made a start by picking up books and putting them between those bookends.
As she placed the books between the bookends and began to restore order, God reminded Elizabeth of the scripture in Romans 11:33 – “I stand amazed at the fathomless wealth of God’s wisdom and God’s knowledge. How could man ever understand His reasons for action or explain His methods of working?” (JB Phillips) She suddenly saw how one bookend represented God’s knowledge and that He knows everything that is going to happen to us and the other represented God’s wisdom and that in His wisdom, He allows those things to happen, with the books being all the parts of our life including those that we don’t and often can’t understand. And suddenly Elizabeth was filled with peace, as she gave that situation to God.
Sometimes, we can know right away why God has allowed something to happen – when I pray for patience then He is going to put me into situations to grow my patience! However, often it is not so easy and we simply cannot find the good or see how God is at work. I find that picture of the bookends so valuable, because it reminds me that God is still good and that I can trust Him. When I come across burdens in life, however big or small, I can picture myself placing them between those bookends as I pray and claim peace by faith. Just as we are reminded in Phillipians 4:6 – the recipe for that perfect peace from God that transcends all human understanding is giving our anxieties to Him in prayer and thanksgiving.
All of this brings us back Advent and welcoming in Jesus, the Prince of Peace vs succumbing to that desire to create as perfect a Christmas as possible, free of strife and difficulty and to produce a perfect performance. Sisters, we live in a world that is going to bring us trouble, as sure as day follows night. However, take heart – Jesus conquered the world. We live in a world suffering an ailment of trouble and mess and problems, but God also provided an antidote in Jesus.
Let us live an abundant life of freedom and peace this Advent and Christmas, by simply putting our trust in God and His goodness. When trouble comes, which it will, however big or small – please remember those bookends and that recipe for peace. God did not intend for you to live a burdened life of worries and troubles and feeling pressured to perform perfectly. He simply wants you to give your burdens to Him and to learn to dwell in His presence and in His perfect peace.
“Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 J B Phillips
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7 (The message)
This Advent and Christmas, I am going to work on choosing peace over performance and I hope that you will join me too.
Be encouraged 🙂
P.S. Some book recommendations (if you click on the pictures, they link to the books on Amazon):
I will be using Jane Tibbs’ book for our advent and Christmas activities. It is choc-a-block full of inspiration and tasty recipes and fun ideas. Just don’t feel burdened to have to do it all or even any of it! So long as we are pointing our children to Christ during advent, then it doesn’t matter whether that is crafts or just a simple scripture verse read aloud each day or using the chocolate from the Aldi Star Wars advent calendar to learn the verse – “Taste and see that the Lord is Good and blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
If you like the idea of an Advent journal for helping you keep your focus right, I recommend Jennifer Flanders’ Joy to the World. It is full of lots of verses, pictures to colour, carols, lists to help with planning and lots of space to write or draw whatever you fancy! (NB it is a big book (it will likely serve me for next Advent too) and this is reflected in the price.)
Elizabeth George’s book Loving God with all Your Mind was a life changer for me. I thoroughly recommend it, especially if you do struggle with anxiety or taking your thoughts captive to Christ.