Clearing Christmas clutter

 

 

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We finally faced the dreaded task last weekend and cleaned out the loft.

It was pretty miserable, dusty, dirty work but it needed to be done.  With children coming and going, moving in and moving out, the loft was filled to the brim with all sorts and it had become impossible to locate the last few Christmas decorations.  So, I announced a family work day with the promise of pizza reward.

If your family is anything like ours, clutter is a constant battle.  As soon as you clear a surface in the house, it seems to instantly become a magnet for keys, post, phones and pretty much anything else that needs a home.

And there are other kinds of clutter.  We can pile up unmade decisions or unresolved conflicts.  Too many commitments or projects can squeeze the life out of our routines until they are joyless.  And of course, worries, fears and negative thoughts often clutter our minds and drown out God’s voice.

Don’t be fooled, clutter is nothing but a thief.  It steals our time and our attention, clogging up closets and minds.  It distracts and derails us.  It burdens us and pulls us down.

And, Christmas is no exception.

When clutter fills our holidays, what is really important can disappear under a pile of festive jumble. 

But we can fight it if we want to.

And we can start by saying no.  Over Christmas the invitations are endless.  So is the list of things we think we ‘have to do’.  It is impossible to do it all so we must learn to be selective.  What is most important and what can you just leave out this year?   What gives you joy and fills you up?  What do you dread?  There are, of course, responsibilities and commitments that are non-negotiable but there are also things we do that are unnecessary and just serve to wear us out.  I love receiving Christmas cards but I find it very hard to organize myself to send them, so I don’t.  For years the kids and I would have a big all day baking marathon. It was so much fun but now they are all working and busy so we had to let it go.  My girlfriends and I often wait until January for a big get-together.  It is a fun event to look forward to and one less item to fit into the Christmas calendar. What can you leave out this year or reschedule for the New Year that will free up some time and space in your schedule and in your heart?

Then, resist the hype.  Every advert on the television, daytime tv slot or magazine cover tells you that Christmas has to be perfect and that it has to be expensive.  Don’t listen, it isn’t true.  It is meaning that makes celebrations special, not matching baubles or a perfect party outfit. Most of my decorations are quite old now, but they are filled with memories, like the mugs that Paul and I were given on our first Christmas after we were married or the Christmas quilt the women in my family made together years ago.

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So, this year, look the culture square in the eye and swim upstream.  De-emphasize perfection and acquisition.  Emphasize the unseen virtues of tradition and generosity of spirit.  Be different.  Celebrate Christmas in a way that gets you noticed.  Travel light and be a light.

And learn to love simplicity.  Christmas lunch doesn’t need dozens of side dishes.  It really doesn’t.  Streamline it down to the most popular elements.  Make the table pretty and then enjoy.  If you really love baking and have time then go for it, but if not, don’t sweat.  I now make just three cookie recipes every year and then I buy stolen and Italian panettone.  That’s it.  Boring maybe, but it saves me overspending and overeating and frees up time to just be with people I love.  I don’t need to be a martyr to an endless supply of baked goods or a gourmet lunch.

The key with Christmas is to include what is important and then to be brave enough to let the unnecessary go.  

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So, think before you buy.  As we are trying to clear our own lives of clutter, let’s not contribute to anyone else’s.  Spend much more time thinking about what to give and less time walking around the shops, dazed and desperate.  I find myself favouring gifts that are perishable much more now and I try and avoid anything that will need storage or dusting.  Gourmet food, toiletries, candles or gift vouchers for activities like the cinema have become my go-to’s.  If in doubt, just ask and save yourself from wasteful guesses.  Let’s be honest, most of us don’t need any more knick-knacks.

Then, make time for quiet.   In order to enjoy the spiritual aspects of this season, we have to make room to think and to meet with God.  I like to get up early before my young adults have emerged, and sit by the tree with my Bible.  There is something so important about worshipping first before the craziness of the day starts.  I also take any chance I am given to get outside and just walk.  I have learned this tip from the British and there is no better way to balance out the overdose of chocolates and mince pies.  A brisk walk somewhere beautiful is a very good way to clear mental clutter.  It can put things in perspective and still our souls.   Without these moments of escape, we run the risk of starting the New Year with ragged emotions and tired hearts.

And finally, make space for loving people.  Over Christmas, we will inevitably be spending time with people we find difficult or with whom we have a strained relationship or just clashing personalities.  Instead of accepting the awkwardness and enduring it, how about approaching it with prayer?  Praying now for those we will be seeing over the holidays in the days leading up to our get-togethers is so powerful.  It makes space in our hearts for love for family members or colleagues and it has the power to change and heal situations.

People are what matters, so make relationships the priority.  

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Decide today that Christmas will be clutter free.  Be brave enough to let the tinsel go and fill the days with only the good stuff.

Enjoy it.  Do what you love.  Do what matters.  Play games and laugh.  Kiss your husband.  Be generous with words and smiles and time and attention.  Read the Chrismas story.  Wonder at His love for humanity. Weep at His love for you.

The recipe for a good Christmas isn’t rocket science.  Start every day with worship and end it with gratitude.  And, fill the middle with love.  

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Love that is large

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Less than a week after my daughter’s wedding, my husband’s aunt died.  Dear Ruth was well into her nineties so it wasn’t a surprise but it was a really sad moment for Paul as he had developed a close relationship with her over the last couple of years while she has been in a nursing home.

With the wedding flowers still filling my dining room, it was time for another trip to the florist to choose pink roses and lilies for the casket.  Then today we had a look at the little chapel where her funeral will be.  It had beautiful stained glass windows and that musty smell of old church pews and hymnal dust.

And I kept thinking the same thought, over and over again, that life is only as rich as our relationships.  

Sweet Aunt Ruth never married or had children.  Any colleagues or friends she had have already gone.  There will only be 20 people at her funeral, but her nephew wept as he chose flowers for her today.  And loving and being loved is what makes life full.

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I will never forget arriving at the imposing chapel on the morning of Hannah’s wedding.  It was pouring rain and I was running slightly late.  As I entered the room and looked around I was completely overwhelmed.  It is not very often in life are you in a room with everyone you love.  It really doesn’t get much better than that and I still feel so grateful.

But, relationships are hard work.  In even the most loving families, churches or friendship groups there are endless opportunities for upsets, misunderstandings, grudges, gossip and pain.  No one can hurt us like those who are close.

When I was a child I experienced a terribly painful rejection.  For many years afterwards, it marred me and affected how I lived life.  When rejection has a hold of you it tells you to hold back, to protect yourself.  It whispers that you should love small and give away only what you can live without.  The result is a gnawing fear in your soul that you will always love more than you are loved.

But God’s love, this agape gift, calls us to something much bigger and freer.

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I recently read 1 Corinthians 13 in the Passion Translation of the Bible.

‘Love is large and incredibly patient.  Love is gentle and consistently kind to all.  It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else.  Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance.  Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honour.  Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offence.  Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong.  Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others.  Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

God’s love is large and extravagantly generous.  It goes the extra mile and turns the other cheek.  It will compel you to forgive and to forget and to never give up on anyone.  If you let it, it will turn acquaintances into friends and it will bring prodigals home.  Agape can fix families and it can fix you.

In God, there is nothing to fear. We can pour our lives out in His service, love past annoyances and offence, forget about ourselves for a bit and trust that He has us in the palm of His hand.  We can live a life free from self-promotion, selfishness and self-pity. We can trust our own needs to a good Father and then happily celebrate the blessings of others.

1 Corinthians 13.13b in the Message Bible says, ‘Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. 

I am convinced, the older I get, that this is the only way to live life.

Trust God in every moment of every day.  Trust Him when you don’t understand and when things don’t make sense.  Trust Him above your circumstances and your feelings.  Trust Him because He is good.

Then hope, without exception.  Know that everything He promises will come to pass and that one day absolutely everything will be put right.  Put all your hope in Jesus, knowing that He has done enough and is enough for you, period.

And finally, love without reservation.  Worship God wholeheartedly.  Serve Him only out of love, not duty.  Show your gratitude with your availability.  Love people.  Love difficult people.  Love them more than your hobbies or vacations or things.  Love the people who have hurt and misunderstood you.  Love your messy, moody teens and your annoying colleague.  Love your ageing aunt whose mind is fading and foggy and who keeps repeating the same stories over and over.  Love people who are different than you.   Make new friends and treasure old ones.

Decide every day to love with extravagance and sacrificial generosity.  This is the path to fullness.