“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”Ecclesiastes 2:22-25 NIV
In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re in the season of gradual turning away from our bright star. The days begin later and end earlier, telling the trees and the squirrels and us people that it’s time to batten down the hatches, stock up the cabinets, and drop what we can to ease the burden of a long winter.
Where I live, the weather makes it easy to embrace the seasonality of our lives because all of creation has auditioned for a part in the play. We’re in act three right now. The leaves have given up their chlorophyll to show their true colors, right before they make their final descent to the ground. Canada geese have already passed through in their long, squawking V formation.
What this means, for me, is a lot of soups and stews, a lot of baking, and a lot of dishes revolving around potatoes. The onset of winter means more puzzles, more books, and more movie nights with loved ones. It means bundling up for brisk walks with the dogs instead of long sauntering strolls wherever the dogs want to go.
Our human world wants us to keep hurrying through every season, but creation reflects the love and care of our Creator, the God who built rest into the limbs of the deciduous trees, who made wildlife migrate and hibernate, who programmed the weather systems to pile snow against our doors and said “No more.” No more hustle and bustle. No more running and rambling.
Rest is essential to your survival.
This time of year comes with a particular brand of frenzy that insists you have to live up to some unspoken expectation—someone will be disappointed if you don’t make three pies from scratch; you always make a turkey and thus you must make the turkey this year; everything needs to be just perfect or else someone will judge your imperfections.
But the pressure of perfection and overperformance is not from the Lord. Do you see the trees trying to overperform? Do you see nature ever behaving perfectly? And yet isn’t it adored, isn’t it called good and very good? Doesn’t it have inherent value and worth just because God made it?
Set aside the frenzy, if you can, and relish the communion of laughter and voices around your table. Leave space to watch the falling leaves, the falling snow, the slow and sudden setting of the sun. All of creation is witness to God’s insistence to Sabbath, and it is for you, too. Rest is for you, too. Set down the world’s unspoken expectations that you have to be the one to make the magic happen, and let love in all its manifestations be the focal point of this holiday season.
Points of Reflection
- What are the unspoken expectations that weigh you down during the holidays?
- What tasks during the holiday season bring you joy and which tasks are a burden?
For the Kids
- What can you learn about God from the changing of the seasons, from fall to winter?
- What do you think the writer means when he says “that a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil”?
It is easy to get caught up in the rush of the holidays, especially with so many different voices insisting around you that everything is necessary and important and good, that without the Christmas tree lighting festival and the holiday party and the concerts and the cards and the million different gifts and the advent activities and the Christmas program and the decorations done up just so, that without any one of these things, you will be robbed of the magic of the season. This is simply not true. Think about the best holiday gatherings of the past. What made them good? What, ultimately, did not make a bit of difference to how you enjoyed your time? Ask God to help you strip away the unnecessary burdens of expectation, and ask him to infuse all the necessary toils with satisfaction and joy. God’s yoke for you is easy, and God’s burden for you, this season and always, is light (Matthew 11:30 NIV).
The holidays seem designed to bring out the perfectionist in me, which is why I’m looking up The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brené Brown right about now. I’ve read several of Dr. Brown’s books over the last decade, and her emphasis on what we need to do and believe about ourselves in order to live wholehearted lives resonates deeply with the message I find in the gospels, summed up by Jesus in his command to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Her research into courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy have provided millions of readers with powerful insights into human nature. Put it on your wish list this Christmas!