At this time of year, like no other, our culture rewards overload and rebukes margin.Why only display one hundred lights on your house when you can display a thousand? We are quietly massaged into believing that exceeding our limits between Thanksgiving and Christmas is actually to be commended and that we will be better people for it – in everything from gift-giving to family schedules, from decorating our houses to consuming another holiday feast.
But behind this parade of must-haves is a subtle but fierce monster of threats and promises which often go unnoticed. How could Christmas be a season of threats when we are all singing “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” ? Here is what a Christmas threat or promise may sound like:
“If I don’t go to my mother’s uncle’s holiday party, I will disappoint the family.”
“If I don’t give a gift of the same value as everyone else at the office party, I will be embarrassed.”
“If I get my child that toy, I will be able to make him/her happy.”
The challenging part is that the above threats/promises are not really about a toy, a party or a gift. No, they touch on much bigger issues – our security as parents, our standing in the family, our reputation at work. And here is the dangerous part: we slowly begin to believe that a certain toy will provide parental security, or attendance at the family gathering will secure approval, or an expensive gift will protect a reputation; therefore, we must accomplish these things even if it means going beyond financial, emotional, or physical limitations. Richard Swenson, in his book Restoring Margin to Overloaded Lives, states it this way:
“Chances are that if you are letting yourself be severely overloaded in some area, it is because you believe this overload offers you something you deeply long for, and you fear that cutting back in this area may cost you something you deeply value. The threats and promises work because they touch on your deep desires and fears.”
So while you are standing in line at midnight at Toys ‘R Us two days before Christmas (ah, yes — Christmas 1998), ask yourself why you are there. Yes, I know your sons want the “Electronic Talking Battleship” game more than anything else, but is that really why you are in line? Perhaps yes – but perhaps you have believed a false promise that purchasing this gift will satisfy a deeper need you have – a need that will ultimately not be satisfied by a toy.
My friend, so many ways exist to meet our legitimate deeper needs without overloading ourselves with debt, lack of sleep, stress, and guilt. This Christmas season, choose to pursue what you value most, not the worldly “thing” that falsely represents your values. Choose margin in your life. Choose space in your schedule. Choose time with people. Choose loving words. These are the priceless gifts of the holiday season. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about, as Linus so aptly expresses? A baby born two thousand years ago – Jesus, the Son of God – came to meet our greatest need, which is to be saved from our sins that we might know God. And that is the best gift of all!