“Life is messy. Would that every puzzle piece fell into place, every word was kind, every accident happy, but such is not the case. Life is messy”
This bit of wisdom comes from Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel and fittingly enough, it’s a Christmas book. (Sort of. I mean, it’s wildly inappropriate and not a family read at all but its set at Christmas time and it has a surprising dose of holiday spirit.) It’s fitting that such wisdom comes from a Christmas book because the holiday season is exactly the time when we’re most likely to forget this simple truth.
We might live 11 months out of the year with an impressive grasp on reality but by Thanksgiving, our common sense has been overshadowed by the promise of holiday magic. We suddenly start expecting more from life than life can really give. Here’s a list of things I’ve recently expected:
- My shopping to be done
- The Christmas lights to all work
- The cats to stay out of the Christmas tree
- The new floor to be installed well before the holiday season, not smack-dab in the middle of it
- Me to have time to miraculously sew the perfect costume for a Dickens themed party
- A fun family time drinking eggnog and decorating the tree on Sunday afternoon because that’s our tradition
Instead, we spent Saturday and Sunday doing this:
And stopping this:
All while moving furniture into the garage in preparation for the flooring to be installed.
So when we collapsed into bed on Sunday, the tree wasn’t decorated, the Christmas lights mostly worked and the eggnog was unopened. (I did pull together the costume for the party on Friday, though. For what it’s worth, if you don’t have a chance to sew a capelet, a Christmas tree skirt will work.)
There’s a parable in the Bible that’s often read shortly before the Christmas season. It’s the story of some bridesmaids who are waiting for the groom to arrive. Five of them fail to bring enough oil for their lamps. They run out to the store to get more and wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the groom arrives. The party is well-underway before they get back and no one will let them in.
When we read this story, it’s usually as a reminder to keep watch, stay awake and be prepared for the reign of God/the second coming/the day of judgement, depending on your tradition. As such, the story has merits as a reminder to stay focused on what’s important. It’s kind of a dire warning about what happens if you’re caught spiritually unprepared. This parable above all others reminds me that our work as peace-makers is urgent and we can’t fall down on the job.
While this story is about all of that, it’s also about the overwhelming expectation to make everything perfect. Instead of the groom arriving and haranguing the poor bridesmaids for not being ready, I sometimes imagine he arrives with a different message. “Oh, ladies and gentlemen. You should have known, your presence was more important than the best decorations. It would have been so much more important for you to just stay here, unlit lamps and all, and welcome me when I came.”
Sure, we need to stay focused. But part of staying focused is the discipline to stay focused on what matters. I imagine everyone left that wedding feeling pretty bad. Half of the party didn’t make it, the other half were revealed as selfish hoarders and the groom missed out on the company of those he loved.
What might have happened if, at any moment, someone had let go of the expectations they’d built up and remembered that the real focus was being together? What might have happened if, at any moment, someone had remembered that nothing ever comes together as planned—not weddings, not Christmas, not life?
Which is why I try not to ask too much from the holiday season. I’ve found that the less I demand, the more I enjoy. So it looks like we’ll be using white candles in our advent wreath this year and I’m reasonably sure this is the year that the cats tip over the Christmas tree. If they don’t the flooring installers will. But the celebration will be fun, the eggnog will be shared and new memories will be made. Not perfect memories, just happy ones.