I took my five-year-old son to the shopping mall this weekend. Was I even thinking? Did I even realize what it would be like there nine days before Christmas? Did I think about my son’s perspective of what we would be doing? The answer is a resounding “no” to all questions. You could imagine it. Throngs of people all over the place. I mean everywhere! The parking lot itself was a dangerous place to be with people trying to find a place to park. There wasn’t a smile to be had. And if I were to have looked in the mirror, my own face likely more closely resembled the Grinch than a cheerful person shopping for family members who I found myself suddenly resenting. Not long into our shopping expedition, my son asked what we were going to get him. I was astounded that he would even ask! “Nothing. We are here to buy gifts for your cousins.” Soon, the same question was asked (over and over again) and the answer remained the same, but my tone became harsher each time. “What about me?” he asked. Outraged that my son, who I thought would just miraculously be a grateful and giving person, would continue to ask for something was just incredulous. I wondered how he could think it was all about him, as I neglected to realize my own selfishness. I didn’t want to be there shopping for gifts, but yet I wanted my son to have a giving spirit. Something’s wrong here. Then I stopped and realized…I’m no better than a five-year-old!
Sure, I probably could have saved a lot of frustration by not bringing a child shopping at this time of year. But there’s a bigger lesson in this that isn’t to be avoided, and my impatience spoke volumes to me. Learning is a process and a child isn’t just born with a giving mindset. I kept telling myself that Gabe is “only five” and then the truth struck me that it’s more than that, “he’s only human.” We all want something for ourselves. We want a parking place. We want peace and quiet. We want what’s on sale…so we can buy even more things. We aren’t any better than a child. And just because I am a parent doesn’t mean that I have it any more together than my little boy.
A few weeks ago I was grumbling that there wasn’t any snow yet, and it just didn’t feel like Christmas is coming. It was like the lack of snow could be an excuse for me not being “in the spirit [of Christmas]”. We have a lot going on in our lives this year (just like most people), and I often grumble at the inconvenience of it all instead of choosing to have a servants heart. When I take on the big picture perspective, I realize that I should stop wanting things a certain way and instead just accept things for how they are...and maybe even embrace the opportunities for me to learn, too. Sometimes the answer I get back when I ask God to help me to have a new attitude is a question: “but do you really want that?” Hmmm…no. I just think I should. I’m actually rather comfortable in my own skin that seems to grumble each time things aren’t the way I want them. Maybe my prayer should start with, “help me to want a different attitude”. As humans we will always want things this side of Heaven. It’d be great if I could truly want to be changed; not just change for the sake of what I should do. Maybe God could redirect my wanting.
It sounds cliché, but the reason for the season isn’t a beautiful snowfall, or buying gifts for other people, or finding time for families to gather. It’s so much bigger than that. It’s so much bigger than we can even imagine. I kind of think that with all the hassle that seems to come along with Christmas, this might be exactly what God allows to get our attention. Most of us seem to cry out in frustration and desperation after we’ve realized we’ve chased the wrong thing, after we’ve been distracted by the questions of a child that seem frustrating at the time, and after all the “stuff” we have to do. But through it all, God is there. And He reminds us that there are lessons through it all. The moments in the mall with a small child are “teachable moments” and important in my role as a parent, and as a human. Perhaps there’s something to be learned here. My Heavenly Father is always providing “teachable moments” for me. He’s never “off duty” like I wanted to be when I practically dropped at the end of the day on Saturday. Life is about serving. Life doesn’t take breaks. At least this was all how Jesus lived, and it’s how I can imagine God intended for us to live.
Mary and Joseph were on a journey to get back to Bethlehem, and Mary was pregnant. What a “hassle” it was for them to travel in the first place, not to mention while Mary was quite pregnant. They knew they needed to find a place to rest, and they accepted whatever they were provided with. We don’t know if they grumbled. I can only imagine that I would. It certainly wasn’t ideal. Just like the conditions while shopping for Christmas gifts aren’t ideal, and just like the questions of a child can be irritating. Jesus didn’t wait for the conditions or situation to be perfect. He just arrived. And He still does today. He arrives in our hearts whether we want Him to or not, and in the places where we’ve least expected Him to be. When we open our hearts to receive the lessons He has for us we will be blessed, and most importantly so will others as they experience a changed heart in us.
Be blessed as you learn from your Father in Heaven this Christmas season…and every day thereafter.