Lower Your Expectations For Christmas

Lynnette and I were married in October 1990. I have done many weddings as a pastor, and attended many as a friend or family member. And yet, I haven’t heard of a wedding that met all the expectations that the bride had for the special day. At our wedding, we had a miscommunication with some family members and my little sister wasn’t able to perform a specific role we had planned for her. We even started the wedding before Lynnette got to the church. I thought meant she was there and ready to go. She did get there in time to walk in at the right time. With all the months of planning things still go wrong.

Christmas is a magical time in many of our minds. We have expectations of how we think it should go. We hope our kids will be home for Christmas, or that Grandma and Grandpa will come join us. We have a certain gift we have been hinting toward for six months, and we don’t get it. We want a perfect dinner and somehow the turkey isn’t quite done in time.

Everyone needs to have goals and plans and dreams. They give us hope. But we have to realize that they don’t always work out. When it comes to Christmas, we might do well to lower our expectations a little this year.

Family Expectations

Some of us have expectations that others do not even know about. I remember a seminar years ago that clearly taught that we cannot set goals for other people. This really impacted me. Some of our frustrations and even anger at people is that we have set certain expectations and never told them. We just expect them to know that “we will be opening presents on Christmas Eve, no matter who of the family is there or not.” Lower your expectations – especially the ones no one even knows you have.

We might do well to lower our expectations of what gifts we will receive. Even if you hinted to your mom for six months, she may not have understood. Or maybe the person wanted to get you that gift, but they couldn’t find it or they thought they found a much better one instead. Enjoy the gifts you do receive, and enjoy the time you have with those who gave it.

Lower your expectations about how your family Christmas will go. Again, I’m not suggesting you plan on it being a wreck, but plan on being okay if things don’t happen exactly as you wish. Be prepared that not everything will go as you hope. If one of your children and their family can’t show up till Boxing Day, don’t be mad at them but just enjoy the time you have when they do arrive.

Expectations Around Grief

Many of us forget that there are families who are grieving at Christmas time. This may be the first Christmas without that one special person. Roles in family traditions will need to change and there may be an empty place at the dinner table.

If you are suffering loss and facing this Christmas in grief, I hope you have a really good and encouraging Christmas. The reality is that you may have expectations that will not be met. There will be people, even friends, who are so consumed with their own families they forget about you and your pain. You may wish that you had some people around to share their comfort, and the realities are that unless you reach out, that comfort may not be there. What could you do? Why not reach out? Friends and family are so focused on their own activities that it may feel as though they are ignoring your experience this year. Reach out. Invite someone for tea on Christmas Eve, or take them some cookies on Christmas afternoon. Do something to connect with people, and you might be amazed at how a simple act like this reminds them of your grief and motivates them to pour out some love on you.

If you are having family events and are missing that one person, take time to grieve as a family. Share some stories and memories of this family member. Don’t ignore the loss. And don’t expect that everything will go so well you won’t remember the pain.

When the pain comes, acknowledge it, share it with someone near you, and then move on.

If you are one experiencing loss this Christmas, please don’t expect things from others and be disappointed. Look for ways to connect. On the other hand, if you know of someone experiencing loss, reach out to them and encourage them.

Pastors

I have heard of pastors who do not like Christmas: “I don’t have anything new to say after 15 years of preaching the Christmas story,” “I am not creative enough to make it exciting for people.” Yes, the Christmas story is the same story it has been for two thousand years. Yes, people know the story. I’m wondering if pastors may do well to lower their expectations a little.

Do not expect that you will be able to preach something new to your congregation. Instead, walk through the story again. Maybe you can think of the new believers in your congregation who have only recently come to know the story. Maybe you can think of the eight and nine-ear-olds who have only experienced a few Christmases they remember. Think of the incredible story again, and just faithfully walk through the story in your service. For some it will be the thirtieth or fortieth time, but for some in the congregation it may actually be the first time they hear it.

Instead of comparing your sermons and services to other churches that have live animals, choirs, and symphonies, do the best with what you have. Prepare people ahead of time, and practice whatever you do have for your Christmas service. Allow the traditions and the story to speak. And do the best you can.

Lower Your Expectations

Last year was, of course, a COVID Christmas. With all the concerns and the regulations imposed on us, our family was unable to have Christmas in our home with both our daughters present. While that is what we would have usually expected, I had to let go of those expectations, and we tried something else. We were able to meet up as a family, and exchange gifts and spend a little time together, even though it was at a different venue. Lowering expectations may allow for some creative options instead.

I hope you have a great and wonderful Christmas. We all have expectations, but unfortunately they will not all be achieved. Lower your expectations and make them more realistic. Don’t let the hype and the commercialism make you think it has to be the most wonderful time of the year when it may not be.

Have your hopes. Make your plans, but be willing to be okay if they are not completely fulfilled. You will be happier in the end.

Keep looking up

Andy

The Space In Between

We spend a lot of time waiting. We wait at traffic lights. We wait at the doctor’s office. There is waiting from when you first ooh and aah over the ultrasound pictures until the baby arrives. I love ordering books on line, but then have to wait two weeks or more to receive them.

Some waiting is so accepted by us that we pretty much ignore it. Waiting at a traffic light raises my stress way more than waiting for a book to arrive. Some waiting consumes our every thought; think of a soon-to-be mom who spends the nine months preparing for the new arrival.

Sometimes we wait for God to work. A few years ago I went through a time of waiting on God. Both my wife and I were convinced that God had told us to wait. I was in between ministry positions and had no way of rushing the process of what was next for us. I sent many resumes to a number of different ministry opportunities. No ministry positions came my way, but then again, God had said wait.

King Saul Didn’t Wait

That “time in between” one thing or another, that time of waiting on God is important. We can’t rush when God wants us to wait. I am reminded of King Saul in the Bible. In 1 Samuel 13: 8-9 we read:

            Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away. So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.

Samuel was the priest. Saul was the king. The king was not to offer sacrifices, but he felt he had waited long enough, and he was worried because all of his men were leaving. He had to do something, didn’t he?

Then Samuel arrives just as King Saul is finishing the sacrifice. He chastises the king, “what have you done?”

And this is what happens to Saul as a result of not waiting: 13 “How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Saul was tired of waiting. The in between time was making him nervous. He decided to act, and God punished him for it.

The Disciples Waited

There are times that God wants us to wait, so wait we should.

In Acts 1: 4-5 we read what Jesus told the disciples just before he left this earth after his resurrection: “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So, the disciples waited. For ten days. Waiting, and praying. And then something incredible happened as the promised Holy Spirit showed up. Acts 2 describes tongues of fire and a roaring sound like a mighty wind, as well as those present speaking in languages they had not known before.

There was great benefit in waiting as they received the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would be his replacement for them.

Faithful Waiting

There are other examples in scripture, and in our own lives, where we have been in the in between time. Sometimes we know there is something else, something better, coming. Other times we are just hoping for something better. In the meantime, we wait. In the waiting, our number one purpose is to remain faithful to God.

Maybe you are waiting for a new job or a new ministry position. You are convinced that you need to move on from where you are. Maybe you have even resigned. As you look for the next position, you are getting impatient. It seems like God is too slow. I want to encourage you to be patient, and wait faithfully for God to work.

Maybe you are waiting for something you think you deserve and it is just not happening. Maybe you are wishing you were married. You long for someone to live the rest of your life with. Remain faithful to God in the waiting. Do not look for a shortcut that will ruin your future. Continue to honor him and trust him to provide for you.

Maybe you are a parent who is longing for the return of a prodigal. You have a child who decided they wanted to live their own life, and to deliberately live it opposite to what you taught him or her. And now you wait, and pray, and try to trust God to bring that wayward child back.

Continue to faithfully wait. Trust God. Pray for your child regularly. If you have an opportunity to connect with a visit or even an email or card, do what you can, and trust God to continue to work as you love this child and long for them to return to you and to God.

Waiting is often really hard. Like Saul, we look for shortcuts. But remember how drastically that one mistake affected Saul and his family forever. God had wanted to make a kingly line through him, now that was done and God moved on to another, to David.

Be faithful to God in the waiting. Trust that he truly has the best in mind for you. That waiting time God had us go through a few years ago were not the easiest. We relied on God in a way we hadn’t for quite a while. He provided encouragement along the way. And then he began showing us that he was shifting us into a new type of ministry. The waiting was necessary to readjust my heart, to show me that I needed to go in a different direction than I had ever considered. He has blessed in numerous ways as we have come out of these years of waiting.

Remain faithful during the in between time.

Keep looking up

Andy

Rejuvenating the Crushed Spirit

The human spirit can endure a sick body,

    but who can bear a crushed spirit?

Proverbs 18:14

I came across this verse in my daily readings and immediately saw its application in today’s covid-ravaged world. Covid has hit many people, millions around the world. Many of us know someone who has been hospitalized, and even died. It’s amazing how positive some people can be in the middle of physical pain, even as they are facing death. Some people can keep their faith strong and their spirits up in the battle against physical odds. But the same people can be utterly crushed by loneliness, and despair, and frustration, and discouragement.

When we are sick, we know we have to fight the disease. Others join the battle with us – doctors and nurses who minister to us in the hospital, or friends and family that bring us food or look after our family while we are down and out with physical issues.

When we are sick in our spirit, it is harder to find the ones who will battle through it with us. We are less likely to open up about it to others. And when we do, people aren’t sure how to offer help. A friend told me a colleague had asked how he was doing. He answered, “Actually, I am having a pretty hard time right now.” The other answered, “Well we are all having a hard time right now”, and walked away. My friend had been hoping for some words of encouragement or at least an understanding that his spirit was crushed more than it had been in a long time.

Who is standing with you as you endure and try to “bear a crushed spirit”?

Some of us have a loving and caring spouse who can walk with us in our low times. We have agreed to be there for each other in “sickness and health… in good times and bad.” I have marveled at how many times God has arranged for me or my wife to be the one who supports the other. Often when my wife is feeling crushed, I am strong, and when I feel crushed in my spirit, she has been strong. But it is not always the case, and not everyone has a supportive spouse.

Some of us have the benefit of great friends. We have people in our lives that have gotten to know us and have stuck with us through the years. We can call on them and they will show up. A few years ago, we moved in with another couple for a few months. God arranged for us to support these friends even as they supported us. We were able to encourage and pray for each other. But not all of us have friends like that.

Some of us have great benefits or financial means to be able to go to a counsellor or therapist who can walk with us in our crushed spirits. Professionals like this can be a big help. They often have tools to use to encourage us, or even know how to refer us to others for further help. But not all of us have access to professional help.

I don’t know where you turn for help when yours spirit is crushed and you are barely hanging on. I hope you have someone.

I think one of the best places to find that supportive uplifting help we need is our church. Hopefully you have a church family that loves you and encourages you. If you don’t, I’m sure there is a church in your neighborhood that would love to welcome you in and support you and encourage you.

Church services are great because they point us to Christ. Jesus knows all about us. He lived the life of a human on our earth for 33 years. He understands our crushed spirit pain – and wants to help. When we sing songs of praise and worship we are encouraged. My wife and I were in a low point when we began attending a new church. It was amazing how God used the worship services and encouragement of the pastors and congregation to lift us up and to revive our spirit. If you do not have a church where you are being revived, then look for another one where you will be.

Some of you are pastors. You are the leaders of a church and you are not sure you are getting that reviving that I am talking about. You feel that no one is noticing how low you are, and no one seems to have time to care for you. That may be true. You know your situation. If this is you, then look for places where people specifically love to minister to pastors. My wife and I would highly recommend places like Focus on the Family’s Kerith Retreats. They exist specifically to encourage those in ministry.

If you are bearing a crushed spirit, Jesus wants to be your life. As you surrender your life to him, he truly wants to give you life, and life abundantly. Take time to talk with him. Pour out your heart. Maybe you want to write down your prayers and present them to God. Maybe you need to just cry out to him and ask him to move.

Do not give up. God wants to revive you. He wants to restore your crushed spirit to new life and new energy and joy. I pray that you will find that renewal in Him.

Keep looking up.

Andy Wiebe

http://www.elevatecoaching-consulting.com