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.
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.
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