According to Shauna Niequist, a bride and groom who are a week away from their wedding should refrain from starting more projects or last-minute additions to their nuptial to-do list. Rest, she says, is what they need in order to be present and joyful for their vows – even everything isn’t quite as “picture-perfect” as they’d hoped.
That same mindset is crucial to surviving the Christmas season; Shauna urges us to be Present Over Perfect.
“You can show up with your perfectly wrapped grab bag gift & your perfectly baked cookies…and your perfectly resentful and frazzled self, ready to snap at the first family member you see.
Or you can choose to rest your body & nourish your spirit, knowing that bringing a grounded, present self to each holiday gathering is more important than the gifts you bring.”
Shauna reminds us that sometimes It’s ok to say “no” to that party, to let go of a yearly tradition that’s causing too much stress, to bring frozen meatballs instead of made-from-scratch.
“You’ve been entrusted with one life, made up of days and hours and minutes. You are spending them according to your values, whether you admit it or not.
Let’s be courageous in these days.
Let’s choose love and rest and grace.
Let’s use our minutes and hours to create memories with the people we love, instead of dragging them on one more errand or shushing them while we accomplish one more seemingly necessary thing.”
Crosswalk.com Managing Editor Shawn McEvoy’s list on 25 Rules of Christmas makes a few similar suggestions. Take time out of your hectic schedule to just love and enjoy the outside (“brisk, cold, invigorating…smiling at neighbors, throwing snowballs”) and the inside (”Fires, blankets, movies, Charlie Brown, hot cocoa, and remembering that Christ came to make his home inside each of us, and give us peace.”). Be a kid at some point, he suggests, and slow down for long enough to let a Christmas song bring you to tears. And don’t forget to prepare your heart, just like you prepare all those picturesque holiday treats.
“Some of us don’t like how early the Christmas decorations come out in stores, or how soon the Lite or Kiss station changes over to all-Christmas tunes. But really, this holiday season isn’t long enough. There’s only a good 3-4 weekends if we’re lucky. Most of those get booked in September with parties, travel, and other requirements. So if you don’t wake up each morning with at least some sense of optimism or reflection, you’re going to miss it. My own strategy at this stage of life is to be the kids’ alarm clock. Every day at 6:30 I wake them with hugs and kisses and encouragement and some sense of what it means to celebrate Christmas and know Christ. I think I get more out of it than they do.”
Crosswalk author Sarah Hamaker in her piece “Great (Christmas) Expectations” recommends a few tips for managing those high (too often impossible) Holiday expectations.
“Know our wiring. God created us as women to have a great capacity to love and be loved. Sometimes, we can overextend ourselves in the quest to serve others because of that God-given desire. ‘We need to have the freedom to be who God created us to be,’ says [blogger Susan] DiMickele. But who God created me to be isn’t necessarily the same as who our neighbors, our moms or other friends are.”
And finally, Jessica Bufkin recommends taking quick breathers from the holiday madness in order to preserve sanity, especially for those who are single or unused to managing crowds of people in the same small space.
“If you find yourself blowing up (or simmering beneath the surface), it might be time to take a step back. I’m an extrovert, but I still live a fairly quiet life. When my entire family is under one roof, I realize how much I am recharged in my moments at home alone. Sometimes, over the holidays, I’ll escape for a little while. It might be to read at a coffee shop, to watch tv in an empty bedroom, or to volunteer to run an errand. It’s amazing what a few minutes to regroup can do for my attitude.”
What do your holidays look like? Are you tempted to be perfect over present? What tips do you have for staying in the moment and loving those around you?
Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for Crosswalk.com
Publication date: December 11, 2013
Remember Jesus’ words, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”? Many have looked at that verse and proclaimed that the Church is like a hospital. But doesn’t it sometimes feel more like a museum?
According to Zach Perkins at Relevant Magazine, there are 5 Uncomfortable Issues The Church Needs to Start Talking About.
“Paul urged the Church to ‘Bear each other's burdens,’ so maybe with more grace and love we can turn on the light in the darkened rooms of each other’s hearts and let our churches become safe havens for the uncomfortable things we have to deal with.”
First Perkins cites Addiction and Sexuality as taboo topics that need to be more honestly and openly addressed, writing,
“…yes, in many churches, a person's addictions can become fodder for gossip. However, if the Church were to first approach one another as family, then addicts in the Church might feel safer to be vulnerable about their struggles. Often, they just need to be loved and feel safe enough to know they can expose this part of themselves in a community where the addiction isn't crushing them every second.”
He also notes that Church conversations about sex rarely move beyond, “don’t have sex until you’re married.”
“There are strong believers struggling with their sexual identity, brokenness and frustration in churches across the world, and among their Christian friends and families, they don't dare say a word about it.”
“Jesus’ response to doubt was often, why? He proposed neither a condemnation nor an accolade, but a dialogue. Jesus cared about the hearts, motives, and fears of those who questioned him, who struggled with unbelief. Practically everyone to whom Jesus ministered expressed genuine doubt or asked provoking questions. But Jesus healed them anyway. Jesus answered their questions (John 3). Jesus told them things about themselves, causing them to look at life in a new way (John 4). When extraordinary faith was shown (Luke 7) Jesus was astounded and overjoyed. But he certainly did not condemn all others of lesser faith. He knew that it takes time for people to overcome cultures of fear and questions.”
In Ray Pritchard’s piece, “Faith and Doubt at Christmastime” he writes,
“Faith and doubt always go together. There is no such thing as 100% faith. After all, if you had certainty, you wouldn't need faith at all. In heaven we will not need faith because we will experience ultimate reality. But between now and then, our doubts spur us on to greater spiritual growth. Doubt can be a good thing if it moves you to study, to think, to investigate, and to ask hard questions.”
Perkins’ list wraps up with the topics of Mental Illness and Loneliness. The Evangelical community recently faced a major reminder of mental illness when Pastor Rick Warren’s son Matthew took his own life after a lifetime of struggling with depression and mental illness. In the aftermath, Warren shared,
"It's amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there's no shame and stigma to it…But if your brain breaks down, you're supposed to keep it a secret... If your brain doesn't work right, why should you be ashamed of that?"
Two additional issues that Churches rarely address with grace are those of Miscarriage and Abortion – specifically healing and recovery for women who have already had them (as many as 1 in 4 women have dealt with one or the other, or both).
Teske Drake and Kim Ketola have written several pieces for Crosswalk on this subject, including Carry Each Other’s Burdens: Ministering to those Enduring Miscarriage, Hope and Healing After Childbearing Loss, and Healing Abortion's Guilt and Grief. In her piece Pregnancy and Infant Loss: A Biblical Stance for Support, Teske Drake wrote about National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, saying,
“Despite the prevalence of loss and the progress made in terms of awareness and support, isolation –feeling as though ‘I’m the only one’ – is a key characteristic of women’s experiences with miscarriage and infant loss. Today, families throughout the world will publicly acknowledge the lives of their little ones who were gone too soon in honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Communities will rally support and for a brief moment families will experience a sense of solidarity in the midst of their unique, yet often disenfranchised, grief. As Christ followers, shouldn’t our support extend beyond a designated month? How can we incorporate an awareness and sensitivity to this very real and prevalent issue?”
What do you think? Has your Church found ways to deal with these hard topics with grace and wisdom? What other issues would you say the Church needs to address more openly?
Publication date: December 10, 2013
Sexual sin has always been a battleground for Christians. No one is immune to the temptation of lust, and the Christian market is full of books detailing its dangers. Still, being the fallen humans that we are, mistakes happen. So what do we do when we fall prey to sexual sin? Well, sadly, too often our first instinct is to justify our behavior.
In a recent article from The Gospel Coalition, Pastor Matt Chandler outlines four street-level excuses commonly used to justify sexual sin. The most common of them being “My Choices Aren’t Hurting Anyone.”
“I call this the Golden Rule idea. If it's not hurting anyone else, what could be wrong with it? If a guy is sleeping with his girlfriend and the two of them are consenting adults, why should the church condemn that behavior? Likewise, if a woman wants to be in a monogamous sexual relationship with another woman, why does it matter as long as it's not harming anyone else? The truth is, sexual sin does harm us. It's a sin against the body.”
“We also must remember that the Golden Rule (love your neighbor) is second to the greatest commandment (love God with your whole self). Jesus said clearly in the Gospel of John that those who love him obey his commands (see John 14:15). In other words, ‘If you love me, obey me.’
When you place the Golden Rule within the framework of biblical teaching, you see that sexual sin is a sin against our own bodies and is ultimately a sign of our rebellion against the God who made us.”
Chandler does a masterful job at building a Christian foundation to his arguments, but there can be no denying that his approaches, as he himself points out, are “street-level”. I once heard sexual immorality described as a monstrous hydra: just when you think you’ve figured out the right answer to cut down one question, two more rise in its place. Issues of sex cover a very broad spectrum, and even Christians in loving, God-honoring marriages have found themselves unsure of whether certain actions are morally permissible. Take this question posed to Sheila Wray Gregoire for example: “Is It Okay to Take Sexy Photos of Myself for My Husband?”
In her response, Gregoire writes,
“Men are visual, and we like to be thought of as ‘the beauty,’ as the Eldredge’s say in their books. I think appreciating a woman’s beauty, and seeing her revealed, is something that is innate in us, and isn’t necessarily bad. However, we live in an extremely pornographic society, and so many men are really struggling with porn. I do not think that you defeat porn by becoming porn. The problem with porn is not ONLY that you’re looking at someone other than your wife; the problem with porn is that it makes sex into something which is entirely about the physical and not about a relationship.”
Sexual sin will always be a difficult area for Christians. Our bodies are gifts from God, but we have an obligation to use them responsibly. In the end, what’s truly important, is that we continue to ask questions and seek out answers that will ultimately glorify Christ.
*Ryan Duncan is the Culture Editor for Crosswalk.com
In an announcement that stunned her fans and critics alike, Janet Mefferd apologized for her conduct during her recent interview with Mark Driscoll. She had raised questions about there being signs of plagiarism in his most recent book, A Call to Resurgence.
Roughly five and a half minutes into the second hour of her December 4, 2013 broadcast, she made the following statement:
“Before we go to break, I just want to say something really, really quickly to you. A few weeks ago, as many people know, I conducted an interview with pastor Mark Driscoll. And I received lots of feedback on that interview, both positive and negative, but I feel now that in retrospect, I should have conducted myself in a better way. I now realize the interview should not have occurred at all. I should have contacted Tyndale House directly to alert them to the plagiarism issue. And I never should have brought it to the attention of listeners publicly. So I would like to apologize to all of you and to Mark Driscoll for how I behaved. I am sorry.”
“Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that the story would go viral online the way it did and creating such dissension with the Christian community was never my aim. And so in an effort to right things as best as I can, I have now removed all of the materials related to the interview off my website, and also off my social media.”
Warren Throckmorton, writing on his blog at Patheos.com, noted that Mefferd did not seem to indicate a specific incident that triggered her change of mind and surprising apology. Also, commenting on the low impact that he thinks Mefferd’s apology might have, Throckmorton stated “It strikes me that the horse is already out of the barn on this.”
What do you think motivated Janet Mefferd’s surprising retraction and apology? Does it change how you view the situation?
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com.