This time of year my inbox is flooded with at least one hundred emails a day reminding me the holiday season is here—and it’s anything but peaceful.
Black Friday week continues!
Flash sale—up to 60% off!
Free shipping on every order!
The countdown is on—don’t miss out!
My color-coded fridge calendar is suddenly a rainbow of school and church programs, parties, holiday concerts, cookie exchanges, gift wrapping get-togethers and community events. Plus don’t forget to order your Christmas cards, put up your tree, string lights on the front porch and donate money, food, time and prayers to at least a dozen ministry opportunities between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
Each of these pursuits, individually, is lovely and valuable. Of course.
Yet pile them all together into one family’s schedule? Ugh. That’s nothing but a formula for stress.
And I used to buy into it.
But not this year.
The week before Thanksgiving, I attended a memorial service for a dear friend, my college roommate, a bridesmaid in my wedding. For 25 years we stayed in touch across 200 miles and countless life changes, celebrating new babies, new jobs, new hairstyles, new homes. We sent pictures and cards and texts and gifts. We met halfway for lunch, for weekend shopping trips, for family visits to the zoo. Recently our eldest daughters developed a close friendship—a sweet second-generation connection borne of God’s gift to two homesick freshmen who needed each other then and chose each other ever since.
My friend was only 43. She died of breast cancer, an evil in this world. Yet I won’t say she lost the fight, because as believers we know death does not win. Jesus does.
And the rest of us are left here to make sense of it all. To trust in the Lord. To abolish our own understanding because I’m telling you, it falls pitifully short in a case like this.
So all those urgent emails? That calendar filled with to-do’s? I’m suddenly seeing it all with new eyes. This holiday stress, the activity, the flurry of pressure to make Christmas matter—what does it really amount to? What’s the actual point?
This year, I’m answering that question with another question.
If this were my last Christmas, how would I spend it?
If today were my last chance to hug my kids, to kiss my husband, to praise the Lord on earth—would I be spending it chasing down that free shipping deal and whipping up cookie dough?
Please understand, I appreciate a good bargain and sugar cookies as much as anybody else. There are lots of little blessings to collect throughout this season, and just because we enjoy them doesn’t mean we’re missing the point. Not at all.
It’s when those little tasks become the focus rather than the means—when we can’t see past the to-do list and the hustle and the hype—that’s when we need a heart check.
If this were my last Christmas, I would not spend an hour on Pinterest searching for the perfect gift for my child’s teacher. But I might write her a heartfelt note telling her how much I treasure her influence in my child’s life.
If this were my last Christmas, I may not bother to string lights on the porch. Instead I’d tell more people about how Jesus is the light of the world.
And if this were my last Christmas, I would say thank you for inviting me to your white elephant gift exchange but instead I’m going to exchange snuggles with my kids and read them their favorite books and pray for God’s protection over the stories He’s writing in their lives.
Chances are I’ll be around for plenty more Christmases to come. Chances are you will, too. So I don’t mean to suggest we ought to walk through life afraid of regrets, as if the ax might come down on our heads any moment. That’s no way to live.
But I’ve got to wonder—if I wouldn’t do it on my last day, should I be doing it at all? It’s a complex question with complex considerations, yet at the heart of it lives a simple Bible truth. All the days ordained for us were written in God’s book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139). I want to spend every one of those days in a way that matters for the kingdom, especially this time of year, when we celebrate the birth of the One who for whom the kingdom exists.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
This holiday season, when you’re struggling to prioritize or manage the inevitable stress of too much to do and too many people to deal with; if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your task list or your messy relationships; and if you wonder how to simplify the craziness so you can focus on what really matters most—do this.
Ask yourself the question.
If this were my last Christmas, what would I choose?
Then allow God’s wisdom to guide you.
Heaven knows—it just might be your best Christmas yet.
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This post first appeared on TheCourage.