Day 7 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to someone’s house for Christmas, and they were so engrossed by your dynamic presence, they didn’t bother to make you a meal? If so, how did you feel? Flattered? Or sorely neglected and hungry?
One more question… Have you ever been invited to someone’s house for Christmas, and they spent the whole time in the kitchen, cooking up a lavish feast for you to enjoy? And then, when it was time to sit up to the table, they were so stressed out and exhausted they could barely be bothered to eat, let alone talk to you?
Ok, I lied. There’s one more question (I really mean it this time)… Although you might not be able to answer “yes” to either of the above, which scenario do you think is better?
I’ve gotta be honest, I hate being hungry, but I hate being in a house with a stressed cook even more (especially when I am the cook, I’m a nightmare).
There’s a proverb in the Bible that says “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife”.
There can be plenty of feasting and family strife at Christmas can’t there?
Who’s not helping in the kitchen?
Who forgot to take the turkey out the freezer?
Whose toy is better than whose?
Who cooks the best sprouts?
Who let the rabbit near the Christmas tree lights?
Who bought their wife a diet book for Christmas?
We try to gloss over it with feasting, but it continues to simmer.
Even before Christmas was a thing, Jesus’ arrival was the subject of domestic disagreements. Take two sisters-in-strife, Martha and Mary, who opened their home to Jesus while he was in town. Immediately Martha cracked on with the cooking, putting together a lavish meal. After all, their guest was no other than the Son of God. You’d have to make an effort wouldn’t you really? You’d probably wish you’d known sooner, so you could’ve prepared a banquet.
Martha knew how to look after a special guest. She wasn’t gonna be handing him any dry crust that’s for sure.
Feeling the heat in the kitchen, and unable to cope doing the preparations on her own, she started to silently seethe with anger at her lazy sister. Why did Mary think she could get away with sitting on her backside? So unfair.
Meanwhile, Mary was oblivious to any idea that Jesus might need to be fed, along with all the others who had invited themselves in to hear what he had to say. She was sitting right at his feet, drinking in his every word. Why would she want to be in the kitchen and miss these nuggets of wisdom falling from the mouth of the Lord himself?
Well, Martha couldn’t keep her mouth shut any longer. She came storming out of the kitchen, and asked their esteemed guest the question: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Enter stage right – STRIFE & STRESS.
Right now, it doesn’t matter how delicious the meal she serves is, the atmosphere is thickened with animosity and it’s not gonna disperse by dinner time. Everyone will smile and say “Thank you, that was delicious Martha!”, but they will be leaving with a bitter taste in their mouths that they will never forget. So, how did Jesus respond? Did he say “Ladies, ladies… work together now, come on, play fair. This is a special time, can’t you just get along?”? Well, no. As usual he said something a little more unpredictable…. “Martha, Martha….you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”.
I can imagine him saying – “look, I probably won’t be with you for long. My days are numbered, and then you’ll look back on when I came to stay and you won’t remember a word I said. And you’ll regret it for the rest of your days.”
It’s important to take care of our loved ones and our guests, to feed them, to make them feel special. But really, it’s not the main thing. I realise that food plays a unique role in special occasions. I can’t imagine planning a celebration without it. Eating is something we all do, and it’s a wonderful thing to share a meal. It invites connection (as long as we all like what’s on offer!). But it’s not guaranteed to bring people together. It can’t smooth over the cracks in our relationships. And if we don’t actually have time to connect because we’ve been too busy planning the “perfect” meal, it’s just functional food. It might fill our bellies, but it won’t satisfy our need for meaningful connection with the people around us.
I don’t think I need to throw the baby out with the bath water and just forget the trimmings altogether, in the name of spending time with loved ones. I just need to reign in the perfectionism. Nice as it would be to be a domestic goddess, it’s more sensible to aim for simplicity, so that I can save time and energy for what’s truly important – the matters of the heart.
Thought for today
Although there are many levels of meaning to this story, I think the most relevant message to me today is this…
Jesus is reminding his hosts that he wants to really connect with them in person. As much as he likes to see us nurturing others by making sure they are fed and warm, what he values the most is our presence.
Imagine that – A friend who is saying “come spend time with me, hang out with me, listen to me, talk to me. Even if it means you don’t do anything for me”. Imagine that that person is God in human form. I don’t know about you but, well, that just blows my mind. It’s almost too unbelievable to be believed.
But I believe it.
Task for today
It’s all too easy to get caught up in doing stuff, and no more so than at Christmas-time. Whether that’s helping others out, or fulfilling family, community and church commitments, or just doing stuff I want to do. Sometimes I enjoy using my God-given gifts a little too much and I just take on too big a project. A project like, let’s just say, erm, 24 blog posts in a row by Christmas Eve. That’s quite a big commitment. I might love doing it, but it becomes an empty gesture if I just haven’t got time to sit at Jesus’ feet and just be with him for a while.
I keep finding myself back in Martha’s shoes. And they don’t really fit me. So with that in mind, today’s task is to find my inner Mary again. I think it might take me a few days.
I’m going to knock my perfectionism on the head and give myself three days to renew my spirit, and get back to the feet of Jesus. I’m gonna just make some time, amidst the Christmas madness, to sit with him. Talk to him, listen to him, love him, marvel at him, enjoy him. I believe he’s waiting for me to get off the treadmill, so he can lavish me with some TLC.
Over the next few days I will be re-posting all the steps from the last 7 days.
See you on Thursday – Day 11!
PS – did you notice any mistakes in yesterday’s post on perfectionism? It took all of my strength not to feed my perfectionist streak and go back and correct them. But now my will is breaking. I’m going in to make those corrections, so it’s nice and perfect….
Bible extracts taken from: