The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack was playing in the background as the menagerie of Christmas decorations was being marched down the stairs by the children. Each child had to make a couple of trips to the attic in order to bring it all out. As boxes opened, memories and stories and traditions seemed to be opened, too. A fire was going in the wood burner, hot cocoa was being prepared, and the stage was set for the traditional decorating of our tree and our home.
After 17 years of marriage and 16 years with children, we had collected many, many tree decorations and “pretties” to sit around. The decorations had become a nuisance to try to maneuver around for a month in our home. So, this year I decided we would scale down and have only a few of our decorations out. And so, according to eight year old Abbie, there was one hitch in her celebration: Mama.
As everyone else was in agreement and was going about their chosen decorating jobs, Abbie found the bag that she had packed the year before. It was filled with an accumulation of ornaments and lights for a mini-tree.
In the early years of our marriage, I had been given several tiny ornaments. They looked best on a tiny tree, set it in a pot with gravel from the driveway to steady it, and placed in my kitchen by the sink or on the counter somewhere. About 3 years ago, Abbie appointed herself as the tiny tree finder and decorator. By last year, instead of being 12”, it had become about 3’ tall with lights and a velvet clad, ceramic angel ornament on top. The simplicity of a mini tree had been lost and “bigger and better” had taken over.
Abbie, already displeased with the idea of scaling down, placed herself on the floor near an electric socket to check her lights. All was scattered in front of her: ornaments, tree topper, some tinsel, a 12” tree, a pot, and a string of 100 lights. After wrapping the tiny tree with as much of the strand of lights as she could (with the rest trailing toward the socket), hanging all the small ornaments, and putting the ceramic angel on top, the tree looked gagged and bound.
She blurted out, “Mama, I told you we needed a bigger tree!” With an inhale of breath, more was coming!
She slumped, knitted her eyebrows, and finished, “Why didn’t you let me get a bigger one?! This just looks awful! You wouldn’t listen to me and get the bigger one!” Her frustrated exhale of breath was sent my way on the vehicle of her dissatisfied, blaming glance.
As I walked over, her eyes never left my face. Their blaming expression began filling with tears and she snapped again, “I told you we needed to choose the bigger tree!” It seemed as if her joy for the holiday would be based on the satisfaction she would gain (or not) in the decorating of her tiny tree. It was my turn to take a deep breath and whisper a prayer to my Father for the right words to redirect her focus.
Cautiously I replied, “No, Honey. This is the right size.”
“No, it isn’t, Mama! Everything doesn’t fit! It’s awful!!” she cried.
“You are right. Everything doesn’t fit. We will not get a bigger tree, though. This is just the right size.” I sat on the other side of the tree and began removing the lights.
Abbie was not willing to let go so easily. “Mama, we could buy a smaller set of lights. You know, the battery operated kind!” Her little mind was still trying to figure a way to put as much on the tree as possible because her thoughts were telling her: more is always better.
“Yes, we could, but we won’t.” was my reply as I kept unburdening the little tree.
Abbie’s face drooped. “Mama, please don’t take everything off. You will ruin what I’ve done!”
I didn’t answer. My hands were working carefully and quickly to restore the tree to a more natural state as I began teaching Abbie about the burden of carrying or having too much.
The tree returned to an upright position in its pot, again.
Abbie sat quietly and watched while the tree was turned and viewed from all directions, each ornament being placed in a carefully chosen spot. As she watched and listened, her countenance began to change. The tiny tree was just right for what it was meant to carry.
“Do you like the tree now?” I asked. She just nodded her approval. “Would you make a star for the top? You are so good at making things. Cut it out of something, anything you like . . . but keep it simple to fit the tree.”
A little while later, a foil covered star cut from card stock topped the tree. It was beautiful. Abbie had to even show me how she rigged the back of the star to make it fit! Joy had returned to her heart.
This episode with Abbie reminded me: a simple focus requires self-discipline. It is so easy to be swept away by the presents that must be bought, wrapped and presented; homes that must be decorated; jolly attitudes that must be displayed; parties that must be planned or attended; the annual Christmas letter that must be written, addressed, and sent; and the unspoken other expectations that must be met . . . and the real reason for the celebration is forgotten.
By the way, who is dictating the must be’s? Who is our audience for whom we perform and what is the focus? Celebrations are important because they cause us to remember. But, to what extent should we go for a celebration and is the purpose for it still in view?
I ask myself these questions because when the weeks of preparation and celebration for Christmas are over, the sun will lay its head to rest and all festivities will come to a close. At that time, there will be a moment, a stillness speaking of Truth. I hunger to tarry in that moment, that place where “bigger and better” doesn’t fit because I know the fullness of that moment arrives when my heart humbly turns toward the Father in thankfulness for the coming of His son, my Messiah.
Celebrate well by keeping a simple focus.
the most precious celebration
is the private one
between you and the Father.