Peggy is a Psychology Instructor and administrator at Chemeketa Community College. Except that sometimes she is a motorcycling Quaker minister and Explorer.
The spiritual discipline of Enough -a seasonal repeat
A corollary to Christmas Rehab
(A post which is not for everyone - but if it is for you - you will know it)
Well, we are almost there. You are doing fine. The house isn’t perfect but it looks very inviting and comfortable. You sent a few cards and there is still time to bake a few cookies. You are charged with the duty of creating a feeling of faith, joy and abundance. I know how seriously you take that charge. You want to balance the spiritual and the cultural. You want them to be able to enjoy both. You want Light in the darkness. You want home and hearth. You want a connection to the past, participation in the present and hope of the future. You want Peace.
But there is a familiar but unwanted visitor in your heart. It always shows up about now. It doesn’t usually stay long. The actual celebration has a way of melting it away. But while it is here it is quite uncomfortable. It is itchy. Anxious. Fidgety. It asks annoying questions.
“Have you done enough?”
“Have you done the right things?”
“Are you sure?”
It makes you do things; like count presents - many times. It seems to care a great deal about equality - at least economic and physical equality. Will the children understand that fewer things of greater quality equal more things of lesser monetary value?
It can turn an unexpected gift into a quandary. If reciprocation was not in your budget, what do you do? It is hard to even enjoy the gift if the paper it is wrapped in is emotional obligation.
It causes you to feel uneasy about the progression of time as it is represented physically. When it is time to send small family gift to your friends who are doing so well, and whose children are not children anymore, you feel as if the natural transition is somehow a shrinking of your care or attention.
If you have the means it tempts you to just keep shopping, using the scatter shot approach. If you put many things before your loved ones your chances of have a “hit” on the joy meter increases.
If you have not such means, then it surrounds your choices with fear. The stakes seem high and you dread making a poor choice.
You even worry about this worry. You wonder if this concern in your breast is evidence of the encroachment of consumerism and a materialistic outlook.
If you let this feeling rule you, by the Day after Christmas you will be emotionally exhausted, and depression will follow.
So what is to be done?
The first thing to do is to name it. I call it Giver’s Doubt.
The next thing to do is to remember that this is an old acquaintance.
But its dire warnings and insidious doubts have rarely proven to be trustworthy. You have been happy when the cattle were fat, and when they were lean, you did ok. No one who loves you thinks of you as one who is neglectful or thoughtless. Your track record is solid. There is no reason to believe that you will fail now.
This feeling is not your enemy. It is not evidence of corruption or failing. This feeling is the evidence that you have taken up your charge with sincerity. People who are truly careless, truly neglectful never feel this feeling. Some people do get beyond this feeling, they get to a place where it doesn’t come around much anymore.
But you need to respond to this feeling. You must speak to your doubt.
Start by reminding yourself of the priorities.
Abundance. Faith. Joy.
Look about you. Is there a sense of abundance? There are so many ways to make plenty. For a week or so (and only that) feed yourself and everyone else better. Make the time to share memories, and hopes, and kindnesses - to those you love and strangers you meet. Bring out all the pretty things. Hang up all the cards. Lots of color. Plenty of light. Be bold. Be generous.
Is there a sense of Faith. Have you built in time for worship? Music that feeds you? Do you have physical reminders of the story around you? The spirit of the Christmas holiday is about being present. God is with us. We spend a lot of spiritual time trying to live up to being Image Bearers - we want to be more like Christ - of course we do. But on Christmas it is good to remember that He wanted to be like us. He didn’t need us to be better before He joined our team. Share that message wherever you can by being really present to people.
And where is the Joy? What makes you laugh? Do some of that. You cannot give what you do not have. If you do not enjoy yourself, you won’t be able to create a place for joy in your home.
Remember that Christmas was about accepting limits. The Infinite climbed inside the finite and accepted its limitations. The Baby Jesus didn’t get much done on that first Christmas except suckle and wet His swaddling clothes. I don’t suppose his momma did much either.
You have limits: emotional limits, physical limits, financial limits. Find out where they are and live inside them, not just beyond them. It is the Spiritual Discipline of Enough.
The reason for mastering this Discipline is that this feeling is not confined to Christmas, nor celebrations in general. It will come around when your children leave home. Do you do enough? Did you do too much? Did you do the right things? Will it be OK for them? And it will come around when you finish caring for your parents, and at the end of your own days if you are blessed to have time for reflection.
So make yourself a cup of tea. Take a deep breath and say: “It is enough.” Say that as many times as you need to. “I have remembered and honored abundance, faith and joy. I accept as He did, and does, my limitations. It is enough.”