Monday, December 29, 2008

My Christmas confessions

After many days of too much food, too much wine, too much toys, too much running back and forth to the toy store, too much confusion about what to buy for my wife, too much exhausting driving on the snow, mental turmoil about confusion on gifts and cards for different people, running back to the toy store to return the toys which the kids didn't like or wasn't doing what it was supposed to do as per the claims on its cover, I am ready to take a deep breath and do a reality check.

Both my wife and I working on full time jobs, with 2 little kids to take care of, as we entered the month of December, I dreamt about the upcoming Christmas holidays as a time to slow down, relax and possibly catch up some of my reading. Unfortunately the reality was the opposite. Now the Christmas is over and I have no energy left to spare and feeling drained emotionally and spiritually. And now I am hoping to recuperate during the two days off for the New Year!

When I went for shopping, seeing crowded shoppers frantically running around the shops looking for gifts, I didn't think this country was in a recession. I found that the commercialization of this holiday is a huge success. I am also a victim of it. I feel trapped.

After all the hectic days, I am wondering out loud, where was Christ in all the busyness? I seldom thought about Him. I was worried about a whole lot of things that I didn't have time to think about Jesus's love. But it's true that He was still loving me while I wasn't even aware of it.

It is one thing that it brought joy to my heart when I saw the excitement in the eyes of kids when they opened the gifts, but it's another thing that I conveniently forgot about the many parents around the world who can't even afford food to keep their children alive. I feel that I live in abundance and the multiple choices around me often confuses me - the options to chose food, drink, dress, toys etc. I guess the people who have no much choices have little or no confusion in their life.

I feel that Christmas brings anxiety and tension to many people instead of joy, peace and love. Many families and individuals are worried that they have no enough money to afford gifts. We have come so far that the 'gift' is an obligation now. We almost forgot the definition of 'gift' itself. We no longer like to receive freely, we want to 'pay back' as soon as possible.

I didn't really enjoy Christmas because anything which wouldn't let me slow down and contemplate on the issues of life and love Christ has offered to us, it's not an enjoyment. Instead, I was drifted away. I gave myself up for pleasing people in an obligatory way.

There were lot of things which I had been setting aside to do during these holidays (such as burning some home videos to DVDs). Needless to say that they are still undone.

On the top of all these, now I realize that it would take at least an year to lose the extra pounds I have gained from over eating during these few days!

I didn't enjoy the snow, instead I cursed it because it tried to slow me down. I don't like anything which slows me down when I have so much things to 'do'.

Is it time to think outside the normal craziness of Christmas? May be doing it in a different, 'out of the norm' way? May be doing nothing but thinking about what Christmas really means? May be setting aside the obligatory, forced, 'feel trapped' kind of celebrations and just love one needy person?


Matthew Daelon said...

Bino, I never understood the reason people stressed so much at Christmas time until I had my license over the Christmas season...And I only had a little amount of money to buy with! I only had a small taste of it, but I was so stressed because of the crowds, and wondering what to buy with what money I did have! I don't mind getting gifts, but don't make it an obligation. It completely nullifies the peace and joy and all the words we associate with Christ's birth. Even receiving presents is stressful because we feel obligated to buy them something! That isn't of God. A true gift is giving without expecting anything in return.

I call for a Christmas reformation. Buy for who you want to buy for and if someone buys something for you, don't feel obligated to buy them anything because you feel guilty.

Seeing myself type that makes me feel selfish, but if they're giving in order to get, that's their selfishness, not mine.

I tasted a bit of the stress you're describing, Bino. I'm sorry brother...It was hard for me to focus on Christ as well like I did the Christmas before and the Christmas before that.

I just want Jesus. Christmas has turned into a holiday. I want no part of it. I'll buy for who I'm going to buy for and not stress about it. "Is not this my money to do with it what I will? Or do you begrudge my generosity".

I know Jesus in the parable of the laborers of the vineyard is making a different point, but the same applies. Buy for who you want to buy for and just enjoy the gift of giving and Jesus, our most prized possession.

Bino M. said...

Matthew, Thank you! I was nervous to post this because it sounds as if I don't like giving gifts when the entire Christian world 'LOVES' to give. But honestly, in my observation, 99% of people give out of obligation. I myself do it and I did it this year too. I am afraid to stop this stupid cycle and I hate how it feels.

The whole thing, as you said, nullifies the peace and joy associated with Christ's birth.
Yes, we do need a Christmas reformation. It became what it isn't supposed to be.

The fear of rejection by others is NOT from God, any kind of fear is not of Him. I want to see some freedom in this area. I want to be free from any kind of obligations.

Aida said...

Bino, I can totally relate to what you said. For years, I absolutely hated Christmas. I hated the shopping and I hated all of the turmoil. For me, Christmas was a time of stress and not a time of joy. I hated to admit it because as a believer Christmas was supposed to be a time of great joy for me but it wasn't.

Somehow, this Christmas was different. I never got stressed. We did everything at the last minute but it still got done. I never thought about sending cards until it was too late so I didn’t send any and didn’t worry about it. I’ve never been so peaceful before.

Even our Christmas meal was a challenge. I normally make a large cut of meat but I couldn’t find what I needed this year so I had to get two smaller ones. I wasn’t sure how that would turn out but, when it was done, everything turned out better than it usually does.

Dinner itself was trying. My two children and their spouses along with our 5 grandchildren joined us for Christmas dinner. Normally at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m stressed in a major way. However, this year in the days leading up to Christmas, I noticed I was experiencing an unusual amount of peace. Dinner was chaotic with children wanting to walk around and not eat. Another spilled juice over her dinner plate. There was some fighting between cousins. Parents were obviously stressed and it looked like I might not get a chance to eat as I bounced from one crisis to another. Yet, I was at total peace and thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I thought about it, I was amazed at the transformation. My family even helped clear off the table which is a rarity.

This peace is not something I struggled to attain but it just seemed to happen as Father’s life is becoming more real to me.

Amy said...

My dear friend, believe me, I have a feeling you are NOT alone in that boat. Quite honestly, in years past, my had been MUCH the same as you described.

Fortunately though, this year was quite different, as I really didn't get all wrapped up in the consumerism. Yes, I did buy many presents for my two parents who came this year to visit. However, I did that early, and spent only 1/2 day getting them all.

I cooked them a nice dinner and we ate at my place, opened gifts, then spent the rest of the days here "going with the flow" figuring out where to go, what to do here in the Phoenix area.

Overall, it went pretty well, although, of course, there were some "choice words" shared that were not-so-nice that are, what I'm thinking, are "normal" for family members who are visiting.

But getting back to this post, I honestly want to spend one Christmas, and perhaps 2009, spending the ENTIRE day working at a homeless shelter serving food, sitting and eating with them...or spending the time with some really close local friends if they are available.

I do love many traditions of Christmas, and some are okay/good (I don't believe in throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater in everything regarding Christmas, just because some things have a Pagan origin. There is "wonder," and the spirit of God is in many of the things of Christmas and can be enjoyed and celebrated simply for what they are if done so with a good heart and attitude.

Anyways, great post, my friend. I always love your honesty.

And...Happy New Year!

~Amy :)

Ike said...

"Yes, we do need a Christmas reformation."

Hi Bino, I haven't talked to you for awhile. Lucky you!!! I could sure have some fun with your above comment but will keep my "reformed" comedy to myself. Glad you survived the burdensome secular "laws" of this holiday!

Free Spirit said...

Hi Bino,

Thought I'd pop in here. Would like to more often.

This one statement stuck out to me:
"I gave myself up for pleasing people in an obligatory way."

Doesn't that describe Christmas for many, if not most?
I can really relate to that.

Somehow, I think Jesus has a better way, though.

Nothing meant here toward you at all, but I can't ever picture Jesus uttering those words. So somewhere, for me, there's some growth needed here.

You are not alone here, Bino. Most have gone thru Christmas much the same as you, and are left wondering what just happened here.

Thanks for sharing your frustration. It is understood.

getting there said...

Bino, I relate.. it's draining and to be honest.. I am glad it's over.. the holidays is supposed to be a time for peace but it ends up being an absolute dread... I wonder if one day I just tell my whole family.. 'I am no longer celebrating christmas." and tell them all, "you are not getting any gifts and I am not coming over for all that food." can you imagine the reaction of friends and family? urgh...

Bino M. said...

Aida - Sounds like you had a great time. I usually get restless if I have a lot on my plate. I also have a perfectionist spirit which keep nagging me until I have everything perfectly done. Believe me, this will kill all the joy in anything.
I loved the way you approached things and you enjoyed what you did which is what it matters.

Bino M. said...

Amy - Thank you relating with me. I am amazed at the American consumerism, especially during this holiday season. There wasn't enough space to move the carts around in the shops and now they have 'after Christmas' sale. Then it is New Year sale, then 'after New year' sale, and it goes on and on. All kinds of people falls for this. The one thing I notice is, you go to any store there is some kind of sale ALWAYS (through out the year). And usually if you pay attention, they hike up the original price to 150% and then put a 50% off sales tag (so the price is still the same!) and people, no matter how brilliant they are, fall for it!

I am glad you had a nice time with your parents. What you said about spending a day working at a homeless shelter sounds great. Believe me, it's non-traditional and I am always for breaking traditions, because traditions usually spoils the meaning of what it really is, doesn't matter whether it is a religious tradition or family tradition.

Bino M. said...

Ike - Glad you stopped by! Hope you had a great Christmas.

Free Spirit- Thank you for stopping by! I saw some 'leopard talk' between you and Leonard over his blog. BTW, I too love Leopards :)

I don't know if it's true everywhere but as per my observation when there is a holiday or birthday or some occasion where people give gifts usually put a burden on people. Its not so much the money aspect of it, its the time we require to go around and find a good gift which suits the occasion and the person whom we are giving it to.
I love giving gifts but I like to do it when I want to, not when tradition/obligation requires me to.

Yes, there's some growth needed and it has to be towards freedom, freedom from the pressure to conform to traditions and obligations. Both ruins love. Love is the only thing what matters and my philosophy is if it isn't out of love, lets not do it.

Getting there - I too am glad it's over!

I wonder if one day I just tell my whole family.. 'I am no longer celebrating Christmas." and tell them all, "you are not getting any gifts and I am not coming over for all that food."

LOL! That lineup with my thoughts as well :)

Joel B. said...

My thoughts and disposition toward all of this has gone through quite an overhaul during the past several years, and it's been kind of a rocky overhaul. :)

I've been to the whole place of, "Christmas is not a Christian holy day; it's a secular holiday." In a huge sense that's truly where I'm at in all of this right now. What part of the contemporary "celebration of Jesus' birth" has anything to do with Jesus' birth, life, death or resurrection? The whole thing about "giving" is not, from what I've seen, about true Christ-in-me giving. As you say, so much of it is about obligation. And if nothing else, it's about tradition, not about celebrating the birth of the one who dwells in us and who we are one with.

Ok... all that aside... LOL...

To the extent that I do go along with it, I've come to a place where I'm at much more peace than ever, kind of like what a couple of others have said. I just don't let the 'holiday' get the best of me. There I was in Walmart late in the evening of the 23rd. My legitimate reason for going so late is because I needed some "normal" household stuff (laundry detergent, paper towels, etc), but during the previous week it had been so busy every time I'd driven by during the day, that I decided I'd wait till late some evening.

Well, the next day (the 24th) we were leaving to go out of town, so this was my last chance to get these household things as well as a few gifts for family members. I truly had decided in my heart to not let this get the best of me, so I simply walked around the store slowly and casually (as I always do), watching everyone else move around so hurriedly, and I said to myself, I never want to be like that!

I will say that the "obligation" thing did hit me, briefly, this year. I came home from work about two weeks ago, and there was a box on the doorstep that had been delivered via USPS. It was from my sister and brother in law, and it was filled with presents for our family. My first thought was, "Oh, great, now my wife will feel even more stressed out that she already is, feeling obliged to send their family some gifts as well."

But then it hit me as well! Suddenly I had that same feeling to! I didn't like that feeling. Anyway, when my wife came home I was surprised that we both agreed that we didn't have to get stressed out because of this. We did think it was great to be able to send them something, and although we sort of did it out of obligation, I think we also felt ok about sending them a restaurant gift card and their daughters some iTunes gift cards.

Also, in past years I've always written a yearly 'brag letter' (Christmas letter telling of all the happenings of the year). It's been a lot of work, writing everything, doing the artwork on the computer, doing all the envelopes, etc, etc. But last year, and this year as well, I simply didn't do it. Last year I felt "sort of" guilty for not doing it. But this year I didn't at all. I love my family and friends, and they love me and my family. A yearly card isn't going to change that, and if it does, that's their problem, not mine!

Anyway, thanks Bino for being so open and honest in all this, and for letting others also express their thoughts here! I haven't even told of the pressures of my wife's family! They really do it up and go overboard, and it's been hard to break away from all that, because just like others have expressed here, I feel as if they'll look down on us if we don't buy all the presents and do it up like they do. But oh well!

RJW said...

I hope you get some rest over the New Years' Holiday.

Love you, brother.

Bino M. said...

Joel - I try to either procrastinate or skip the things I feel pressured to do due to obligation/tradition, but my wife wont let me! :)
She does enjoy doing it (gifts etc), but I don't. It's not that I don't like giving gift, but to me it has to be out of my heart more than anything else. And usually my heart tells me to give when it's off-season. lol.

Thank you for sharing. I was able to resonate much with what you have said here.

Bino M. said...

Jamie- Yes, I did. It was great! Thank you!

lionwoman said...

Bino - in a word - YES. I hear you loud and clear! As a culture, we don't know how to celebrate in joy. We have more food, more stuff, more time with people we may or may not enjoy. I have about 16 tons of fattening cookies and other holiday leftovers in my kitchen that relatives insisted I take home, because "they don't need the extra pounds." (and I do?!?)

Have you read "Unplug the Christmas machine?" Not a cure- all, but a validating book with some good suggestions.

The Lewis Family said...

A wonderful quote I came across this evening:

"Then I recognized that my only struggle was the struggle not to struggle."

Arthur Burt

Bino M. said...

Lewis Family - Thanks for stopping by! Ya, it's sometimes a struggle not to struggle.

JMBMOMMY said...

We really examined our traditions and motives last year too...and this year we saw a huge difference. We still bought some presents, decorated, and did lot of fun things with our kids---but it was completely with a new perspective. It might be as simple as sitting down with your wife and talking / praying it out and making the changes that you feel led to make. It is definitely a time to celebrate our King and all the precious people He created.

JMBMOMMY said...

We really examined our traditions and motives last year too...and this year we saw a huge difference. We still bought some presents, decorated, and did lot of fun things with our kids---but it was completely with a new perspective. It might be as simple as sitting down with your wife and talking / praying it out and making the changes that you feel led to make. It is definitely a time to celebrate our King and all the precious people He created.