“Mama, I like spending time with you.”
Little Friend offers up this sweet compliment when I am up to my elbows in kitchen clean up, my tongue stuck out in concentration, and my brain managing to keep up the bare minimum reconnaissance of my children: are they safe from immediate doom? are they mostly safe from impending doom? Good. Everything else can wait.
Little Friend is acting doubly sweet because she was granted reprieve from spending quiet time in her room. Instead, she is flitting around me like a tentative moth while I complete my quiet time activities.
“Mama, I like spending time with you,” she repeats because my distracted “mmm-hmmm” response didn’t cut it. “I like spending time with you, even when you’re grumpy.” That gets my attention.
“Am I often grumpy or just sometimes grumpy?” I fish hopefully, dishwater dripping down my arms.
“Just sometimes grumpy.” Correct answer.
I thought I’d had her fooled. Yet here we are, just days away from Little Friend turning four, and she’s on to me: I’m not perfect.
There’s such an undercurrent of stress to this season. We’re all supposed to trip over ourselves to buy the perfect presents, attend fabulous parties in fabulous outfits, deck the halls, trim the tree, exchange scrumptious cookies, perform 25 days of Advent acrobatics, and sing a cheery “Fa-la-la-la-la” while doing it all.
In the face of this holiday undertow, it feels so much worse if you happen to be having a blue Christmas. If macaroni and cheese twice a week is the best you can do for dinner. If present shopping makes you angry at the recipient. If one more round of “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” makes you want to punch someone in the kisser. If everyone else around you seems to be going to 11 fabulous parties while you, and the fabulous outfit you don’t own, are invited to zero. If the stockings won’t be filled to the brim this year. If (and this is the hardest “if” of all to live through during a perfect-pressured holiday season) if one of the stockings hung by the chimney with care won’t be needed any more. I suspect we all, in reality, have Christmases that are blue-tinged rather than the glittered Pinterest versions out there.
Thank goodness for some good news: Perfect is a lie.
Here’s an alternative to Martha Stewart’s take on the holidays: Jesus is the birthday boy who wants nothing less (or more) than imperfection from us. He showed us so by arriving on earth in a manner that wouldn’t have anyone clicking “Pin It” on his blog post. No room in the inn? How about bunking out with some animals and manure and no heat. And while you’re at it, wipe out that donkey’s feed bin and lay the newborn in there, yes, there, without a designer crib bumper.
Really, Jesus? I mean, you’re God. You could have pulled some strings and secured a reservation at the penthouse in the Ritz. You could have had at least 11 invitations to fabulous parties, and instead you settled for a guest list of some haven’t-showered-for-weeks and didn’t-take-time-to-shave shepherds. Did those sheep heads even think to don the appropriately trendy skinny ties or sequined minis?! Sheesh. If God had wanted us to be perfect during this holiday season, I think He could have set a higher standard for us to follow.
Instead, I think Jesus’s first Christmas (surely someone thought to buy that poor babe a First Christmas ornament. What? No?! For the love!) was perfectly imperfect. He had the important things: family, friends who came just as they were, friendly beasts (none of whom could talk about how great they were or worry about whether they were keeping up with the Joneses next door), and, aside from a few heavenly hosts singing some hallelujahs, that’s about it.
Judging by example, what’s not important to Jesus this holiday season? Scratch the perfect home, perfect decor, perfect guest list, perfect gifts, perfect family Christmas photo, perfect food, perfect seasonal activities, perfect cider mulling on the stove, perfect holiday song play list. Those things, if they happen, are great, but they’re just glitter on top of the important things.
Christmas, if we follow God’s model, is a pause. An in-drawn breath. A hallelujah of wonder. An acceptance of life as we can manage it in stressful, trying times. A willingness to let perfection be born in the midst of our imperfection.
The good news is He’d prefer us all to stop trying so hard to do something He didn’t find important at all.
Kind of like Little Friend offering up her sweet grace for me: she likes spending time with me, even when I’m grumpy. To which I say, Hallelujah!