Guest Post by Sarah Beth Cooper
I was tired. I needed a week more of sleep, yet, I had set my alarm an hour earlier than usual to rise that morning so I could be sure the elf had moved and maybe even left behind evidence of shenanigans before the kiddos awoke. Had those snoozing kiddos gone to bed on time the night before AND STAYED in bed, the elf and I could have taken care of business then. Oh, but no — there was tummy medicine, extra hugs, sips of water, chap stick, eczema cream, more water, and bathroom visits to be had — in addition to umpteen questions that couldn’t wait until morning.
I grumpily and as quietly as a ninja stumbled (much unlike a ninja) through the house to prevent the disappointment of kiddos waking to find the elf hadn’t moved. As I helped the elf on the shelf do his thing, in my frustration, I asked myself,
“What had your kiddos rather have, Sarah Beth — an elf that had pretend fun in the night or a more rested, not so stressed, not so grumpy mommy? Hadn’t they rather you smile and giggle with them at the REAL moments of the day instead of mindlessly missing those moments due to the unnecessary tiredness and stress of making room for the elf — and all the other things of the world that clutter our mangers at Christmas & crowd our hearts throughout the year?”
That moment of questioning was fleeting as they awoke and their excitement reminded me why I had set the alarm so early after all.
We rushed to church that morning, and during worship, it hit me. It packed more of a punch than a Santa bag full of bricks on my big toe — it was more like a piercing nail through the heart.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing, …”
I sang along and it began triumphantly resonating in this weary, broken, tired, aching heart … “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
We prepare our homes for Christmas. We prepare our churches for Christmas. We prepare our town, our businesses, and so on. We often spend a great deal of time, worry, and expense preparing for Christmas. But, how much effort do we place on making room & preparing our hearts?
We make room in our home for decorated Christmas trees. We make room on our shelves and in our schedules for elves and other Christmas fun.
And, let’s be real…. preparing for Christmas may begin cheery, but for this momma, it often ends in exhaustion or strife. Often times it ends like this because I’m not doing it right!
I should give more attention to preparing Him room in my heart, not preparing space on a shelf for an elf. Not only will I benefit from this shift in gears, but my family will as well.
Suggestions for Preparing Him Room:
Through His Word:
Our family spends time together in His Word. There are many lists of Christmas scripture reading to be found online and many books to read throughout Advent as you await Christmas. The Cooper crew enjoys Ann Voskamp’s “Unwrapping The Greatest Gift.” It’s a great way to start our day; it guides our focus throughout the rest of the day.
We have a scripture writing list as well. The kiddos have notebooks that they are filling with God’s Word as we count down the days until Christmas.
It’s been incredible seeing God’s work in our hearts as we unwrap Him this Christmas. Prayers are being answered and opportunities are becoming available — and, our kiddos are making the connection! Next to Jesus, that’s the best gift of all for this momma’s heart.
Light Up Your World:
Our family shares in a Christmas activity each day. I spend a little time planning ahead before December so that we have an activity on the calendar counting down the days to Christmas. The activities are intended to give us the gift of time together as a family. Some of the activities are singing to Jesus, making Christmas ornaments, having a fake snowball fight, going to the downtown parade, having a Christmas picture taken, etc… But, many of the activities focus on serving God through serving others – – – greet our mailman with a goody & bottled water, visit friends and sing carols at the nursing home, send cards to our church family shut-ins, offer free babysitting for a family, give gifts to a family in need, leave Christmas snacks in the ICU waiting room, etc…
What do you think we enjoy most? The activities that are centered on us or the activities that focuses on others? You got it — those that focus on serving others. Serving is God’s design. We venture out to serve others in hopes of putting a smile on their faces, warmth in their hearts and to light up their world. I pray we do, but I know that serving others ends up putting a smile on our faces, warms our hearts, and lights up our world.
The spark of Christ in loving others is brighter than any lit Christmas tree or Christmas light display.
We’ve greatly scaled back on the gifts, decorations and grand gestures over the years. (Shhh… don’t tell the youngest kiddo about the oldest kiddo’s first few Christmases as an only child!) The time, resources, money and thought that once was placed on things our world says is Christmas is now more focused on Christ. It’s not about us. It’s about celebrating the birth of our King, our Savior. When we simplify and remove the excess distractions, we have found we enjoy one another, the season and the reason for the season that much more.
A native Mississippian and sister in Christ has written a children’s book “Make Room for the Manger.”
The book comes with a manger, hay, a baby Jesus and all you need to build excitement as your family anxiously awaits the celebration of the arrival of baby Jesus. My crew also likes to throw in a birthday cake or cupcakes for Jesus as part of our Christmas day dessert line-up (what better reason to eat cake, right?!)
Give the gift of time & experiences:
When celebrating Jesus, like the Wise Men, we want to partake in the gift giving too. I love to give a gift! It brings me great joy! Instead of purchasing another store-bought item to take up more space in our homes, crowding our mangers, and overwhelming our minds, invest in one another. Give the gift of time and experiences. I mentioned earlier about our daily activities that count down to Christmas intended to give our family the gift of time with one another. Some of those activities like driving around looking at Christmas lights or visiting friends in a nursing home will cost us absolutely nothing but thought and time spent. And, I’m betting the memory of this experience will outlive any electronic, toy or fashion trend.
Keep it real:
I recently admired an elaborate, very elegant Nativity scene on display in a church foyer. The gentleman and I admiring it couldn’t help but discuss how ‘off’ that beautiful display was — it wasn’t real. The real Mary and Joseph weren’t well rested, neat & clean adorned in gold and silk. No, they had to be dirty after the journey, wearing clothes possibly torn & worn. They had to be tired, exhausted, and broken from the hard journey, disappointments, and rejections. AND, the Wise Men didn’t find infant Jesus in that manger of hay. The angel wasn’t female. And so on… Just as unrealistic as that nativity display are many of our expectations during the Christmas season and the rest of the year, for that matter. It’s okay to be sad. Give it to Jesus. Unwrap the REAL Jesus and allow Him to begin the process of finding your joy. It’s okay to be mad, maybe even cold (as long as you don’t act out in those feelings). Unwrap the REAL Jesus and allow Him to begin warming your heart. It’s okay to not have it all together and to not even have any decorations out yet. Unwrap the REAL Jesus and allow Him to bring peace & beauty to your situation in His time.
This Christmas, it’s okay to be tired, torn, worn, dirty, broken — that baby in the manger is the greatest gift of all. And, He came to restore this tired, torn, worn, dirty, and broken world. When we are real and we realize just how broken and in need we are, it makes the perfect gift of Jesus that much sweeter!
“For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6 (HCSB)
This Christmas, enjoy your family traditions, even if they include Santa and his pesky elves — but, spend more time preparing Him room and less time preparing a shelf for an elf … spend more time making room for the manger and less time making room for the biggest tree you can fit through your front door.
You’ll be all the more for it, all the richer. Your family would rather have more of you and less frazzled momma. They might not know it yet, but they also had rather have more of Christ in Christmas than all those elf games.
Believer in God. Follower of Jesus. Dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Servant of Christ. Wife of Mr. Coopah. Mom to the 3 best blessings ever and one fur baby! Daughter. Teacher. Friend. Collector. Coffee Drinker. Occasional Writer.
You can connect with Sarah Beth on her blog.