As much as I consider myself a follower of Jesus I find myself very caught up in a culture that omits God from everything, including Christmas. Sadly, I confess my own soul is prone to do the same.
It seems I spend most of my energy keeping up with the frantic pace of modern urban life, focussing on my career, making money, maintaining home life, keeping up with social expectations, and being sucked into the virtual world of advertising and media. I live as though my life is driven to survive, competing for my place in culture.
Stressed out “living the life”
But living for cultural compliance provokes immense doubts within me. Is my resume good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I connected enough? Am I good looking enough? Am I strong enough? Am I socially savvy enough? Will I have enough money? Will I earn people’s respect? Will I keep their respect? Will people like me? Am I producing enough? Does my life have any significance? You get the picture.
I am driven by the fear that I don’t measure up. When I fall into the trap of comparing myself to the best examples of worldly success, I certainly feel like a failure. I answer with a haunting and despairing “NO!” to all of the above questions. But somehow it doesn’t stop me from trying. In fact, the threat of “No!” drives me all the more.
And so I find myself constantly consumed and hustling, as if being driven by a nameless and careless base survival instinct. And with that comes the tendency to have the same mindset of secular culture as well. I live as though making my way in this physical world is all there is. Ironically it’s especially at Christmas that my preoccupation with self-preservation intensifies. This is why I find it so hard to make room in my life for Jesus, even at Christmas.
What story am I telling myself?
My daily self talk goes something like this: “Wake up! Hustle! Get yourself presentable! Get your reluctant and weary body out of bed, out the door and find your motivation! You gotta make a name for yourself! Compete! Perform! Execute! Dominate! Relate! Communicate! If you don’t, you will lose out and fall behind! You’ll lose respect! Lose your place! Lose your purchasing power! Be forgotten! Don’t settle for an insignificant life! It’s up to you to make something of yourself! Don’t blow it!”
Add to this my inner Christmas dialogue. “Gotta go to this Christmas social, don’t want to let them down! Gotta plan and make travel arrangements for Christmas with family! Gotta buy something meaningful for people who have almost everything.” I’m feeling the stress of the credit crunch already! It’s more exhausting than life giving most of the time for me.
It feels like it is all up to me to keep my life together as is. Throw in Christmas and I am totally overwhelmed. And with that comes immense image management: keeping up the impression that I do in fact have it together. But any notion of having my life together always seems to evade me. I am left feeling tired and heavy. I feel insecure about my place in the world. Admittedly there are some days I feel like I am on top of things and advancing my goals for worldly success. But many days I feel like I am an utter failure and falling apart. As if things are about to completely unravel. I wonder how I will ever make it.
Jesus, a much needed interruption
For calling myself a Christian I am disheartened by how easily I find myself grinding through life without thought or awareness of his presence. Even given the heightened cultural attention to Jesus at Christmas, it is easily displaced by a cultural obsession that sparkles with bright lights, warm thoughts, gift giving, and some cheer in the coldest season of the year.
But warm cultural sentiment doesn’t calm my nervous drive to survive. Even Christmas is all about survival, making it happen, pulling it off. Is my life really that different from Bethlehem? I don’t seem to have room in my life for Jesus. His quiet and unassuming interruption hardly seems noticeable in the hustle and bustle of the season.
As much as my life is distracted by the here and now, Jesus assuredly keeps breaking into my life. His presence and power is at work in me, unassuming as it is most of the time. But his ability to interrupt is never to be underestimated. The hard part to accept is that he usually never works in the ways I want him to. I would prefer he give me strength to accomplish worldly success and kept up my image.
Instead, Jesus comes into my world and cuts against all that comes naturally to me. Jesus opposes my narrative of self-preservation. He says to me, “Enough! Stop listening to those cultural voices! You will never find yourself there! Come to me. You are weary and broken under weight you were never meant to carry. I want to give you rest. Make room to relate to me and learn from me and I will retrain you how to live. I hold your life and your worth in my hand. I can do what you can’t. I can hold your life together! Think about it. I made the universe. I made you. I came into your world to demonstrate my love for you. I am the person behind the universe and I am mindful of you.”
Ironically, my failure to live up to all the worldly expectations is what makes room for Jesus. When I am at the end of myself, I have nowhere to go but Jesus. Thus, I am learning to be thankful for my failures, weaknesses, and let downs in this world. Without his interruption I doubt I would be making room for Jesus at Christmas at all.