Breaking Free from a Cultural Christmas

According to the news accounts, Christmas is the most important time of the year—just not for the reason you might think. No, Christmas isn’t important because we celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is important because we shop. Some (if not most) retailers depend on the Christmas shopping season in order to make a profit for the year. Black Friday is called Black Friday because it’s when stores typically go into “the black” for the year, meaning they’re profitable for the fiscal year.

For years, people have been complaining about how hyper-commercialized Christmas has become and how crazy the holidays are…and yet, we end up falling into this cycle of commercialism and over planning one more time. Next year, we promise, it’s going to be different.

It never is.

So, why don’t we avoid January’s remorse by making some different decisions in December?

What kind of decisions?

Well for one, think about your travel over the next few weeks. All of us have 365 days in a year. We don’t have to see everyone we love in the next few days. We can space out the love and happiness over the year. Don’t give into (or create) pressure for everyone to be together. If it works, great. If not, find another time. Trust me, it’s not a sin to be rested after the holidays.

Budget your Christmas spending. If you haven’t shown love all year long, buying a bigger present isn’t going to help. I know everything is on sale. But there are sales in January too.

Lastly, remember Christmas isn’t about gifts, but about THE GIFT—Jesus Christ. Don’t let the craziness of the holidays crowd out your worship. If you do anything as family, make sure worship is what you do. Worship at home as a family. Attend a worship service together. Do whatever you have to do to make sure Jesus is at the center of your Christmas celebrations.

Take a little pressure off yourself and your family. Remember, Christmas is about joy—the joy of the Promise kept. And if you aren’t smiling in December, you may have missed the whole point.

The Only Gift That Matters

A few years ago, I remember reading a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that said something like, “There’s only one gift that matters—yourself. Everything else is just a poor substitute.” If that’s not the exact quote, it’s pretty close.

Anyway, the point remains.

And it’s a point that is particularly important to those of us who are trying to find a “perfect gift” for our wives or husbands. Let me make two points in response. First, relax. There is no such thing as a perfect gift. So, take that pressure off of yourself.

Second, what your spouse really wants for Christmas is YOU. They don’t know how to tell you that, but it’s true. What they really want is your full attention, your time, your energy, and your essence. What your husband really wants is for you to sit down and watch his favorite team with him. If he’s working on the car, go out to the garage and hand him a wrench.

Take your wife shopping and watch her try on clothes. Take her to a chick flick. I know these ideas are corny, but the point is for you to find a way to give yourself totally to your spouse—no distractions. No interruptions. Just them. Just you.

Find a gift—and it really doesn’t have to be expensive. It does have to symbolize that you—all of you—are the real gift. Without that, the only thing you’ve given your spouse is a future trip to Goodwill.

Work Life Balance [Podcast]

In today’s episode of Creating Real Marriages that Last, I share with my co-host Amy-Jo Girardier about the myth of finding balance between work and life. Unlike eastern philosophy, upon which the idea of “balance” is based, the biblical understanding of life is much more linear. The picture of life as a journey is much more accurate. At different times in our lives, we must make decisions about what is most appropriate to focus our time and energy on based on our priorities at the time. For me, the most important relationship in my life is with Christ, so I protect the time I need to focus on growing in my relationship with Him. If Jeannie or my sons need me when I’m in a meeting or with a group of people, they get my attention first, before anyone or anything else. It’s not that we always say, “No” to the other things in our lives that call for our attention. We just learn to say, “Not now” and instead focus first on those things we consider most important in our lives. 

Renegotiating the Contract

Renegotiating the Contract

Jeannie and I just returned from a trip to Rome and the Mediterranean, where we celebrated our 35th anniversary. First, let me say there isn’t a man alive who’s more fortunate than I am. Every day I’m reminded of what a gift from God Jeannie is to me, but that’s a blog for another day.

Back to the anniversary trip. Some of my friends laughed at me when I told them Jeannie and I were going to “renegotiate the contract.” But it’s what we did. It’s what we do every year on our anniversary. We have a meeting. We talk over the past year. We look at the coming year. We talk about how things are going and what we’d like to see happen in the next year. In other words, we’ve learned to be intentional about marriage. Things don’t happen because you want them to happen. Things happen when you make choices and then act on those choices.

Good marriages don’t just happen. Good marriages are a result of both spouses acting on good choices.

So, what does a renegotiation look like?

We usually start with dinner and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes our schedules keep us apart longer than we want to be, so we use the first part of the dinner simply to catch up.

Second, we’ll look at the past year. This last year has been an eventful one for us. We moved my mom up to Nashville. Our son and daughter-in-law moved in just before Christmas as they sold their house and are building a new one. But more than that, these last 4 years have taken a cumulative toll. Jeannie’s dad died, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my dad died, and then my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and we moved her to Nashville to care for her.

This means a lot of change for us. For one thing, it means changes to my schedule. I’m now responsible for Mom’s care, and that means I need to limit the times I’m out of town. Or, as Jeannie said, “You keep living as if nothing has changed, but everything has changed.”

Then, we’ll look at the coming year. What about vacation? Holiday plans? What projects need to be done around the house?

After that—and here comes the big one—I’ll ask Jeannie what she needs from me. This can lead to a number of discussions. For instance, does she need more help around the house? Does she need more help with a certain goal? The question is open ended, and it’s supposed to be. I want Jeannie to be as free as she needs to be with her answer.

Then, we agree on a plan for the coming year. What are our goals? Financially? Physically? Spiritually? How can we best accomplish them together? The important thing is we leave the evening on the same page about what’s important to us in the coming year.

We’ll end the time affirming each other. A lot of the time, in the rush of the day, you don’t take the time to say “thanks” to your spouse. This gives time to say thank you for the little things that happen during the day that make a marriage work. For instance, I had the chance to thank Jeannie for her help with Mom. Without Jeannie’s nursing expertise, I would have been up a creek in trying to care for Mom. I was able to tell Jeannie how important her help to me was.

Now, you’re thinking this takes a lot of time. Well, it does. As you get better at it, you’ll make better use of your time. But tell me what is more important than your marriage? Isn’t it worth your time? Besides, how much time do you save by having a clear picture of your future together?

So, last week, I negotiated another year with Jeannie. Next year, I’ll do it again. It’s worked for 35 years. I’m counting on it to work one more.