I stamped my feet in the slushy snow, and glanced eagerly at the heated building only a few yards away. People were milling in and out with steaming drinks and treats. Music drifted out of the doors that opened periodically.
I wanted to get in there. We had checked the box and seen baby Jesus. Let’s go kid, it’s cold.
This was supposed to be the year I succeeded at Christmas. At least, that’s what I had convinced myself of. There would be beautiful cards sent, unique and tasty cookies made. We would buy the most amazing, yet classic gift for our child and do every meaningful holiday related activity possible. I had made a mental checklist of all the ways I was going to make this holiday special, and was determined to check every box. Or in my mind, Christmas would be a disappointing flop.
And here I was, doing exactly that. I was squeezing in one more activity with my son, checking off one more box, before Christmas arrived. A local church, with a large group of volunteer actors, had created a small scale “Bethlehem” complete with an actual camel, children dressed as angels singing softly to real sheep, and a baby doll in a manger. The Living Nativity with cocoa and cookies. But as we shuffled past the different charming stalls, and snowflakes swirled around us, I felt empty, irritated, and a bit frazzled.
So far I had managed to burn the cookies I had been so excited to make. We were broke from the exorbitant amount of money my husband and I had dropped on our one child. No one seemed to really be enjoying all of the memory making activities I kept pushing us towards. I had cried a lot this month. And in a little dark corner of my heart, I was beginning to resent this holiday season.
Not the boxes I wanted to tick.
On this dark winter’s night, I had no idea how to stop my runaway train of making this season memorable and special. I just hoped my toddler would be done looking at the well worn doll, wrapped in an old pillow case and we could go someplace with heat.
But my little boy wasn’t interested in budging from the manger scene. Other people briefly passed by, waved at Mary, peeked at the sleeping doll that represented Jesus, and moved on toward warmer attractions.
I was stuck coaxing my two year old with promises of sugar, trying to nudge him gently forward. He simply smiled at me and flopped his arms comfortably over the small fence that separates us from the actors.
“It’s Jesus”, he told me excitedly.
And slowly, it began to click.
One of the boxes I had been checking was the telling of the Christmas story over and over again. And most days, in hurry and haste. Yet though the seeds of good news had been planted with a spirit of duty rather than celebration, they had still sprouted in spite of me. His little heart grasped that this story, the best Story, was true! This Jesus we had been talking about, the baby wrapped up in rags was real, and my son wanted to linger at the manger.
Something shifted in my heart that year. The burnt cookies, stress over finances, making every meaningful Christmas memory happen by sheer grit and determination suddenly felt so heavy. And the reality was that no one was asking me to shoulder that weight but myself.
Shivering in the cold that night, I made a decision. I didn’t want to slide into December 25th with every box check marked, yet still feeling empty and just relieved it was over. I wanted to linger at the manger too. And so I crouched down next to my son, and we gazed and gazed at that little plastic doll, until he was ready to walk away. I'm sure Mary was relieved when we finally did, but it felt like something in me began to take that first tentative step towards surrender.
Our family has grown and we’ve celebrated many Christmases since that year. I’m still a work in progress, but the image of my little boy in his green puffy coat, and wide blue eyes in awe of Jesus helps reign me in on the days when I’m feeling like I’m not doing or being enough.
I hope you find time to linger at the manger this Christmas, and as you sit there, rest in the truth that Jesus is enough. The cards can arrive late or not at all. The treats can burn in the oven, the gifts can be simple. You don’t have to force meaningfulness and joy, because Jesus is enough.