Today on the blog, we’re talking about Christmas and how to find hope in the midst of what can be a trying season. I’m sharing some truths that are changing my perspective, refocusing my heart, and bringing me more peace. Read on and join me in the process of moving from perfectionism to wholeness – from scarcity to abundance – by signing up here to stay posted on the launch of Enough.
Christmas can be a tough time for many people. The pressure to “be merry and bright” may have the reverse effect – heightening depression and loneliness, and leading to anxiety and burnout. We’re expecting joy at “the most wonderful time of the year,” and yet we often find a subtle sadness creeping into this season. We’re left trying to make sense of what we’re feeling and why. While there’s some comfort in knowing you’re not alone in this dichotomous tension, it’s still an uncomfortable place to be overall.
I’ve been experiencing these holiday blues a bit over the last few weeks. That’s partly why it’s been exactly one month since I last posted here. While my heart has been longing for more time to write, more peace, more quiet, more stillness… life has pulled me in a number of other directions. Namely, more shopping, more working, more parties, more planning for 2016.
That’s not to say that these things are bad. On the contrary. The last month has been beautiful and rich, full of quality time with loved ones – lingering over the table, laughing, celebrating. My heart is full to overflowing.
And yet, I’ve found myself feeling the old familiar feelings of “not enough.” Not enough time to get everything done, not enough sleep, not enough gifts to show people how much I love them.
Do you ever feel this way? I’m guessing you do, which is why you’re here. We all experience the temptation to focus on what we don’t have instead of meditating on what we do. When we operate from this place of lack, we burn out. But the good news is we have the power to change our perspective – to shift our focus. That’s not to say the tension of this season goes away entirely, but it serves a new purpose.
Scarcity and Self-Doubt
When we view life through a lens of scarcity – of limited resources and lack – we fear not having or being enough. When we assume there’s not enough joy and success to go around, we have to grab what we can for ourselves. This state of constant striving can also easily transform into limiting beliefs about ourselves. We fear that we are not enough. At work, in relationships, with family, at church. It’s as though we’re playing catch up, and we just can’t; we can’t catch up to people’s expectations, especially our own.
I explore this cycle of scarcity and self-doubt in greater depth in Enough. In short, though, the fear of “not enough” drives us to perfectionism, workaholism, unhealthy relationships, and so on. Recovering from a life of perfectionism is a process. And lately I’ve had ample opportunity to continue on this journey of working through the “not enough” lies that attempt to infiltrate my mind and heart.
The scarcity mindset can lead us to all sorts of crazy, self-defeating places. We obsess over our productivity at work because we’re insecure about our competency. We pit ourselves against other people, viewing them as competition for (what we think is) limited availability of success and happiness in the world. We compensate for what we think we lack by constantly striving to be and do more in our relationships and jobs.
We exhaust ourselves by pleasing, perfecting, and performing until we’ve lost touch with our own souls. We’re just a shell of what we think people want us to be, and we’re tired.
This past weekend, I experienced the life-draining effects of the scarcity mindset. Prior to what should have been a joyous time of exchanging gifts with my family and James, I was scurrying around downtown Pleasanton, hustling through the shops on Main Street in search of more gifts. Even though I’d put love and thought and time into the gifts I’d purchased for people thus far, it didn’t feel like enough.
Back at the house, I missed opportunities for connection with James because I was so concerned about wrapping all these gifts well. And in the end, it still didn’t feel like enough. By the end of the night, after all the gifts had been unwrapped and all the hugs were doled out, I was in tears. I was so afraid that people didn’t feel loved, afraid that they’d see through my attempts to gift well, afraid that they’d see how much I was lacking…afraid that I wasn’t enough, and they knew it.
Of course, no one thought that – those lies were all in my own mind. Each person felt loved and cared for, and they certainly showed me that. But out of my own fear and insecurity – really, my self-obsession – I diminished the enjoyment of that evening. Mostly for myself, but certainly for everyone else to an extent.
I was so busy poking holes in my gift-giving abilities that I pierced the heart of the moment. I was so focused on what I perceived to be lacking, that I failed to give my loved ones the greatest gift I have to offer – my attention and care, my presence with them.
Thankfully, I’ve learned enough about feeling “not enough” to know that these lies had to be dealt with – and quick – before they took hold and burrowed deeper into my heart.
The Antidote of Abundance
As James and I drove back to San Francisco that evening, we talked about why I felt so unworthy, and he helped me process my jumbled thoughts. Mostly, he just listened and reflected back what he heard me saying; all the while encouraging me and holding my hand – the best comfort I could have asked for in that moment.
It didn’t take long for me to verbalize what I was wrestling through: I had a subtle expectation that I should be better than I’d been that night. I shouldn’t have let those old “not enough” lies take hold of my mind for one minute, and I should have been more present with my family instead of selfishly worrying about their perceptions of me.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned while writing about recovering from perfectionism – truthfully, I’ve learned so much, but you’ll have to wait for the book for the rest – it’s that perfectionist habits die hard, and it’s going to be a lifelong recovery process.
So, rather than beat myself up when I fall into old patterns, I need to show myself grace and cling to the truths that I’ve worked so hard to engrain into my mind. Re-training our minds takes grit and perseverance. That’s why the Bible puts so much emphasis on the renewal of our minds. It’s a lifelong process, and the mind is where holistic change starts.
Thankfully, the antidote to the scarcity mindset is an easy one to grasp – although sometimes hard to practice in the moment. Gratitude.
When we approach each day and every circumstance from a perspective of thankfulness and trust, we shift from a “scarcity mindset” to one of abundance. We believe that God is good, and he’s going to provide everything we need. We believe that we can do the work in front of us – with his help. And we know that there’s enough joy and love to go around. We don’t have to hoard manna like the Israelites in the desert. We can trust that God will provide “our daily bread,” and we can just rest.
This also means we can trust God with ourselves. When I feel like I’m not enough, I remind myself: Where you are today is not where you’ll be forever. And at the same time: Where you are today is exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Coming to believe those truths takes time and experience. It requires walking the hard road, traveling through “the valley of the shadow of doubt” and discovering that God’s rod and staff are comforting and protecting you.
Master v. Mastery
Moving from scarcity to abundance requires focusing on the Master instead of mastery. Rather than trying to gain control over our lives or master our to-do lists – gifts to be wrapped, work to be accomplished, kitchens to be cleaned – we experience abundant peace once we focus on the Master.
This is what Jesus means when he says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
The word for “money” here is “mammon,” which refers to wealth and covetousness – the desire for “more.” When we focus on ourselves, our accomplishments, our “mastery,” our desire to always have and be “more,” we will only end up disappointed. We are cruel masters, driving ourselves into the ground, burning the candle at both ends, starving ourselves literally and figuratively.
From the beginning, we’ve wanted to go our own way. The desire to be our own masters leads us to choices that ultimately bring death – that fruit, that guy, those late nights at the office, those seemingly innocent texts.
Thankfully, God is a good, gracious, and forgiving Master. He guides us on the paths we should walk on because he knows what’s best for us. When we’re following God and truly leaning on him for our “enough,” we can’t take the credit for ourselves. And, sadly, sometimes we’d rather acquire more on our own – even at the sacrifice of our health and happiness – than admit our need for help.
But when we do – when we trust in his provision – we can see his hand at work in our lives. It takes time and patience, but the more we train our minds to focus on God, the more it becomes second nature to thank him for our circumstances instead of complaining or criticizing or comparing. The more we see of him, the more we love him. I love how Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century monk, puts it in his book The Practice of the Presence of God:
“The difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way we look at them – through faith or unbelief – that makes them seem so. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.
Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.”
Getting to know God has changed me entirely. The more I know of him, the more I love him. And when I’m not spending time in his presence, my mind and heart suffer.
Thankfully, God is the only Master who can both care for us and change us all at once. He loves us perfectly, and that perfect Love drives out all fear. Even when trials come at us, even when we feel caught in the tension of joy and sadness, we can trust that he’s using every single circumstance for our good. It’s all there to teach us something.
Look for the Star
These days, I’m trying to take my circumstances in stride. When things go wrong or I’m feeling anxious, I try to listen to my fear and the thoughts that come to the surface. I ask myself, “What is this situation trying to teach me?” Our thoughts and our feelings are like a litmus test for what’s going on in our inner lives.
Next time some adversity comes against you – or your own self-sabotaging thoughts creep up – ask “why is this happening for me?” instead of “why is this happening to me?” That simple mindset shift goes a long way toward changing your perspective.
If we really believe that we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be in any given moment, we’ll find peace. When we’re in the middle of a storm, we can still discover joy. Instead of fighting the current, we can surf the waves and let them take us to the shore.
I think this is what Jesus was trying to convey to the boys in the boat (Matthew 8:23-27). We don’t have to fret or strive or compensate for what we think we lack. We just have to trust.
That’s how God works. His currency is grace. He loves using the weakest people to accomplish his purposes. He thrives on filling cracked and fragile vessels with his power.
That’s exactly what he does throughout the Christmas story. He chooses an unwed young woman to carry his son. He reveals the glory of his son’s birth first to dirty, lowly shepherds taking care of their sheep. And he calls three magi – foreigners, exiles – to come worship Jesus. He does this by the sign of a star. A promise.
This isn’t the first time God uses stars as a promise of his provision and care. In his covenant with Abram, he references the stars to show how numerous Abram’s descendants will be – including Jesus, the one God would ultimately use to save the world.
The Psalmist also looks to the stars as a reflection of God’s goodness:
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
In comparison to God’s greatness, we are so small. But he offers us extravagant grace. God’s greatness is matched by his goodness. He sent his only Son into the world so that we could live through him (1 John 4:9). He wants us to have life in abundance (John 10:10). And He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
I have to let that sink in every day. God cares for me.
That truth changes everything. It means I’m not alone, I don’t have to provide for myself, and my life is not about me. It’s about the Master and the promise he’s written in the stars – that he’ll use my life to point others to his glory, if I let him.
So, this Christmas, I’m looking for the star in my own life. I’m asking what God wants to teach me each day. And I’m leaning into the discomfort and leaning on him to be my portion – to be enough for me. Because when I believe he is enough, the self-doubt and fear goes away.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)
I still experience sadness and loneliness from time to time – but it doesn’t get at my core quite as much. I can feel all the feels without turning them into truths about my value or worthiness. That’s the tension of the Christmas season. That’s the waiting inherent in Advent – waiting for God to break into the darkest, coldest night with his marvelous, glorious light. With a star. With his son. With the greatest gift: Immanuel. God with us. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. God loves us.
When I take the time to reflect on this gift, I’m much less concerned with my own inadequacies. When my heart is full of gratitude, I recognize that anything I give to others has already been given to me. It’s not mine to own or claim. It’s not a way of making up for my past mistakes. It’s simply a gift. A gift to hold loosely.
The only gift I get to cling to is grace. And that’s one I’m gripping onto tightly – today, tomorrow, and on into the new year. Grace, grace, and more grace.
Because when Jesus steps onto the scene, the soul feels its worth. Jesus knows our needs, and he sets up an entirely knew way of living. He removes our fear, and in its place, he cultivates faith. He operates out of love, and he comes proclaiming the good news of peace on earth. He’s writing a new story in our lives, and that’s more than enough cause for celebration.
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
– “O Holy Night”