Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Presence

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone, my hope comes from Him. Psalm 62:5

I love the Christmas season. The lights, music and good food. Decorating the house. Decorating the tree--which can take a week if you do it right (the anal retentive "I know exactly where each ornament should go" way I do). Visiting with family and friends. And presents. Presents are always welcome. But for many years the holiday season marked my annual descent into fatigue and depression, as I tried to do everything I usually did on top of Christmas baking, shopping, cleaning for company, wrapping gifts and additional social events. And about five years ago we began celebrating Hanukkah too. By the time New Year’s arrived. I was often completely exhausted, physically and spiritually. I finally realized it was because I didn't adequately rest. By rest, I don’t mean sleep, but regular times of quiet to refresh my soul. When I have a lot to do. It is unthinkable to waste even 15 minutes just sitting--it feels like doing nothing. I would make time for devotions and prayer, gutting my way through the disciplines that I would feel guilty skipping. The ones I get internal (and external) brownie points for doing. But rest is very easy to drop. I usually do not realize that I have neglected it until I find myself wondering where God has gone. His voice grows silent when I let myself become too busy to spend time with Him.

I’ve been reading through the gospel of Mark this month and enjoying the simplicity of the message. I was struck by the passage early in Mark 6 where Jesus sent out the disciples on their own to preach repentance and pray for the sick. Later in that same chapter, the guys have returned and are relating to Jesus all that they taught and did. Verse 31 says that there were so many people coming and going that they couldn’t even find time to eat. So Jesus says to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Oh the loving kindness of Jesus! His concern was not only for the ministry He was handing over to His followers, but their physical and emotional needs as well. His statement reminds me that especially during times of busyness and stress, I need to take time away from my schedule, away from others and decompress. Rest is not something that can be relegated to when I have extra time. Rest is important. Jesus wasn't telling them to go take a nap (though I believe naps are from God), He was inviting them to spend time with Him, visiting or just sitting in companionable silence. His very presence had power to refresh and strengthen them. And thankfully, that power is available to us today.

Spiritual rest is the time I spend being with Him. Rest is vital, especially this time of year when I can become so focused on Christmas that I lose focus on Christ. I need regular dips into the refreshing pool of His presence--I need Him. In recent years I’ve adopted a more ruthless holiday perspective, giving myself permission not to attend every party; not to give a gift to every, single person I’ve ever met; not to feel guilty when my house doesn’t look like a Martha Stewart special; not to spend the entire month of December baking and crafting. I still enjoy Christmas, but no longer get to January out of gas and wondering whether I'd enjoy it more if someone else was responsible for making it all happen.
The time you spend quieting your surroundings and yourself is time well spent. Take even fifteen minutes watching birds at a feeder; sit quietly by the fireplace and enjoy the fire; go for an afternoon walk. Enjoy a piece of fudge...then enjoy another! The hardest thing can be to turn off all technology (especially those pesky phones) and permit God to use the simplicity of silence to murmur what you cannot hear when your mind is filled with noise and bustle. Just like the disciples, we all need times of quiet and rest, drawing near to Him so He can renew us with His presence.

This time of year rest may seem a wasteful extravagance, but wasting time on God is never a waste. When the holidays begin to feel overwhelming I want to remember that Jesus is calling me to come away with Him and rest. I like Christmas presents, but the best one of all is His presence.
May you have a restful Christmas, full of the refreshing, strengthening, nourishing presence of Jesus.

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