“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C S Lewis
“If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.” Romans 8
What do you want for Christmas?
Its a question I hope you get asked at least once this season. And surely most of us will. But even the question itself is a gift we rarely realize. Not everyone has people that care this much about them. God have mercy.
The most natural response to the question is to get busy making a list. My extended family nowadays even emails them with links. And in only a series of clicks, we can send each other a tangible trinket. Amazon Prime is the new verb in our house, as in, “Prime it to ‘em!”
All of this is good in a certain way, this gift giving. Its a ritual of generosity, of honoring desire for another person. I like a love that gives like this. I also happen to believe God is a materialist anyway. He loves stuff. He did after all make a lot of things to taste, touch, see, smell, and hear. Yes of course it can get carried away. But isn’t that true of just about every good thing? (I don’t know, can you do too much broccoli?)
Letting Your Heart Stretch
Anyway, back to the lecture at hand. Think of that question again: What do you want for Christmas?
Nothing implicit in the question says it has to be a list of stuff.
We instinctually jump right away to the store bought sort of things. And every retailer everywhere works hard to make sure this continues for you. An iPad, new shirt, those gloves, that TV, or at the very least a gift card. With an ad everywhere at all times, they hope you never catch on, never lift your head. Like a cow constantly grazing just one more tuft of clover.
But the question itself is so big, so full, so open. Rarely do we let our hearts get up and stretch like this. What do you want for Christmas is really an even bigger question— what do you want in your life in general?
So what do you want in life these days? What are you hoping for in the next few years? What do you want to be different in your marriage, your relationships, job, your city, the world? If you could dream without limit, what would you want life to be like? At some point we have to stand up and name this kind of stuff or we are apt to forget it.
But that can get overwhelming fast. We’re not used to this kind of vista view for our heart. Its harrowing, maybe even painful to stir all that desire. And once you do, then what? A lot of this stuff we probably can’t fix or make better. Or at least not easily. And that’s hard. Desire is complicating. Big desire is extra complicating. The reality is too, we may have no clue what we want. Life can do this, disorient us to our heart’s deepest desires. And then again, what do you do once you do name this?
Okay so maybe start here. A few years back, Amanda and I started making a different sort of Christmas list. We use this one to collect all those things we do that makes Christmas bigger for us. Its all the experiences that got us in touch with our deeper desires, our greater hopes.
On it we have stuff like: go cut a tree in Pike National Forest, because its adventure and connection with family and beauty all at the same time. Amanda and I read the Christmas story from Luke 2 lectio divina style (look it up here) on Christmas eve. Its one way we create space for God to speak to us.
Here’s another: Get pizza on Christmas Eve with the boys and drive around looking at Christmas lights while we eat it in the car. Yes, its a tradition from my childhood to go look at lights. But its also a way to witness light shining into darkness. And one more, we listen to Handel’s Messiah (preferably live) all the way through. Its such a journey through the story of God coming to earth.
I’ve come to appreciate this list as much as any gift I receive.
In a season that stokes so much desire and offers so much indulgence, we can easily satiate our body and starve our soul. We need to practice longing as much as we practice fulfilling this season. And we must honor that a Christmas list of stuff is much too small a playground for our hearts’ to play.
I wonder what would be on your list. What makes Christmas alive for you? What songs will you sing? What words will you recite? What sights will you see? What people will you hug?
What will you do to allow your heart to want all that it wants?
From the first quote to the last lines, this is golden. I grew up in a church that so strongly preached that desires will always lead to sin and that all our desires are wrong. Though I have been out of that church for 10 years now, it’s amazing how much I’m still breaking out of it. After I read that last line, I found myself thinking “WHAT?! I’m allowed to let me heart want all that it wants?!?!”
So I have been. And it’s SO good. I’m writing down what I want from this new year and just letting it all rise. And there is so much there! I’m just letting my heart stay in this place for a while. The stretching is so healing.
Thank you for sharing this, Sam.
Sam, your writing is excellent. Very relevant and challenging. I check your blog every couple of weeks, hoping something new is up! Keep writing, it’s been a while!
Ah, Mary Ann, thank you for your encouragement. There is much writing going on. But its been a greater war. I am not done. There will be more to come!