By Jayne Hugo Davis
As we closed a committee meeting last week, I reminded the group that our next gathering would be our annual Christmas party. There was a collective gasp, but the calendar didn’t lie. Yet again, the days and months had flown swiftly by, and talk of mangers and mistletoe meant that the pace was about to pick up even more.
To speak of rest at this time of year is thought laughable by most. The idea of carving out margin — that open space in our calendars and our minds and our spirits that buffers the competing demands on our lives and makes room for creativity and reflection and being — gets written once more in the crazy dream column of our list for Santa.
“All I want for Christmas is rest.”
While we often look to our many activities and commitments and to do lists as the main thieves of our rest, the reality is even if we cleared our calendars, many of us would still be exhausted because our minds would still be full. Like the man portraying the Maytag refrigerator in the television commercial that never rests but keeps on running even after all the lights in the house have been turned off, the chatter in our head and the burdens in our heart are pulling energy 24/7.
Emotional rest, more than physical rest, may actually be the margin we are longing for.
In these days before the holiday season kicks off in earnest, there is a window of opportunity to create room in your life for emotional rest, to clear out space in the manger of your cluttered spirit that can hold the coming Christ child and receive the true gift of rest that Jesus brings.
Consider one of these spiritual practices as a gift that you might give yourself as you get ready for Christmas.
Decluttering our mind: The spiritual practice of a new message
In his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson talks about many of the enemies of emotional rest – worry, pride, unrealistic expectations, preoccupation with success and approval. Many people are exhausted because of the tapes constantly running in their head. Thoughts of not being good enough. Beating ourselves up for making that same mistake — again. Imagining the worst of what people might be thinking or saying about us. It doesn’t matter that our imaginings are rarely true. The mental hamster wheel consumes our mind and drains the emotional margin out of our lives.
It’s like the messed up old 45 I had of Don McLean’s song, American Pie, which skipped every time “we played dirges in the dark … in the dark … in the dark .…” As if the song wasn’t interminable already, it predictably hit a rut and stayed there — every time.
You know the rut in your life. The place, the thought, the relationship where the mental chatter goes nowhere good and, in fact, just plays the same destructive word over and over and over again. We all have thoughts we need to replace.
Jesus countered Satan’s lies with Scripture. Find a verse or a phrase or a word that reminds you of God’s presence, of God’s care for you. Then pay attention to the songs that skip in your head every time they play. Begin to anticipate them. Recognize that first chord and immediately choose God’s word for you instead. Repeat it over and over to yourself, until the negative chatter begins to wane.
Decluttering the heart: The spiritual practice of forgiveness
“Whom have we thrown into our debtor’s prison?”
That’s a powerful question asked by Stephen Bryant and Marjorie Thompson in The Way of Forgiveness.
“Every one of us has a dungeon inside where we hold captive those who owe us for aggravation, insult, cheating, lying, manipulation, or any form of harm,” they say.
We know we’ve put folks in there “if we go in every so often and ‘beat them up’ with angry thoughts, vengeful fantasies, bad wishes and curses, and resentful replays of conversations in which we really ‘tell them off.’”
Is there someone in your debtor’s prison? How much emotional energy does it take to house them there?
Forgiveness may be one of the most difficult and most simple gifts we can give this Christmas. But, as author Tim Kimmel notes, “It’s a gift that, once given, offers something in return. Your spirit gets a rest.”
Are you tired?
Declutter your spirit. Create room for the Christ child in your life — and find the rest you long for.