©2014 Lynn Abbott
Each holiday season, I long to paint Norman Rockwell settings: brightly festooned, Christmas trees; beautiful bedecked and holly laden mantles; candles lighting snow-smothered paths; and the jing-jangling of sleigh bells…Traditions delineate the picture perfect days.
My life? Not so much. Yet, I give it my feeble best.
You’d think I’d learn.
After all, each year, the same quest for the quintessential Christmas drives me. And I transform into a kind of Holiday Tasmanian devil, spinning wildly in my attempts to beautifully enact every holiday tradition.
As the autumn leaves begin to drift, and the mist rolls in to blanket the spiky boughs of deciduous trees, my Christmas manic madness unfolds: gifts created; Christmas decor hung; meals prepared; art gallery events attended and Christmas shoe boxes packed… Well, you get the idea.
And to be honest, I’ve never been particularly good at juggling.
One fateful evening during a previous Christmas season, I felt especially rushed. An upcoming deadline for a landscape painting had consumed my time that day, and dinnertime caught me unprepared.
Yet, in the spirit of all things Martha Stewart, I threw a pot of homemade, cream of tomato soup on the stove. As dinner simmered, I put a few finishing touches on my landscape.
I felt confident. After all, excepting the fact that earlier in the day, I had absent-mindedly dipped an acrylic, pigment-filled paintbrush in my teacup instead of my paint bucket, my day had been surprisingly free from the usual multitasking disasters.
Given the lateness of the hour, I decided to streamline my meal preparation a little, and eliminate one step in my “gourmet” ritual. And so, with cheese grater in hand, I stood tippy toe over a pot of soup.
As the sharp cheddar flakes fluttered from grater to the bubbling tomato base, I noticed a strange odor. Something was definitely wrong.
“What’s that smell?” I said to no one in particular. “It smells as though something is burning.”
I put the grater down and reached for a wooden spoon. At that moment, I discovered the source of the malodorous affront. My baggy, favorite sweatshirt smoldered. Indeed, the flames were growing by the moment.
Apparently, I had leaned rather too closely to the open gas flame.
“Oh, help,” I whimpered rather piteously. “Oh, dear. Oh, help.”
“What is it?” said my son, finally looking up from the computer. With two sparse words, he assessed the situation: “Not Again…”
He rolled his eyes, and then, launched his holiday homily.
He recounted all my epic kitchen fails–my close encounters with gas flames–and he finally concluded, “You shouldn’t hurry, Mom. You’re no good at multitasking. It always ends in disaster.”
I didn’t have time to consider the wisdom of his words. Instead, I made a mad dash for the kitchen sink.
Yes, in a matter of moments, while my son spoke so articulately, I successfully doused myself. And lived to see another day.
Consumed with frantic activity, my days from November through December nearly go up in flames. And I have discovered that the busier I get, the more prayer is necessary… at least, for the sake of my family’s safety.
However, I tend to push aside my time with Abba when I get overly focused on my “to-do” list. This is especially true when I chase those Norman Rockwell dreams. However, as my well-intentioned plans invariably go up in flames, I regret that I didn’t lay the day’s tasks at Abba’s feet.
When I finally stand still, I remember the example that our Savior set. If anyone ever had a massive “to-do” list and limited time, it was Christ.
Enormous crowds demanded Christ’s time. Human hearts desired comfort, broken bodies needed redemption, and souls longed for God.
With such an incredibly vast ministry to fit into three short years, Christ certainly could have justified working ’round the clock.
Yet, He took time away to sit with His Father. For example, I read in Mark 6:46 that after feeding the five thousand, Jesus sent his disciples to Bethsaida by boat.
Mark significantly writes, “After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.”
Even as the tasks increased, Christ did not neglect time with His Father.
“I don’t have time for that today,” I frequently tell myself.
Yet, in the midst of frenetic activity, human need for God is all the greater.
Jesus, God incarnate, knew this to be true not only for himself but also for us. Just prior to feeding the five thousand, He invited His disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” (Mark 6:30).
Yes, Abba knows us. He understands that we fray around the edges if we neglect our time with Him.
In fact, without Him, my life can easily devolve into a simple list of traditions, obligations and “must do’s.” And even though I know better, I unfortunately find myself scrambling to fulfill that never-ending holiday list.
I forget that my multitasking story always ends in disaster. Or that, without Christ’s strength, my human efforts invariably go up in flames.
Grace, however, offers another way. Through grace, a relationship with the Father supersedes and frees me from all the platter juggling.
Instead, He calls, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” (Matt. 11:28-29).
And like a weary Elijah, I sit and unload my cares before my loving and compassionate Father. I imagine He smiles tenderly when this warrior-child echoes Elijah, “I have had enough, Lord,” (1 Kings 19:3b).
Abba is like that. He gives grace upon grace.
In fact, after the overwhelming task and victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah–the seemingly powerful and bold prophet of God–collapsed in exhaustion. When he awakened from well-earned sleep, an angel provided nourishment.
Then, scripture records an event that captures the tenderness and grace that God offers His children.
Much to my surprise, Elijah was not reprimanded for his weariness nor was he scolded for his complaints. Rather, God met him where he was.
Just outside the mountainside cave where Elijah hid from his enemies, a mighty wind passed; an earthquake and fire followed.
Yet, God did not speak to Elijah through the wind, earthquake, or fire.
Instead, a gentle whisper restored Elijah’s weary soul (1 Kings 19:12). Grace comforted and supplied the prophet’s needs. God had a game plan for His prophet that included not only rest but help for the remainder of Elijah’s journey.
Abba’s yoke is that of grace.
Yes, in the quiet, Elijah heard Abba’s gentle and compassionate whisper. In the stillness, the child finds God’s gracious plan. All is stripped away, and God’s presence renews and restores.
For this reason, when my tasks and responsibilities overwhelm me, I remind myself to run daily into the heavenly throne room and to climb into Abba’s lap. I know I need only give Him my Christmas lists.
He will guide me.
No matter the season… For this child, still moments with Abba are an absolute necessity.
As Christmas nears, then, instead of frantically painting every Christmas “to-do,” I plan to ponder the comfort found in Abba’s arms. And there, I know I’ll find rest for my soul because Abba has promised His grace to direct and sustain me.
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,” ~ Isaiah 40:29-31
“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of our cause like the noonday sun,. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him…” ~Psalm 37:5-7a
“Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall,” ~Psalm 55:22