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photo-1477728275068-39b7f46df4d2One year when my children were young we had purchased a large flocked artificial Christmas tree.  It was grand and full and magnificent and I could hardly wait to adorn it with the new decorations I had purchased.  I painstakingly placed each piece with care and when I had finally finished, stood back proudly to admire its beauty.

It was the first time all of our decorations had matched.  I remembered our first tree which I had decorated with strung popcorn, small candy canes, a box of my mom’s leftover decorations and a few lights.  The next year I had added decorations made out of dough.  The year after that I constructed brightly colored paper chains accompanied by a few sale ornaments I had purchased the year before. Then when our three children came along they added their own hand made additions to our humble collection.

But we had never had what I called a “decorator tree” where all the ribbons, the topper and the decorations had a similar theme.  It was like a choir all singing in the same key with me as the choir director.  I purchased coordinating gift wrapping and ribbons, instruments to accompany the visual melody of my perfect tree.  No off key notes allowed this holiday!

As the days progressed and the lists grew I found myself staying up later and getting up earlier in an attempt to complete all of my tasks for the absolutely perfect Christmas.  Plan the perfect Christmas menu, buy the perfect gifts, throw the perfect office party and sing perfectly on key in the church’s Christmas cantata.  

No off key notes allowed this holiday!

Throw in a few extra hours of addressing and mailing Christmas cards and packages, more shopping, extra cooking, additional decorating, multiple parties and Christmas caroling, chaperoning a progressive dinner party for teens and a weekend trip to visit my in laws and by the time Christmas was over I was far too exhausted to tear down the beautiful white tree.

The women’s Bible study I had been hosting in my home prior to the holidays had taken a few weeks’ break and would be resuming shortly after the New Year.  Each day I planned to take down the tree but simply seemed to run out of steam before I got to the task.

Eventually the Bible study resumed and with a half hearted apology I told the women I hoped to have the tree down by the next week.  A few minutes later one member of our group emerged from my guest bath and proceeded to inform me that my toilet paper was on the roller backwards.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” was my first thought.  “Does she know how lucky she is that I even remembered to PUT toilet paper in that bathroom?”  In my mind I was reviewing my hectic morning of preparing breakfast, dressing my two younger children, chauffeuring all three of them to school, cleaning up the kitchen, getting myself ready, reviewing the lesson and brewing a fresh pot of coffee. . .all before the doorbell rang.  And she’s worried that the toilet paper is facing the wrong direction?  Seriously?!

“Are you ever going to get that tree down?” she asked, entering the living room.  I’m not sure if it was HER perfectionism or my OWN that I saw mirrored in her that caused me to laugh, shrug my shoulders and say, “Actually I was thinking of just leaving it up and decorating it for Valentine’s Day.”

The group laughed along with me, not thinking I was serious but by the time February arrived I had found small red hearts and red polka dot ribbon to hang on the tree.  Against the lush white I found it to be absolutely stunning!  The Valentine tree had become my personal declaration of independence against the pull of perfectionism.  Although I did threaten to leave the tree up and decorate it for Easter, it was finally disassembled and stored the day after Valentine’s Day.

“Are you ever going to get that tree down?” she asked

Being a first born Type A high achiever, it’s easy for me to fall into the perfectionism pit.  Sometimes my motives are right but my methods could be improved (Example:  I want to bless a friend and make her feel special but my efforts are far too lavish and labored than is necessary to make it happen.)  At other times it’s not my methods but rather my motives that need to be apprehended (Example:  I want everything to be perfect so they’ll think more highly of me.)

It’s good for me to pull back every now and then and remind myself that everything doesn’t need to be perfect, especially at this time of the year when extra stressors and holiday activities can drain us of our energies.  Sometimes it’s good to choose calm over chaos and simple over sensational.  And sometimes it’s good to leave the Christmas tree up until Valentine’s Day!

A man laughingly told me the other day, “My wife is so OCD she has to call it CDO so all the letters are in the right order!”  I don’t know if what he told me is true or not but I do know that it’s so easy to become burdened with a multitude of details that we lose sight of the truly important.  

Sometimes it’s good to choose calm over chaos and simple over sensational.  And sometimes it’s good to leave the Christmas tree up until Valentine’s Day!

Our plight is highlighted in the story of two sisters, Martha and Mary, and their  opportunity to host a dinner for Jesus.  It’s easy for us to criticize Martha for all of her hurrying and scurrying and missing out on “the better thing”, a chance for intimate connection with The Lord.  

But to be perfectly honest, there have been plenty of Christmases when I have resembled Martha much more than Mary.  I’m sure Martha, like me, simply wanted things to be perfect for the occasion.  But Jesus, I am certain, would prefer my passion over my attempt at perfection.

The choice seems easy but the struggle to maintain our focus can be real.  Each year I hang a heart shaped ornament on my tree to remind myself to cease striving for perfection and to be at peace with myself and my surroundings.  Somehow celebrating the Prince of Peace in a frantic and frazzled fashion doesn’t seem in keeping with who He really is.  

So if your lists are shorter and your menu simpler but your Christmas is merry and bright I say hooray for you!   I’ll choose meaningful over manic and pleasant over perfect as the better way to celebrate Christmas any time.