I’m pulling out another old post and dusting it off. This week I ended up getting myself in over my head as far as Christmas obligations go. It looks like next week might be the same way. As I was shopping for some minute items needed for a holiday display that I shouldn’t have agreed to make, I remembered this blog post. “I should re-read that….” I muttered to myself, while searching for kumquats in the citrus section of Meijer. Kumquats, people, kumquats. I really was going a little nuts. When I came home (kumquat-less) I took the time to find this article and I had a little session of “self-counsel.”
Anyway, I hope that your Christmas season is going well. Perhaps you have a better grasp on the priorities of Christmas, but if not, maybe this little post will prove helpful. It has already helped me : ).
Ah, Christmas. I have a love/hate relationship with this whole season. Beginning immediately after Thanksgiving, this holly-jolly season arrives and settles itself comfortably into every nook and cranny of my day-to-day life. On some days I have nothing but love for the decorations, the music, the special programs, the food, the crafts, the presents…really, it’s joy tinged with warm and child-like wonderfulness. But on some days I’m convinced that “creating Christmas spirit” and “spreading holiday cheer” are really code for things like “migraine alert” and “frantic trips to Michael’s Craft Store.” I’m going to make a pretty safe bet that many of you women feel similarly. We’ve even probably passed each other in the Michael’s parking lot a time or two : )
This year seems to be even more frantic than normal. Last week the frenetic pace reached a crisis level in my life. As a result, there came a moment when my emotional stability came crashing down. (Much like my mother-in-law’s Christmas tree came crashing down a mere ten minutes after Brenn walked through her front door. Ah, the unfettered destructive nature of toddlers. But I digress.)
Last Thursday I decided to fulfill that un-written yet overwhelmingly expected obligation of baking Christmas cookies. Like millions of other users, I logged on to Pinterest (you can follow me here!) that morning to peruse my cookie-making options. In early morning light, with a cup of coffee and the silence that only still-sleeping toddlers can account for, I clicked through numerous food blogs until I had chosen three new recipes to try.
With a two-birds-with-one-stone mentality, I merrily decided to include the boys in my cookie-making afternoon. (In hindsight, I’m realizing that I rely on that idiom far too much and often to my detriment.)
I embarked on this mother-son bonding experience with Christmas music playing, recipes printed, and ingredients almost artful arranged across my counter (a la Ina Garten or Giada de Laurentis). I disembarked from the cookie-making ship about four hours later, angry, messy and with a kitchen that looked like…well…your kitchen has looked after a singularly bad cooking experience.
The surprising thing is, I wasn’t angry or messy because of the boys. I was angry and messy because of my own stubborn nature.
Jack and Brenn had enthusiastically helped me measure and mix the dough for a set of cinnamon-roll sugar cookies. They did great. Jack read the instructions, Brenn learned how to turn on my mixer (a dangerous thing as I think of his tendency to pull chairs over to the counter and investigate whenever I’m out of the kitchen) and we had a glorious time “testing” the cookie dough. (These were the cookies we made. No bad – but I think a second try would make them perfect : )
But then the boys got bored and I decided to make the other two cookies by myself. I cleaned the boys off and sent them into the living room to play.
After that things began to unravel. The egg whites for my next recipe didn’t whip up and I became frustrated. Those darn egg-whites were getting the best of me! With an air of defiance, I went through two (count them! two!) cartons of eggs, trying to figure out WHY they weren’t fluffing. After numerous attempts and the use of the scientific process (see! I was paying attention in highschool!) I finally discovered that peppermint extract causes egg whites to deflate and become whip-resistant. Who knew? So an hour and lots of cracked eggs later, I finally finished my meringue cookies.
However, that hour also had seen the boys trying to get my attention for numerous and normal little-boy reasons. With each interruption I became more and more irritated with them. I start snapping at them and even though my egg-whites didn’t whip up, my temper certainly reached the stiff-peaks level.
And well, I solved this problem by putting the boys down for an early nap. In a fit of grim determination to finish the cookies at all cost I ignored their tearful pleas and put them in bed. And don’t look at me that way. You’ve done it too. I know.
Finally, I tackled the last cookie recipe. With lots of tweaks and steps involved I think I managed to cover all my counters with dishes and my table with flour and poorly measured pieces of parchment paper. But after four and a half hours in the kitchen I was finally done.
And guess what! After all this (all this!) only one of the three cookies even tasted good. The meringues were a little gummy, the gingerbread too stiff. Paul came home and after an obligatory taste test he timidly asked “Um, why didn’t you just make normal cookies?” (aka, oatmeal raisin…his holy grail of cookies.) It was at this point that I emotionally crashed and burned. Poor Paul.
After my emotional burnout (complete with tears and a vicious cleaning of my kitchen while Paul hustled the kids off to another part of the house), I made a cup of coffee and sat down to think.
Paul has told me that a good way to measure the worth of an activity is to think of it in light of the judgment seat (2 Cor 5:9-10)—where God rewards and praises us (I Peter 1:7) for the good we have done through his grace. Not light sounding advice, I know, but really helpful once you begin to use it. When I stand before my loving God and together we review the actions of my life that pleased him, will making these particular Christmas cookies be included? After examining my motives and actions, will making them be part of his commendation of “well done, good and faithful servant? (Matt 25:23)” Or will my Christmas cookies be conspicuously absent?
(As an aside: I think that there is certainly a sliding scale when it comes to motive because really, no human is every going to have 100% godly motives for anything. In the end, I’d give those cookies a 20% good, 80% bad rating).
So in light of the judgment seat question, here are the conclusions that I reached.
First, engaging in holiday activities is not wrong.
I think there has been a back-lash against women who enjoy crafting, baking, decorating, and other pinterest-worthy activities. We need to make sure we aren’t judging each other by any standard other than the one that God gave us in scripture. God has made each of us with unique abilities and areas of enjoyment that he wants us to use to his glory (Eph 2:10). If you are gifted at baking, then bake! If you enjoy decorating, I’ll give you my Michael’s coupons! If you like coming up with creative ways to hide the Elf on the Shelf, then post pictures because doing that every night takes talent : ). The point is, our creative outlets should be governed by God’s foundational expectations first, and our personal gifts and talents second. Wouldn’t it be great if we as women could honestly rejoice in the abilities of our friends without feeling threatened? If we could see pictures of crafts, art, food, clothes etc. without having that subtle and conniving sense of inferiority sneak into our thoughts? How freeing that would be! Pinterest would no longer be a means of measuring my own inability (honestly, Martha Stewart accomplished that little task years ago : ) but rather just a cool site that gives me lots of ideas for free! Even after looking at cookies like these, I could chuckle (bahahahah) and go make my awesomely normal chocolate chip cookies, take them to my neighbors and friends and not once feel somehow delinquent as a women!
Second, engaging in holiday activities at the expense of other priorities is wrong.
My reason for making cookies wasn’t entirely bad. We have new neighbors and I wanted to follow a time-honored tradition of bringing cookies to those who live around us. It would have been a way to meet them and become engaged in their lives. Also, I really did want to spend some quality time with the boys. Both motives were good. The problem arrived when I let those good motives slip away at the expense of creating cookies that met my own personal standard (aka, perfection as defined in a random food blog). I let irritation and anger slither in when I should have been loving my boys more than I loved those darn meringues. I let a desire to create something perfect overshadow my desire to use my time wisely (four hours is a boat-load of time during the month of December). I finished my day tired, overwhelmed and with a worse relationship with my husband and children then when I started. A task that I began as a ministry had changed into an idol. (So sneaky!!) After the first disastrous egg whipping fiasco, I should have stepped back and evaluated my heart and mind. Once I saw the seeds of anger and perfectionism I should have made myself stop (Phil 4:8). Made myself put the ingredients for those super-impressive cookies away and pulled out the tried and true chocolate-chip cookie recipe. If I had done that, I could have reinstated my biblical priorities, ministered to my neighbors with yummy (though maybe not super festive) cookies, had a kitchen that didn’t resemble a disaster zone when finished and had children who didn’t want to rise up and call me evil and mean : ).
As silly as it sounds, I really should have remembered the judgment seat. Remembered that God is not partial to any particular cookie. That rather, he will be pleased with a woman who values his promises and commands more than her own personal expectations.
So friends, go enjoy the holiday season. But remember to keep your heart focused on what is true, and not some sneaky lie that tricks us into concentrating on those things that really don’t matter.
And if you are particularly good at baking oatmeal raisin cookies, then Paul would encourage you to use your gifts and abilities and bring him a plate or two : )