I recently read a story about an ambitious dad who decided to trump the Elf on the Shelf tradition by actually dressing up as the elf himself. Apparently, hiding a stuffed elf every night wasn’t challenging enough.
His story went viral.
Touché elf dad, pictures of you dressed up like a life-sized elf duct-taped to the wall are on every news site in America. Clark Griswold, eat your heart out.
But I have a confession. When I see stories like this it makes me feel insufficient. Like I’m less of a dad than I should be. The truth is, most nights, I avoid hiding the elf because I’ve run out of ideas or I’m just too tired to put in the effort. I end up half-heartedly hanging the elf upside down on the ceiling fan or throwing him in a cabinet.
Of course my wife doesn’t help my cause. Last night, she created a scene where the elf was playing cards with a stuffed reindeer, complete with a handwritten note, in elf lettering, encouraging our sons to place a gift in a special bag for someone less fortunate this Christmas.
Thanks, babe. Pretty soon our kids are going to figure this out.
Looks like Dad hid the elf again…
But instead of living beneath the pressure of perfection, I’m learning to slow down and focus on something else.
Finding Joy in Imperfection
We laugh at movies like Christmas Vacation because we’re really no different than Clark Griswold. We want the fun, old-fashioned family Christmas in the midst of our crazy, busy mess.
But what if we want the perfect present under the perfectly decorated tree and perfectly behaved kids for the perfect Christmas card to cover up the fact that, deep down, we feel less than perfect?
Listen, I want nothing more than to see my kids’ eyes filled with joy, but I think that while our intentions are pure, our motives have gotten off track. If we’re going to these lengths to earn our kids’ love or compete with our neighbor or make up for a year of mistakes, they’re temporary fixes at best. Spying elves and gifts from Santa and well-decorated trees will never bring the kind of joy that we really need.
Two Gifts of the Christmas Story
As I slow down and remember the Christmas story, I see two unassuming gifts that should be the foundation of our joy. And I’m not simply talking about the cliche “Remember the reason for the season.” That sounds good on an Instagram post, but what does it really look like lived out?
At Christmas, God set the example that we should imitate.
1. We Find God in the Mess
We’ve become conditioned to expect perfection at Christmas. As a result, we pride ourselves on presenting a picture of perfection. But the Christmas story is about God humbling Himself to share in our condition in a most imperfect fashion. Jesus was born outside of the city to a lower-class, teenage couple and placed in a messy manger—hardly the welcome for a king. If anything, that comforts me to know that we don’t find God in the midst of perfection, we find him in its absence.
It’s not about the best-looking house, the most well-dressed kids, or the most crafty Christmas card. If we work by our own effort to craft something perfect, then we bear the weight of making it perfect. But if we learn to humble ourselves and embrace the mess, we’ll see a picture of imperfection that removes the pressure.
At Christmas, God was vulnerable. That’s a powerful thought to consider. A thought that reminds us to be vulnerable as well. At Christmas, we need to be vulnerable enough to expose ourselves to those that are hurting, vulnerable enough to leave the comfort of our circumstance and vulnerable enough to become a servant. Yes, we should hide elves, give gifts, and decorate trees, but not out of a pressure to perform.
2. A Gift We Didn’t Earn
I love the idea of Santa Claus, but we have seriously mistaken the concept of generosity. Santa operates under the mantra, “Do good and you’ll earn a blessing.” Curiously, that’s how most religions operate—the benefits follow the behavior. The harder we work, the more effort we put in and the better we are, the more we receive. But at Christmas, God abolished the religious narrative.
In fact, I once heard Tim Keller say, “Christmas was the end of religion.” Essentially, the story of Christmas is God saying, “I’ve given you something you can’t earn.” God isn’t a grandfather-like character who keeps a pressure-filled list of those who are naughty and nice, He’s a loving Father who stooped down to give us something we didn’t deserve. Jesus’s name, Immanuel, means “God with us.”
Living From Grace
This concept of grace is never more present than it is at Christmastime. God made Himself available in the moment. In short, He chose to be present. He chose here over there, earth over heaven. A culture that is constantly trying to earn His gift will be consumed with perfection. A culture consumed by His grace will embrace imperfection because they know that all they have, they have been given. Consequently, when we live from His grace, we give freely because we have all we’ll ever need.
If you find yourself feeling the pressure of creating a perfect Christmas this year, pause and remember the Christmas story. It is a story of imperfection to meet us in the midst of ours.
When my kids look back on their childhood, I don’t want them to remember perfect Christmases. I want them to remember a humble father who was willing to extend his grace. Because that is a picture of what has been done for us.
About the Author:
Matt and his wife, Liz, live in Wilmington, NC with their three sons and one daughter. Matt is an author and speaker who encourages people to focus on the true riches of life. A cancer diagnosis at the age of thirty-two gave him a new perspective on living the “good life.”
His first book, Redefine Rich, is a story of his journey. Learn more about the book
Matt is also the cofounder of YouPrint, a faith development organization that helps people wake up their why and live fully in their gifts. Learn more at www.youprint.life.