I recently read 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 for this guy. 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 to make. 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 hiding him in a cabinet.
And of course my wife doesn’t help my cause. The other 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.
Pretty soon our kids are going to figure this out.
Looks like Dad hid the elf again…
But instead of putting pressure on myself to be perfect, I’m learning to slow down and really think this Christmas thing through.
We laugh at movies like Christmas Vacation because we’re really no different from Clark Griswold. We so badly want the fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas in the midst of our crazy, busy mess. We want the perfect present under the perfectly decorated tree and perfectly behaved kids for the perfect Christmas card to hopefully cover up the fact that, deep down, we feel less than perfect. And every year we sit exhausted, in a pile of crumbled wrapping paper, making resolutions that next year will be different.
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 a way of getting 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 my kids (or me) the kind of joy that they really need.
True joy has to come from someplace deeper.
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 this year. It’s as if God were setting an example that we should imitate.
1. God showed His humility
The Christmas story is about God humbling Himself to share in our condition in a most unusual fashion. It was anything but perfect. Jesus was born outside of the city to a lower-class, teenage couple and placed in a manger—hardly the welcome for a king.
But I think that’s our reminder that it’s not about the best-looking house, the most well-dressed kids, or the most crafty Christmas card, it’s about the condition of our heart. If we’re working by our own effort to craft something perfect, then we will bear the weight of making it perfect. But if we learn to humble ourselves, we’ll see a picture of imperfection that removes the pressure.
At Christmas, God reminds us that humility assumes the heart of a servant. Yes, it hides elves, gives gifts, and decorates trees, but not out of a pressure to perform rather out of a response of joy. And that same humility also listens patiently, offers forgiveness, refuses pride, admits fault, and apologizes.
2. God gave us a gift we didn’t earn
I love the idea of Santa Claus, but we have seriously mistaken the concept of generosity. Santa Clause operates under the mantra, “Do good and you’ll earn a blessing.” God operates under the mantra, “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 join us in our mess. Jesus’s name, Immanuel, means “God with us.”
This concept of grace is never more present than it is at Christmastime. God made Himself available in the moment—to be present. He chose here over there—earth over heaven. A culture that is trying to earn this gift will be consumed with perfection as a way to get what they believe they deserve. A culture consumed with His grace will embrace imperfection because they know they could never earn His gift.
And when we live from His grace, we give more 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, have three sons under the age of five and they’re expecting their first daughter any day now. 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