“Stuff”, Soul, and the elusive “Selfless Good Deed”

Today I mailed off about a million (I never exaggerate) Christmas cards. My apathy related procrastination ensured that they acquired the coveted 12-12-12 postmark. (I don’t know of anyone who actually covets a postmark, but you can bet I used that fantasy to comfort myself that my apathy has paid off tremendously.)
Ella helped me to mail the millions of cards today, she would blink furiously in anticipation of the box slamming shut and then giggle with delight. It was ridiculously adorable.  Having a toddler is not without its perks
I feel a great sense of relief that the Christmassy “stuff” is mostly out of the way . Almost all of the  presents have been procured and wrapped.  The Christmas cards have been entrusted to USPS. The house is decorated. Other than baking and some super secret projects, we’re in good shape “stuff”-wise.
Aaron took this owlish shot of me as I emerged triumphantly from my “wrapping cave” on Sunday. (The children were not as awed by that pile as I would have liked)… The second picture is what I saw last night as I was turning off the lights before bed. Ella loves her “boos” so much, I love Ella and we all love brown paper packages tied up in string (Vintage string to boot! A whole skein of it! 50c from Goodwill!)
Hey am not going to lie. I enjoy the “stuff.”  And I think it has its place. I enjoy my annual shopping trip with my friend Cindi, I even enjoy wrapping presents and addressing cards. I love (sort of) to decorate the house. Mostly I love the rituals of these things and how festive and cozy and traditional they feel. All that said, I do find a great sense of relief when the major projects are squared away, because it clears up space in my cluttered brain to reflect on what I want this season to be and mean for my soul and the souls of my family.
We do a lot of fun service type things in December. There is a lot of sneaking around on cold December nights…kids stealthily hiding under porches in the snow as we sit in the van to signal that things are “safe” with the headlights…some of my most cherished memories will always be the time we spend together doing these things, the giddy, giggling getaways and carefully planned creative surprises.  And yes, while doing things for others is definitely within the spirit of Christmas,to some extent it is also “stuff”. These things are fun, they are rewarding, they give us a warm fuzzy feeling but I’m not sure how much they change our souls. And if there was ever a time to remember to focus on your soul, Christmas is as good a time as any…
At the beginning of this month I pondered what I wanted to do to show my appreciation for Jesus Christ and His Atonement. I knew it should be something that really stretched me, something that brought me closer to Him.  Maybe something I really didn’t want to do but would be willing to do anyway, to show Him how much I love and appreciate Him.  As I pondered my options I realized once again that everything I could do for Him, everything He has asked me to do, is ultimately not for His benefit or glory at all. He wants me to do it because He loves me, and He knows that everything I do for Him will bring me joy, peace, an increase of understanding, an increase of patience, righteousness and serenity. And that’s all He wants. He just wants me to be as happy and whole as I can be.
When I think about it, that’s all I want from my kids.  Everything I ask/beg/beseech/nag them to do is because I (in my limited wisdom and dubious judgment) believe that it will lead to their future success and happiness. When they do the right things, (or what I perceive to be the right things,) I am overjoyed…because I believe they are contributing to their future, if not immediate peace. When they make good choices and do hard work, I am convinced that they are making deposits into their happiness banks.
So basically deciding on a gift for Christ reminds me a lot of the “Selfless Good Deed” Friends episode..
At the beginning of the month I came up with the idea of reading the Book of Mormon in its  entirety between the 1st and 25th of December. Not an impossible feat by any means, but it would take some concerted effort.  I am sorry to say, that didn’t go as well as I had intended. I got behind on day 2 and never caught up, then I lost my motivation and started to feel like a worm. Which I’m pretty sure is not a helpful thing. So I abandoned that. When I think about it,  I’m afraid it was a bit too much of a “challenge to be conquered” rather than a gift of the soul. I’m still thinking about and looking for the the grand gesture, but I’m thinking more about the gift of a mighty change of heart.
When I considered it, I realized that a lot of the conflict in my life stems from wanting to be understood and wanting my actions, thoughts and decisions to be universally approved of. If I feel that I have been misunderstood, or if I feel in any way out of synch with anyone else, I instantly have a sense of anxiousness and become preoccupied with trying to right that wrong to persuade and convince..to get onto the same page. Because surely, someone not agreeing with ME means that the Earth is off of its axis?  Logically, I know that this is ridiculous, but with some shame I have realized that almost all the tensions, anger and hurt feelings in my relationships come from this form of pride.  
This month in my attempt to give more of my soul over to the Lord, I have been consciously trying to recognize when I feel wronged, misunderstood or slighted. (Sometimes I feel so much of those emotions so frequently that they all run together without me even noticing and become a dark mood…origin unknown). And so I have tried to pay attention to each time I notice the elevation of my heart and racing of my mind when I sense that someone is not on my side or Heaven Forbid, looks down on or disapproves of me. 
And then I’ve tried to stand back and take a deep breath and ask myself why this is important enough to ruin my peace.  What do I care if a person who is equal in the sight of God to me may or may not feel that I am less than?  Why does it bother me if something I’ve said in good faith has been misconstrued? Why do I get angry and anxious and irritated when I feel as though I have been ridiculed or treated dismissively? Why do I think that I deserve to be agreed with, approved of and respected by every person on the planet? What makes my opinion more valid, my thoughts so important, my feelings so precious?  Why do I worry about how I am seen in the eyes of other people? Why do I focus so heavily on my feelings at all? Why am I not more preoccupied by how I may be making other people feel? More importantly, why am I not constantly checking in for the only approval that really matters, that of God? 
No doubt there is a certain amount of my tendency to obsess about approval that is part of my mental and chemical makeup. I am just naturally more prone to these thought processes than my husband for instance. But there’s also a large part of it which has become habit. A comfortable old frenemy I cuddle up with almost daily. You know the one –the frenemy who gives you a tiny rush of excitement and satisfaction but ultimately leaves you feeling worse about yourself and the world at large?  This is a habit that I can give up as my gift. 
Much like using my husband’s credit card to pay for his Christmas gift, I have been asking God for help with this. And I know that He is more than delighted to oblige me. I know this because when I ask sincerely and try sincerely, I am helped almost immediately. It doesn’t make the change of heart easy, but it makes it possible. Each time I commit myself to giving up this ugly burden as my gift of gratitude, I am gifted in return with a little bit more perspective, a tiny bit more clarity, and some precious glimmer of objectiveness just when I most need it. On the days that I ask for that help, and I use that help, I feel so much more peace.
So no, I guess there is no purely selfless gift I can give the Lord, but I know He is OK with that. His greatest joy is found in my peace. His atoning sacrifice was made for me…even if I’d been the only person to have benefited from it.  By utilizing it in a meaningful way I show my true gratitude and that is the best that I can do.
And so ultimately I’m a cliché. I’m striving for peace for Christmas. Or at least a notch or two closer to it.  How about you? Do you have a gift of the soul in mind for this season?

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Peg said...

I just got the pumpkins off my porch and the thanksgiving decorations down today and put up some nativities. Having a December wedding certainly changes the normal Christmas prep. I enjoyed reading about yours though.

Anonymous said...

You are so right. The only thing that we can give is our heart, and our will - we want what He wants. Hard for a control freak like me. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction. We will be away for Christmas, so my few traditions will not be applicable. In that frame of mind, I have eaten the Christmas wreath on the door almost bare! It is essentially a wreath of plastic bows and orange cream (yuck) chocs. But yours is a portable tradition that can be done anywhere.

Brenda Shope said...

Wait...we aren't supposed to use our husband's credit card to buy his gift??

Kirsty said...

I know of no other way Brenda!! ;)

Kirsty said...

I'm amazed that you have managed that much Peg! Exciting times!

Kirsty said...

I wouldn't know anything about being a control freak Marmie, or anything about eating the Christmas wreath...you are weird ;) I'm impressed that you had it up to be eaten this early in the season though!!!

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed reading this. You are spot on with the way I feel. Your personal self evaluation and reflection reads to me like I wrote it myself. Thank you for putting it into words better than I could. I have felt a little out of touch with Christmas on the grand scale this year, but you have given me much to think on. Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family, Kirsty. I am blessed to know you :)


doseofreality said...

You weren't kidding about your cards...I totally counted a million in that picture! ;)
Great post. It is a good time of year for this sort of reflection so well done. :)

DianeSS said...

It's so true that whatever we give the Saviour this Christmas is really a gift to ourselves since it makes us better and happier! I had never looked at it that way before!I try hard not to judge others but sometimes it just sneaks in. I think this Christmas I will try to block all the little holes that let that unrighteous judgment find a way in! Thanks for your example!

Thalia Randall said...

Wow, awesome post. I have something I am working on myself. It's a tough one, but I realized that I needed the Lord to help me change my character in order to achieve it. It's almost scary asking for the help because it will need a lot of humbling to get right! But it's inspiring to read about other people's efforts.

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