Sunday, January 20, 2013

John Piper's Final Sermon at Bethlehem Baptist Church

Chace: Shane found this last night while comforting me after a very painful experience with someone I trusted who'd really hurt me, on the tail end of WAY too many post-Christmas organizational projects and Florence Nightengale tasks that had left me quite winded.  'Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing' Piper entitled this life changing sermon.  We watched, spellbound, with Abbie and Annemarie after the other children went to bed, feeling like the Holy Spirit had crafted this passionate plea to the Church just for us.   The concept of indomitable joy and endurance in Jesus, in the midst of pain, afflictions, hardships, suffering, sorrow, grief, sleepless nights (this part of his text, II Cor. 5:2-6:13, jumped out at me big time, since our tiniest child has been so very, very sick for a BUNCH of nights;  not easy for this mama and papa in their 40's), etc., is counter to some versions of contemporary theology, but it's here in black and white, and it defines what sound doctrine looks like: 

My tenacious husband has been so faithful to hang with me, encouraging my heart, while the STRESS of Christmas like we've tried to do less stressfully than the years before (with VERY little success), infected the way that each member of our nuclear family related to one another for 2 full months now.  After 20 years of studying these trends and attempting to simplify things a tiny bit more each year, hoping to prevent a little of the previous year's drama the following year, I'm convinced it begins around Thanksgiving, when our children (who live contentedly all of the other months of the year with their thrift/consignment store wardrobes and a non-excessive amount of 'stuff' being brought into our home) are asked by generous, loving extended family members what they 'want' for Christmas.

It's interesting that for years, we've developed a theological vernacular around here about our 'wanters.' Gregg Harris' presentation of the Gospel at the 'Do Hard Things' conference taught us that when we become Christians, we become sheep, following our Great Shepherd.  The problem is that we're trapped in what we were before Christ, our wolf nature... until we get to heaven, when the battle between our 'wanter'/flesh/sin nature and our spirit man will finally end. When a small child responds to a simple directive in an integrous, emotionally honest, yet defiant way, by telling us he or she doesn't WANT to eat what we're serving that meal, or that they don't WANT to go to the Y right now, when we're late for Jack's game, we often end up doing the whole schpeel along the lines of 'Your wanter is not in charge of this family, buddy; The Lord is, and He's asked me to be the conductor of our logistical affairs, and you are playing off key right now.' 

Working out helped us decompress in between holiday events.
How cute is that Baby Love in her Santa jacket on Daddy's lap?
Trying to assimilate the surplus of gifts given at 3 different family meals, grappling with the exhaustion from the pace and way too many faraway outings that throw whoever's the baby WAY OFF for days, plus how conflicted we end up being (in the name of 'honoring' our family members' traditions) about the temptation to eat food we know we're on a permanent fast from, to avoid health consequences that are no small deal for how much responsibility we bear (i.e Shane's battle with asthma, diverticulitis, and high cholesterol/triglycerides, plus upset stomachs and lowered immune responses for all, resulting in consistent, annual post Christmas illnesses)'s just not workin' out for us anymore.  

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  After 20 years of trying to figure out how to NOT get sick and stressed in the aftermath of the contemporary American version of the holidays, we've decided God isn't the author of this mess, and that our fed-up-ness is evidence of a holy dissatisfaction. There's more than enough challenges for us to learn to walk in indomitable joy through, simply attempting to develop a peaceful, less spiritually immature version of a loving routine, for the 11 people that live here (and who are genuinely trying to live out the Biblical 'one another' commands 24/7), but it dawned on me that this trend of home educators bailing on Christmas altogether, may be connected to this same feeling of a holy dissatisfaction we're discovering, with the way we do it in this country. 

Annemarie's yiddle books helped her chill and be less
 fussy when the pace of holiday busy-ness was outside our margins
My dear friend Pam is married to a guy from Mexico, and they have 6 incredible children.  She shared with me on Christmas Eve at City Church that the first year they moved back to the states, she tried doing Christmas like she remembered from her childhood, but that she abandoned her efforts shortly thereafter.   The traditions our parents did each year when Shane and I were little (he as an only child, myself as one of only two children) will be reworked quite a bit more dramatically next year, as we just can't focus on the renewed relationships with Jesus and each other (that the holidays are supposed to be about) when the after effects of an abnormally high number of outings, gifts, and non life giving foods throws the hope of a much needed normal routine out the window, big time, for weeks, sometimes months, before and after the big day. This makes exponential emotional reactivity a LOT more likely, not only according to the book of Proverbs, but also to those who've made it their life's work to study concepts like Celebrating Calm (Kirk Martin) and ScreamFree Marriage and Parenting (Hal Runkel).

We're learning, not only from so many years of unpleasant experiences, but from the wise people we're learning to grow up from, as a result of their teaching, that the buck has to stop somewhere. I read a history picture book from the library this year called 'Victorian Christmas,' and it turns out that originally, this gift giving thing was much simpler than it's progressively become. For me, by the time I've sorted our gifts and returned, exchanged, or donated the unreasonable amount of items we unsuccessfully tried to find 'homes' for, in our house, I end up having to spend any Christmas money or gift cards I received on more furniture or creative storage options to house the things we kept in. This involves rearranging furniture and cleaning out closets, 'projects' I told Jack we would be doing less of this year, as the gift he wanted most, since normal living isn't possible when our holiday organizational projects don't typically conclude until March or April  .    

After weeks of prayer and deliberation, we decided together last night that we will continue to embrace the replenishing, strengthening parts of the holidays, but that we quit all the parts of it that are like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. Because we've faithfully sought the Lord's wisdom for how to pull off a slightly more scaled back version of an American Christmas each year, and because it's progressively become more and more outside our bandwidth, each year that our family size and logistical equation becomes larger, we look forward to less self-inflicted sorrow and relational drama, and more loud rejoicing, as we courageously apply these convictions, with wise mentors keeping our game plan in check.  And to all of 
you sweet moms in a season of just munchkins, who process your frustrations with me about your extended family members putting pressure on you to engage in holiday traditions that leave you panting, as well, be encouraged that God is a genius who can lead you and your husband to reasonable solutions, too.

1 comment:

  1. This Piper message is INCREDIBLE! Totally kicking my butt into gear.