Monday, January 4, 2010

Inspiration from Goodlife Zen Question 6

6. What deepened your spirituality?

This was definitely the hardest question out of Mary's list. For me, it seems as if any spiritual growth is preceded by a period of intense trial and introspection, and like most people---I don’t like looking at myself in great detail. What I don’t see, I don’t have to fix, right?

In early childhood most of us have our favorite things—our things we can’t do without, whether it is a pacifier, a blankie, a stuffed animal or a bottle. As we get older, we learn to do without these security items, these things that make us feel safe. But what if we really don’t give them up, we just transfer them to something else? What if the pacifier becomes the cigarette, the fuzzy blanket becomes sex, our stuffed animals become Ipods and new cars, and the bottle becomes food? Do we acquire new “security blankets” as we get older?

What if my security blanket is my favorite holiday?

Because I am a Christian, Christmas to me has always been a magical time. I love the lights, the trees, the buying of gifts, the baking, the concerts and performances, the stories, and most of all, a feeling of closeness to Christ. But what if my feelings about Christmas were focused more on it being my security blanket and not on Christ?

I refused to believe that was true about myself when my perceptions were first challenged. Christmas had always been about Christ, and worshiping Him. When someone challenged me to examine how much of my Christmas was really about Christ, I was a little offended. After all, for me Christmas is more about giving than receiving. And my feelings about Christ seemed to deepen over the holidays. How could my celebration as a Christian be off base? I refused to believe my motives at Christmas were less than Christ-centered.

Sometimes though, when someone hits the nail on the head, the accompanying headache is too great to ignore. Going into the Christmas season, I found myself thinking more and more about whether or not my Christmas traditions were really focused on Christ, or whether they were really focused on me and my feelings of security.

I began by thinking about something as simple as Christmas lights. I have always, from childhood loved the ambiance created by twinkle lights. I love the multi-colored streams hanging from neighbors’ homes, I love brightly lit trees, and I even love the white lights that adorn fake greenery in restaurants throughout the year. All year round, I have white twinkle lights on my kitchen counter so I can turn off the overheads when I’m through for the evening and just bask in the soft lighting. I had to ask myself What if Christmas had to be celebrated this year without lights? The thought of it nearly made me cry, so I knew I had struck a nerve.

Why was I so emotional about Christmas lights? Could I really have a happy Christmas without them? I started my self-introspection by recalling my earliest memories of Christmas lights. I remember sitting on the couch with my mom, in the darkness of a living room lit only by the garish bulbs hanging on our aluminum tree. Looking back, the colors of those bulbs were not that pretty. What was it then? It didn’t take long for me to realize why I loved the lights so much. The lights told me that my mom loved me. Even though she was an extremely busy working mother, she took time just to sit quietly in the dark with the Christmas lights and me. Bingo! My love for Christmas lights had nothing to do with Christ. It had everything to do with feeling unconditionally loved by my mom.

This realization led me to examine quite a few other things. The Christmas tree? Was it the bearer of lights for me or did I love it because of the gifts I had bought for others stacked neatly under it? Could I do without it? Yes, I decided, as long as I could put the gifts in another attractively displayed pile and keep my twinkle lights in the kitchen. Although I would hate to do it, I could give up my Christmas tree without diminishing my love for Christ.

That led me to the gifts. Could I still feel the spirit of Christmas if I bought no gifts this year? Again, I felt like crying at the thought of it. I wanted to buy gifts! But I knew I needed to look deep down inside at the emotion that erupted. What if I was told “no gifts” this year? Well, my son will have to have what he needs when he needs it, was my first thought. Frequently we hold off buying him things he needs such as a new coat or new snow pants until Christmas. If there were no Christmas gifts, we would just have to buy him what he needed as soon as he needed it.

That thought took me to a place I had never imagined. If I bought my son, what he needed when he needed it, what about his teacher? I normally buy a Christmas gift for his teacher, but if I did no Christmas gifts, what then? Then she too would have what she needed, when she needed it. Many times I have heard about a teacher having a bad day and thought to get her a small token of appreciation. Usually though, I let the thought pass, promising to just remember her at Christmas. Now? I would give her what she needed when she needed it. What about others? What if I always made a practice of being there for another’s needs, whether or not it was Christmas? After all, how many presents do the scriptures say that Christ gave out? I don’t remember any.

I do remember Him giving them what they needed, when they needed it. His was a life of service. Does it make more sense to go around doing good, meeting needs when they are needed, than to wait once a year at Christmas? Once again, I realized that Christmas was more about me, and my feeling good for having given a present at the right time, than about honoring Christ. As I looked at each of my Christmas traditions, I realized how many of them were about making me feel good. I really had believed that I celebrated Christmas more reverently than retailers encourage us to. But was I? No.

Does this mean that I think you shouldn't use Christmas lights? No. But I was lying to myself about their importance. Do I think you’re really only giving presents because you “have to” at Christmas? No. But I was giving them more for wanting my friends and loved ones to feel good than for fulfilling Christ’s expectations.

Did I give up lights and trees and presents this year? No way! But I did come away with a new resolve to make Christmas part of my life all year round.

I will have twinkle lights in my home all year because they remind me of my mother’s love. I will still drive by homes at night to look at all the Christmas lights. I won’t wait until Christmas to make fudge, pretending that I am doing it in celebration of Him. I won’t tell the beautiful story of His birth during December only. I’ll sing a Christmas carol in May if that’s where my heart leads me. I will try to capture those feelings daily instead of waiting until a special holiday. I will still give presents at Christmas, but I promise to begin giving people what they need all year round too, when they need it.


  1. oh my Randi. You simply make me want to cry, and laugh all at once.

    I love how you went to a tough place and figured out the why's - it is breathtaking and extremely tough to do.

    As I read about how you feel about Christmas, I realize like a ton of bricks, again, why I dislike it with probably the same degree you love it. I joke to be a grinch and go bahumbug every year, yet, I know in my heart, it isn't Christmas that is troublesome to me, it is my childhood and what Christmas felt like for me. The twinkling lights represented unconditional love for you. They represented the opposite for me - or rather they represented a misunderstanding, or an ignorance of what Christmas is supposed to mean. I simply felt unwanted and unloved at a time when it seemed everyone else felt joy.

    Wow. Not trying to be a downer here - just saying your post is powerful; feelings are powerful whether they are feelings of love, anger, or sadness.

    Thanks for the beautiful post. Sorry for my not-so-beautiful comment. I'll come back to try to answer that question later.

  2. Another great post, Randi. Zen really got you thinking, didn't it?

  3. Daisy: Au contraire, my little Canadienne! That was a beautiful, heart-felt comment. I have had enough friends who have hated the holidays to know that you are not alone in your feelings. How hard it must have been for you as a child to see children around you experiencing joy and happiness when you were feeling such anguish in your heart. It's hard to be a "have not" when all around you are the "haves." I'm not talking about presents either--it's the feeling of not having love and appreciation during those critical years. For you, there was no security blanket. It never goes away, does it? If only parents/caretakers/extended family could always be aware of the little souls they are affecting when they are not as kind as they should be.

    Great insights, Daisy. Thank you for being brave, and sharing them with us. I hope you now know that you ARE loved and wanted.

  4. Auntie M: Why, yes! It did! And you know what happens when I start thinking---I tweet!

    No I don't.

    I BLOG! :)

  5. Randi

    I'm glad you don't tweet. Your writing goes much deeper. Leave tweeting to the birds. They do it well.

  6. Christmas really can be a secular holiday having nothing to do with Christ. That version is all about the bells and whistles, lights and food, family and friends.

    And since a lot of our Christmas traditions hold treasured memories of our loved ones, we want to connect with that.

    My dad actually played the viola for the midnight mass of a local Catholic church. We weren't actually Catholic but every Christmas my brother, grandmother, and I would sit through midnight mass and all the gorgeous music.

    That's probably the only Christmas tradition in my family that combined both spiritual and family elements.

  7. Randi -

    I did not grow up in a deeply religious household, my family still does not go to church or believe in Jesus Christ. But Christmas is the one "religious" holiday everybody celebrates. When I looked into the deep pagan traditions of Christmas I was just shocked & nauseated. I also work in retail & the focus really is about selling, not about Jesus Christ.

    It feels odd being the sourpuss who does not participate in the pagan traditions & who wants to focus on Jesus. If only it were about our Savior I would be glad when that day came around, but sadly for most of my family it is not about Him its about them & that just makes me sad.

    God Bless,

  8. It's great that we question our motives. It's great that we have the time to cogitate. This was a good reminder for me to make time to ponder.

    Service deepens my spirituality. Doing something without reward for someone other than myself always does it for me.

  9. Randi,
    This is my first visit and it will not be my last...awesome post! Hope you have a wonderful week!


  10. Randi, I've been trying and trying, and I'm sitting here staring at your post (which I love) - try as I might, I can not seem to answer for myself "what deepened you spiritually".

    Am I so stuck hanging on to my security blanket that I can not think of one thing? Perhaps it's because I keep looking for the BIG one thing, or the BIG a-ha, and none come to mind. I need to dial it down a few notches.

    I'm blank.

    Although this only happened yesterday, I took my son to the library and we went to the usual kids section. He loves non-fiction, and particularly dinosaurs. I was looking down a different aisle from usual and was stunned to find topics ranging from human rights (incl. gay/lesbian rights) to diversity, bullying, darwin and religion. I borrowed a few books on different religions (remember, this is the kid's section) and felt.. I can't describe it. My husband laughed when he saw 3 books on 3 different religions.

    Whoever said you can't teach an old dog new tricks hasn't met a dog like me. :)

  11. This discussion (and reading Ken Devine's comment), brought to mind something that happened years ago. Someone close to me was described as spiritual, and another person, also close to me, said, "I don't think so. He's not religious and he doesn't even go to church." After a moment's thought, I commented that the two don't necessarily go hand in hand. Being spiritual can manifest itself in caring, being helpful, kind, of service to others. Spirituality is a state of mind; perhaps of being at peace with how one is living his or her life.

  12. Randi, the anonymous comment left was mine. Guess I didn't hit the right button.

  13. Hayden: Does your dad still play? Did you pick up any instruments? I loved going to Midnight Mass--the smell of incense, all the lighted candles until the fire department said we couldn't, the fantastic music. I spent this Christmas Eve watching the Pope do Midnight Mass on TV.

    Adam: As I learned this year, it is so hard to separate our emotions from the true meaning of Christmas.I'm sure for me, it will be an ongoing process. I love holidays and even celebrate St. Patrick's Day with gusto. So how do you celebrate Christmas?

    Ken:Excellent point,Ken. Service is always the quickest way to feel connected and spiritual, especially if it can be done anonymously. I'm so glad you brought that up.

    Linda: Thank you so much for stopping by and for commenting! We're glad to see you and hope to see more of you. I stopped by your site too, and now I have this uncontrollable urge to re-decorate! :)

    Daisy: I think spirituality is such a personal thing. To each of us it means something vastly different. Auntie M, below, was thinking the same thing. I have known many church-going people who did not have a spiritual bone in their bodies, and have known many people who refuse to step inside a church but who have deep spiritual insight. To some people, spirituality is defined by church membership and to others it is defined by their relationship to the universe, or to nature, or to a particular person. Some get that "aha" moment when their life changes,and others feel an overall sense of contentment. You'll have to let me know how the books were!

    Auntie M: I think we were kind of heading in the same direction. I love what you said: "Spirituality is a state of mind; perhaps of being at peace with how one is living his or her life." It's such an individual interpretation. Mary sure got us thinking...

  14. Randi -

    I still give gifts, but not having any young children in the house its not the same as it was when you are an adult. I struggle with stinginess, which is not the same as frugality, I am trying to be more generous with people in general (not just in non-profit donations etc.). As a kid in my household Christmas was one of the maybe two times a year we actually went to church.

    I just get tired of all the various Charles Dickens spin off movies, tv shows, everybody has to reinvent the Christmas Carol every year, be it Dr. Who or the Simpsons, is it really the gospel of Christ?

    Things are different now, I won't go into specifics suffice it to say that I go to church, though as you know God would have me return to the flock I abandoned when I am able to.

    BTW saw Avatar today, did you say Computer Geek & the kids saw it? Would like to know his take, I thought it was great special effects work but pretty blatant environmentalist propaganda.

    Check your other email I am sending you a copy of something, if you like it let me know. I've shared it with some others & they've enjoyed it.

    God Bless,

  15. Randi, a beautiful post once again.

    I also worry about going through almost mechanical motions during the preparation frenzy for Christmas. This year I especially was not happy to see how much my kids were caught up in the secular trappings suffocating the true meaning of Christmas. I worked hard to refocus them and I also want to rethink my own priorities during the whole year. What are we truly called to do by God? Doesn't He want us to live generously in word, deed and spirit all year long. It has to be a conscious decision to try and make that happen in even the smallest way. At least it's a start. Randi, thanks for getting me to think. You're a great teacher to me too :)

  16. Adam: You and Computer Geek sound so much alike! He said exactly the same thing as you about Avatar. Maybe I'll suggest to him that he write you regarding his views.

    I got the document you mentioned, but haven't made time to read it yet as I am between classes right now.It looks interesting.

    Septembermom: I sure know what you mean about "mechanical motions" during the holidays.It's almost like being on auto-pilot, yet stressful at the same time. And you're so make Christmas happen every day takes effort!Yet I do think that's what we're supposed to do. I love your philosophy about living "generously in word, deed and spirit all year long." I want to try that!

  17. Randi -

    My Dad & I saw it in 3D IMAX at a local theater, which was pretty cool. I had seen movies in IMAX but the 3D actually was decently done, not just the gimmicky things where the camera points at somebody handing something in you are looking at it from their perspective, you can actually see dimensionality like on tables & characters & stuff.

    Anyways I am sure it is setting the groundwork for the next generation of computer graphics, but aside from that beautiful propaganda. Would luv to see Star Wars or the Matrix in 3D, I am sure that is what they are working on when they run out of movies to remake, just reissue the good ones in better quality ;)

    You can give Computer Geek my email, or anyone else who needs to reach me. I have more issues of that newsletter I sent you, he has some neat stuff & has been on a couple A&E type programs.

    God Bless,

  18. Adam: Can you believe that I cannot see 3-D movies? It just looks like a blur to me. If I have to sit through one, then I vacillate between putting the glasses on, then taking them back off. Either way, it's a mess that makes me nauseated.

  19. Randi -

    Yeah they could make the 3D glasses a little bit more comfortable. I would think though technology is getting to the point where the glasses would not be necessary, I heard something about "laser tv's" (to replace the LCD or plasma you just bought, or HD tv)& blu rays which were supposed to be in 3D (supposedly that is the next big format war once the standard gets settled)

    God Bless,


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