There is debate about when Christmas decorations should be taken down (this is assuming: a.) you put up Christmas decorations, and b.) you don’t leave them up year round). However, I am fairly certain there is no argument that the fourth week of January is well beyond the accepted window of decoration removal.
You may have guessed. I have a confession.
It’s almost February and my Christmas decorations are still up. I could say it’s because my social calendar rivals that of a Hollywood movie star and I’ve been extremely busy, but that would be a fib. I’ve actually had plenty of time to return the decorations to their 11-months of the year (or less) holding place. I’ve even had more time than usual since we just had one of the largest snow storms in Maryland's recorded history and I‘ve been snowed in. Laziness and procrastination may (potentially) play some (small) role, but I think there is more to it than that.
Why then are my decorations still up? I think the real reason is this-- by holding onto what I wanted Christmas to be, I’m not allowing myself to really feel the disappointment of what it wasn’t.
Between the recent death in my family and having to work, Christmas didn’t really feel like Christmas this year. While I had a lovely time with very dear friends, my family Christmas traditions and celebrations didn’t happen. Part of me keeps hoping my idyllic Christmas will magically flow out from my artificial tree while I’m away and will greet me at the door when I return. Instead, it feels more and more like walking into a house after a party is over and finding deflated balloons and crumpled paper strewn about the floor.
The problem is that by holding onto what I wanted, neither my hands nor my heart are able to receive what God wants to provide to me in the beautiful mess of what is. Facing disappointment is hard. And so is mourning, whether we’re mourning the death of a loved one or our longings. But it’s only when we open ourselves to the sadness, the loss, the disappointment, the tears, that we open ourselves to experience how God wants to meet us, comfort us, and hold us in the truth of our present reality.
Rather than living in my longings, I’m learning to accept what is, not in a hopeless, pessimistic way, but in a letting go of expectations and finding freedom way. God is at work in the what is. And if that’s where God is, then that’s where I want to be too. Even if it is hard.
And yes, I’ll go take down my Christmas decorations.
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Nicole Mills is an oncology nurse, cancer survivor, nerd, and contemplative. She has a secret desire to be a nun or a double-dutch jump rope champion. Not being Catholic or able to jump 2 ropes poses significant hurdles, but she remains hopeful.