December 8, 2016
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
In her books and speaking engagements, author Brenda Poinsett regularly encourages people to choose simple hospitality over fancy dinner parties and elaborate decorating. But even she was a little surprised by an encounter she had several years ago at a conference with two women who were having a contest to see which one could have the most decorated trees in her home.
“They wanted to know why they were missing Christ in their Christmas,” Poinsett recalled.
The competing desires to do Christmas “big” and to keep Jesus at the center of the holiday are common in American households, Poinsett believes.
“We want to rush in and cover all the bases, make every holiday more spectacular than last year. Holiness gets lost in that. We end up with an empty feeling when it’s all over instead of being spiritually enriched,” said Poinsett, who shares her own struggle and the lessons she learned about simplifying the holidays in her book “Can Martha Have a Mary Christmas? Untangling Expectations and Truly Experiencing Jesus.”
The desire to do more doesn’t just hit during the holidays, however. Year round, we see social media posts showing off a friend’s latest Pinterest project. Monthly issues of glossy magazines feature well-appointed rooms and platters of goodies always at the ready.
As a result, “abundance” of material possessions and creative talent seems to be a gift given to everyone but us. Our focus begins to turn inward, to what we don’t have rather than celebrating the blessings God has given us.
One way to avoid those negative feelings is to open your heart and open your door, Poinsett says. That means keeping life simple enough so that you can invite people to your home with welcome instead of worry.
“For Christians, home is a mission base to invite friends and strangers in to share stories and share the gospel,” Poinsett said. “People want to connect and they love coming to your home.”
In contemporary life, however, many obstacles stand in the way of Christian hospitality. Much of our time is committed to work, and the rest of our time often is consumed with community and church activities. These activities drain our resources and energy, leaving us exhausted and stressed, says Anne Lawton, a licensed professional counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.
For families with children, this is an especially challenging part of life because parents have a hard time saying “no” to children’s activities. Lawton encourages parents to look at the positive sides of occasionally saying “no.”
“Although setting limits may be hard, doing so frees us up to say ‘yes’ to other things like taking meals to a neighbor, helping an elderly couple with chores, devoting more quality time together as a family or praying more intentionally for others,” Lawton said. “When we do not allow our calendar to be overscheduled, we are free to hear and see the needs around us. We have time to be fully present in the moment and fully present with people.”
The result? A Kingdom mindset where the focus is on sharing Christ in word and deed, Lawton said.
Jesus Himself provides the ideal model of a simple life, writes Joshua Becker, author of “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own.” And in His teaching, Jesus frequently warned of the trap of placing our hope in material possessions and physical comfort rather than our spiritual life. As demonstrated in Jesus’ encounter with the rich young official, materialism is a trap that has the power “to distract us from what could bring us real happiness and meaning” in life, Becker writes.
Becker attributes the American tendency toward accumulation of things to three universal motivations: the desires for security, acceptance and contentment. These desires are not bad, he says, but it is wrong to believe that material things will satisfy those needs.
“We need to recognize what’s inside us that’s driving our purchasing decisions, because only then can we rob materialism of its power,” he writes.
For example instead of seeking security in “lots of stuff,” Becker suggests nurturing loving relationships with other people. Instead of seeking acceptance by having the “same stuff” as everyone else, he suggests reconsidering one’s personal definition of success. And instead of seeking contentment by “adding to your stuff,” Becker suggests “appreciating what you have and giving away what you don’t need.”
Simplifying in order to live abundantly seems a contradiction, but it is at the heart of the Christian life, according to a March 2015 blog post by Ed Stetzer at ChristianityToday.com.
“Abundant life is not about what we have. It’s not about what we get. It’s not about what we claim,” writes Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Illinois. “Ultimately, abundant life is about what we receive as a gift from the Lord and to live knowing we are stewards of the blessings of God.”