I have a friend who wouldn't claim to be religious. Except she is fervently religious in this: Christmas decorations in her home are forbidden after December 30th. Every year, mere days after I’ve placed the final touch on my Christmas decor, she is stripping her home of all things ho ho ho. Off go the twinkle lights. Down go holly, jolly and mistletoe. Even Santa on the front porch takes his leave. But it was time. He had to go.
In fairness, my friend is a decorator with an unfettered imagination. She is busiest in late fall, planning, shopping and, later, festooning client homes with decorations that are both lovely and fun-loving. She has a gift for turning drab into fab. And little tolerance for decorations past their expiration date.
I, on the other hand, de-decorate slowly and deliberately. I start with Santa. We don’t have a deep and real relationship. Empty boxes? Recycled or saved for next year. That’s easy. Brittle greens that draw blood when I brush up against them go next.
But oh, our tree, listing with treasures collected over decades; my mantle swag, lush with sparkling glass ornaments—most of them gifts. The angels, the crèche. I choose a day to return those to my Christmas closet. Usually a Sunday. I don’t ask for help. It’s a ritual best observed alone. I listen to my Christmas favorites, and, before I seal our ornament collection in tissue paper and zipper bags, I linger over the mama snow-woman and her snow babies carefully selected by a 3-year-old daughter, and the miniature Colorado rifle chosen by a 10-year-old son, once upon a time. I remember, I pray, and I cry. (Just a little and very quietly.)
January can suck the life out of a Christmas heart. Away with excessive and festive! Welcome austerity and organization. No more counting down to the big day. Count carbs instead. This is hardly joyful and I bet it isn’t biblical either. The wise men didn’t even show up until January 6th. We must have at least that long to enjoy the tenderness of Christmas.
And who came up with New Year’s resolutions? That can't be scriptural. Show me the verse that says, “Yes, O Lord, I resolve forevermore to eat gluten-free, shop with coupons and rise at 6:30 every morning to greet the day with a 3-mile run. Oh, and I will not be grumpy. At all.” I will be a better person this year. By my own dictate. In my own power. I will create a better future. For myself. By myself.
That mastery of self that stiffens the spine, is it even possible? Statistics would say no. The Journal of Clinical Psychology found that Americans have a resolution-keeping success rate of eight percent. (Sounds about right.) Most of us will fail nine days into January. (Ditto.) Why would I expect anything else? Haven’t we read that self-control is a fruit—a fruit of the Spirit. Demanding that an apple tree drop fruit in January won't make it happen. Fruit-producing is a process of yielding, not demanding.
One year I tried something different. Instead of resolving, I released. I released to God’s keeping those changes in my heart and family life that I most wanted in the coming year. I recorded them on yellow, rectangular post-it notes and stuck them on the inside cover of my Bible. I included two columns on the first slip—one for the previous year to which entitled “Thanks be to God.” It seemed important to recount and thank God for the gifts already bestowed. The next column I called “Where God Leads” and there I asked where God would have me follow Him in aspects of daily life: work, home, relationships, and service. Finally, on a second note, I made a list of “Dreams and Prayers” for the year ahead. I offered these first for my husband and then for our children. Then I recorded two dreams for myself that I entrusted to God's keeping.
A year later, I revisited those dreams. In every case, I marked them with a bold check mark. Yes—He answered the prayers of a wife, mother and dreamer beyond my expectations with a generosity I was too timid (or maybe too faithless) to ask for.
While I’ve simplified the practice, every January I still offer myself and my dreams to Him. With thanksgiving for the past, and some admitted ambivalence, I let go.
I resolve to loosen the fist of control I have wrapped around the air. Who am I kidding? Can I control the future with my will? And I release myself, those I love, and our futures to the care of a God called, Jehova-Jireh, my provider. A clenched hand can receive nothing new. But into a palm upturned in trust, Jesus can give epiphanies and other unexpected gifts.