When we were in the early months of our courtship, my now-husband and I would always take a little time to ask each other what he referred to as “hard questions.”
These were things that we were reluctant to talk about but which were important to building a good foundation. Having each come out of first failed marriages, we were both committed to not bringing the same patterns and mistakes to the next.
One day he asked about what I see as my flaws. You know, the things that lurk beneath the surface but when I’m on my best behaviour they don’t necessarily see the light of day. One of the things I told him (among many, believe me!) was that I’m a control freak.
There. It’s out in the open.
At the time, he scoffed, not believing me. (I told you I was on my best behaviour!)
Now, after almost 17 years of marriage, he still laughs a little when I remind him of that—usually in a “don’t say I didn’t warn you” kind of way. He has definitely seen that control freak rear its ugly head more than once.
And nothing brings out my inner control freak more consistently than Christmas.
Really what it boils down to though is expectations. I have a tendency to cling so tightly to the way I want things to be or the image of how I think things should look, that I have a hard time being flexible with the way things actually are.
I’ve written about my expectations and some of the little steps I’ve taken to manage them here, especially with Christmas knocking at the door. It’s hard not to get caught in the countdown frenzy, but I’m working on it.
A few weeks ago, while sharing my struggles with a friend, she looked at me and wisely said four profound little words that have had a huge impact on my head and my heart this December…
“Hold the reins loosely.”
In that moment I realized that even with all my “managing of expectations” I’m still trying to control all the things. My hands are gripped so tightly on the reins they hurt.
Even with lower expectations and a different focus, I’m still determined to personally craft the outcomes I so desperately want and need. That is, to come out of the month of December and Christmas having experienced what it means to receive the only gifts of the season that truly matter.
These gifts of Advent can’t be wrapped and given, only experienced and received.
Emily P. Freeman, an author whose words regularly feel like a breath of fresh air to me, said this in one of her recent podcasts, “The peace of Christ is ours for the taking, but we have to let it rule.”
You see, we are offered these gifts, but we have to choose whether or not we will receive them and how we allow them to impact our lives on a daily basis.
If I’m still clinging so tightly to my managed-down expectations of the holidays, I’m not really letting the peace of Christ rule in my heart. He’s playing second fiddle to my control freak.
Since that little conversation with my wise friend, “holding the reins loosely” has meant that when we hauled the Christmas boxes up from the basement to decorate the house, I said a lot of “You just put that wherever you think it will look best…”
And you know what? The house looks great!
“Holding the reins loosely” means that I’ve got photos of Chris PINE all over my Christmas tree, including in front of the star.
And you know what? The tree looks fine!
If you want a bit of background on that one, you’ll need to check out my Instagram here.
“Holding the reins loosely” means that I’m not trying to control the actions, and even more importantly, I’m not trying to control the outcomes. I’m just trying to enjoy the moments.
And, lest you somehow get the misguided impression that I’m doing all the things right with my “new and improved” mantra, let me leave you with this. Just yesterday I scolded my daughter for wrapping a Christmas present in paper from the “birthday box.” No red and green in sight. A pink bag with pastel tissue.
Does it matter? Of course not. Who said Christmas presents need to be wrapped in red and green? And why do I think it’s my job to be the wrapping police?
Loosening my grip on the reins…
“You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”
“Living in peace isn’t living problem-free.
It’s living a messy life in the presence of a living God.”
~Arlene Pellicane (Proverbs 31.org)
This quote out of a devotional I read last week reminds me that my desperate search for the perfect low-key Christmas experience doesn’t meant that my life is scrubbed clean and figured out—all peace and joy and good-will toward men for the month of December.
It means that my messy life is still ok. That sometimes I will succeed in holding the reins loosely and sometimes I will not. And God still reaches out with the offer of those gifts.
If I choose to receive them, like any gift, my hands need to be empty, and open and waiting.
Is your life messy and imperfect too? Will you loosen your grip on the reins and choose to receive what’s being offered this Christmas?
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I’m doing my best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. Putting one foot in front of the other, and—hopefully—not in my mouth. (I’m not sure you fully appreciate how difficult this is for me.)
Based on my previous track record, I don’t promise that my posts will be consistent, or inconsistent, but I’ll try for amusing. At the very least, I hope you’ll come away feeling a little better about yourself.
Thanks for visiting!