I’m not sure if my son sees only what he wants to see or if he truly doesn’t notice the sticks accumulating around our wooded lawn. As the youngest and only Dagen child remaining at home, he has the dubious honor of being needed for chores — one of which is picking up sticks and carrying them to the burn pile in the back yard. No sharing of tasks, no other child to cover his slack. His chores are “all Adam all the time” — or so it seems to him. I see his chores as partly my responsibility, in that “you get what you inspect, not what you expect,” which is why I happened to be walking the yard in search of sticks with him the other day.
He complained — in part that I was checking up on him, in part that he had to do this mundane job. I merely picked up sticks and felt jealous.
The yard was quiet (if I could tune out the 17-year-old whines), and the task was simple. It reminded me of how simple my life once was, realizing I didn’t appreciate it then, just as my son doesn’t appreciate the simple things now. But there is something special in the silence, in the simple tasks, in the serenity of nature, in the solitude of this reality. It was but a moment but it seemed a balm to my soul.
On any given day, I am scratching things off a “to do” list that never ends, running from here to eternity without gaining a mile or a minute. Frenetic, frantic. Forgetting to pause and quiet my soul.
Yesterday, off from work for the holidays, I took my husband’s car in for new tires. He thinks I was serving him, but I enjoyed the time waiting. The forced concentration enabled me to sketch the entire spring semester’s lesson plans; something I had been fighting myself to complete for a week. Once back in my husband’s car, I turned on his radio, tuned to the “old fogie” Christian station, and left it there. It offered that same sort of quiet I had experienced when walking the yard with Adam. The station featured hymns and sermons and Scripture readings and pauses between prayer requests. Rather than tempting me to change stations, the pondering itinerary engaged me and enabled me to slow my pace. Peace.
This morning I snatched a few minutes of solitude to retain that sense of peace, awakening early not to write but to read. With the cat in my lap, a cup of coffee in one hand and my Bible in the other, I snuggled in view of our Christmas tree, at first reading the Christmas story to myself and then reading it aloud. Trying to quiet my heart to take in the true meaning of Christmas before the first guests arrived, before the harangue of cooking started, and prior to any opening of gifts. Those moments before life on Christmas day would erupt in all its energy.
How well I remember the dark Christmas mornings when I was entertaining a baby, a toddler, a group of young ones impatiently awaiting the awakening of the rest. Christmas was lights, camera, action from the get-go. Since I married into children, I was thrust abruptly from my parents’ traditions to my husband’s already established ones. My first Thanksgiving was an absolute madhouse of cooking and chaos — in which I felt quite alone, busy working while the rest were busy having fun. (I am not good at delegating.) I expected my first Christmas with this family to be the same with a much longer, more involved prep time. But after the big breakfast and gift opening, the children were engaged with their gifts, and the house was quiet. So filled from breakfast, no one demanded dinner. The quiet of that first family Christmas was a complete surprise but such a blessing.
The Virgin Mary’s first family Christmas was also a surprise — a surprise pregnancy followed by a census, a stable, a star, and some shepherds.
“When they had seen [the baby Jesus], they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:17-19).
Like Mary, I will treasure these things and ponder them in my heart. That, to me, is the quiet of Christmas. It is too easy to think of Christmas as a day to amass gifts rather than treasure and ponder the gift of God’s Son to us. Perhaps if I invert the name of the holiday and pretend I am Spanish, I can more easily treasure and ponder as I should. Más Christ = more Christ. I need to quiet my heart to put more focus on Christ, less on me. While I love the guests, the food, the gifts, and the energy of celebrating Christmas day, it is the quiet treasuring and pondering of Christmas that is medicine to my soul.
And that quiet isn’t limited to December 25. I’m sure Adam will be more than happy to let me pick up sticks in the yard any day…