My daughter made this graham cracker “gingerbread” church last week. It was a work of art! She beamed with pride when people at church asked about her creation. She was eager to show her project to her grandparents. We carefully took it home and displayed it in the center of the dining room table.
As I set it down, I was confident it was outside the reach of the dogs. However, on the following morning I heard my husband gasp loudly, followed by a scolding of our two dogs (now cowering in a corner); and I realized that I had, sadly, been mistaken. The dogs could, in fact, reach the graham cracker church, and did desire to eat the hard, dried-out frosting and gumdrops! The structure was gone, with not a crumb remaining; just a sad, empty paper plate!
My 5-year-old had been in the bathroom and comes out to see what the commotion is. I watch her face change as she sees the empty plate and quickly understands what happened. Tears begin to roll down her cheek, and she wails! There are no words of comfort – just hugs. You have a picture, I tell her – you can show everyone the picture. It was food – we would have thrown it away at some point anyway. I know it is sad, but no, the dogs did not do this intentionally to hurt you!
She starts to calm down, and I help her get ready for school. I turn on Christmas music to lighten the mood. The song “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” comes on. Then in my infinite wisdom, I tell my fragile 5-year-old that we will not be having a white Christmas this year. To me, it was a conversation about the weather. In retrospect, I realize that was not the news my daughter wanted to hear in that moment. So the tears begin to flow – again! I try to be encouraging. I remind her that we can’t control the weather.
Then I said to my daughter “You can’t get upset about the things you can’t control.”
Now, I have no idea if these words had any impact on my 5-year-old. (She did calm down after that – but I would credit that to her short attention span!) Still, these words made me pause!
“You can’t get upset about the things you can’t control.” This applies to all of us, even in the most grown-up of circumstances! I said these words to a friend recently – a grown-up dealing with a tough reality. I need this reminder myself – frequently! No good will come from anxiety about things outside of our control! Instead, it leads us through a downward spiral where we are overcome by worry, fear or sadness. There, it seems impossible to experience happiness, much less Joy!
A leader in the church (the ELCA Bishop in Nebraska) once said “Jesus Christ did not die to make us a hostage to our anxiety.” Scripture reiterates this over and over… God knows we will worry, and we are reminded to let it go!
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)
The Advent theme this week is Joy. This seems like an easy one: Joy is feeling good, being happy. But real Joy is SO much more. Joy is more than circumstantial happiness; it is elation based in Hope, rooted in God’s provision!
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” Matthew 6:30-33 (MSG)
The world is noisy – there is a constant stream of reasons to be anxious. We forget to set aside our worry, simply pray and then trust. When we allow ourselves to believe that God provides, God is with and God desires good for us, we become free to live with real Peace. There we experience real Joy – a deep, contented elation that no happy human experience can recreate – not an intact gingerbread church or even snow on Christmas!