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It’s only two days until Christmas, and despite my entire family being ravaged by a stomach virus, we have survived, and overcome, and we are ready for the big day. Sadly, I cannot say the same for our dear Christmas tree, which might kick the bucket any day now.
Here is our tree situation: about three weeks ago we bought our tree and decked it out. It looked awesome, and it smelled SO good, but after a couple days I began to notice something: our tree wasn’t taking any water. Not much, anyway–especially for a tree its size. Our tree stands between six and seven feet tall, and our Christmas lights burn hot. Most years, our trees suck the water right up. This year, we’ve refilled the stand maybe once.
Yesterday I wrapped my fingers around one of the branches and felt its prickly needles. I could tell it was dehydrated. The stems were shriveled and dry. The tree had even started to smell a little funky. That’s when I realized there wasn’t just something wrong with our tree. Our tree was dead.
“Have you noticed our tree looks AWFUL??” I asked my husband soon after. He shrugged. “I think that’s what we get for buying a tree for $30.” Valid point.
However, our sad, dead Christmas tree reminded me of something I think about every year: as bad as our tree looks, it isn’t all that different from other Christmas trees. Sure, ours looks brownish and smells kind of like mildew, but our tree is only a step or two ahead of any other Christmas tree in any other home.
That’s because of one simple truth: no matter how much you decorate a Christmas tree, no matter how much you dress it up with ribbons and bows and tinsel and bells, a Christmas tree is a dying tree.
Every year these beautiful, dying trees sit in the middle of our homes, and I can’t help but think they’re all a giant metaphor for life. So many of us are “Christmas tree” people. We’re pretty and put together on the outside, but withering on the inside. We are “ever green,” cut off from our root system, but maintaining the appearance of flourishing.
In John 15:5-8, Jesus says this:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Over the years, I’ve realized something about this passage that I didn’t catch at first–this abiding Jesus speaks of, you can fake it pretty easily. Spiritual withering is not always apparent to the people around you. Not at first. Like Christmas trees–which can hide their withering longer than the average tree–most of us can hide our dead spots well, and for a long period of time. We can appear to be flourishing, even when we’re not.
But here is the “gift” of the holiday season: this season is like a pressure cooker. Between school being out, and traveling, and schedules being off, and having more stuff on your calendar than normal, and ALL THE SUGAR–Christmas can get crazy, and before you know it, your true colors are shining through. Before you know it, your roots are showing.
So this Christmas, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I have a little challenge for you. If you lose your cool, if you get into a fight with your spouse, if you yell at your kids, or have awkwardness with your in-laws, if you feel stressed, or anxious, or annoyed–don’t be ashamed. Don’t beat yourself up over it or feel like a failure, because that’s exactly what Satan wants you to do.
Instead, see those moments as an opportunity to really look at yourself. Like really look at yourself. What’s going on inside of you, underneath all the pretty? What is the state of your heart? How’s your root system?
Emotions like anger, fear, jealousy, or insecurity are easy to hide, so pay attention to them when they come out. These “dead spots” show us which parts of ourselves need to be better rooted in Christ, or pruned altogether. And in those moments when some ugliness or yuck comes out of your heart, I hope you’ll lean in a bit and listen carefully to the words of the Holy Spirit, who is surely whispering, “I can help you with that.”
Friends, I hope your Christmas is full of great joy. But in those moments that are anything else, I hope you will open your heart and invite God to come near, and abide, in much the same way he did 2,000 years ago.