Something occurred to me today when I was talking to a friend about keeping our cool through the very busy, very hectic Christmas season. She has a new baby at her house and is finding the need to keep it mellow far outweighing the need to make fudge and wreaths. It reminded me of something that my husband told me a while ago (I think during some box mac and cartoon riddled period of our lives). First, you have to make the kids who will eat the cookies. Later, there will be time to make the cookies. This is so, so true. This Christmas is not the only one. You can always start earlier, do more next year.
Sabbath dinner, one of the sweetest family traditions we have, did not start until we were practically adults. There were many years of our childhood (which we loved) that were full of turkey ham and lima beans. Paper napkins. Homemade Bread. Boxed scalloped potatoes with a sausage sliced up in them. Wonderful homemade mac and cheese. Tacos. Spaghetti. Realistic achievements.
Of course it is our hope (and my parents) that our children will get more than we did, and in turn give more than we could. But this is the thing – shoot for what you can hit without stressing, without being unkind to your family, and without staying up all night for two full weeks in December. Try to give more than you think you can, but not so much that you lose your cool.
While we were talking, that wonderful verse in Proverbs came to my mind: “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.” I think it is safe to say that we are all accustomed to this verse enough to almost ignore it. You may read it and think, “And that is why I am not contentious.” You may have a picture in your mind of a woman who walks around after her husband picking fights. Nags the children about everything. Fights with the neighbors over the dog mess. But there are more ways to be contentious that are equally miserable to live with and don’t look nearly as bad.
I’ll have you know that I called my resident Hebrew expert brother-in-law to get a quick word study done. This is what he (and by extension I) found. The Hebrew word for contentious is derived from the word that means to judge. The contentious person thinks she is in the right – thinks that she is judging correctly. Other associated definitions would be rivalry, to go out to contend with. Ben tells me that this sort of word would turn up in a lot in situations where there were multiple wives.
So here is what I was thinking about. It is not only possible, but easy, to contend with yourself. You may be weighing your own performance in the balance and finding it wanting. You might be judging yourself, picking on yourself, and thinking that you are totally in the right to do so. You might be contending with how you did last Christmas, with how your sister-in-law is doing this Christmas. You might be contending and judging your home in the light of Martha Stewart or Southern Living. You might be contentious and making fun of Martha Stewart and Southern Living.
You can make life for everyone in your house annoying, miserable, and dreary by being hard on yourself. You may be setting up imaginary wives who are versions of yourself and contending with them. You may be picking on what you think other people want you to be. You may be contentious without noticing, because the only person you fight with is yourself.
So celebrate the Christmas season without contention. Make your home a dry and quiet and happy place to be, even for you. Drop the contentious spirit. Don’t think it is all right for you to be grumpy about what you aren’t getting done. Don’t pick on yourself, because the ramifications of that kind of fussiness lead to a miserable home.