Perfect (adjective) 1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type
2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement
--Random House Dictionary
Ready for a perfect holiday? Maybe this year it will finally happen. A holiday with nary a glitch, if I only work hard enough and plan well enough, right? So first cue up a perfect holiday song, say “The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme and Bob Wells, sung by The Carpenters. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, Yule tide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos…”
Now picture the living room. A fire blazing away in the fireplace, just so. Every last gift has been bought and is perfectly wrapped and tucked under the tree, which is also perfectly dressed up in brightly colored ornaments, not one out of place. The whole house is perfectly clean in fact. All the family members you hoped would be home are home, safe and sound and everyone is getting along perfectly. Your neighbors envy how perfectly decorated your house is, twinkling white lights gracing perfectly landscaped shrubs and trees out front. It even snowed yesterday, but just a little, just enough for a picture perfect white dusting.
OK: now stop the music. Halt the perfectionist fantasy. Walk away from the worship at the altar of a perfect holiday. Instead get ready for an imperfect holiday.
So I want to build a fire but every year I do that the house fills up with smoke. I bought a tree but now it is tipping to the left about thirty degrees, a Yuletide leaning tower of Pisa. The house is a mess, half rolls of wrapping paper strewn across the floor and I thought I bought Aunt Mary a gift but now I’m not so sure so does that mean I have to go out to the mall again? I wish the whole family was here but Cousin Tom is still in Afghanistan on deployment and this is the first year we’ll celebrate without Grandma. We miss them both so much. Kind of sad. I had planned to go all out on the house decorations outside but work was so intense with all the layoffs this year. So all I put up was the candles in the windows: that’ll have to do. And now they say it may snow on the 24th!
A perfect or imperfect holiday. What will it be?
The holidays are coming. That’s non-negotiable. Nothing we can do about the calendar. But what we do have control over is how each of us spiritually frames these days ahead, the spiritual attitude we bring to our holidays. That’s a lesson not just for December but for all year round too. Because life is never ever perfect. Life is not some perfect image come alive from an old fashioned Christmas card. Life instead is a work in progress. Some days we burn the Christmas cookies and some days they come out just right. Some times we love the gift of today we get and some days we can’t wait to return it and just move on to tomorrow. The acceptance of this truth, whether at the holidays or any day, may just be the key to being a happier person, finally at peace with life just as it is, even with all its imperfections. Imperfect. And that’s ok. That’s life.
I always like to look to the story from my faith tradition which sets the tone for my holy imperfect days ahead. It stars a teen girl named Mary with a very unplanned pregnancy. An earthly Dad named Joseph who sets aside his hurt and faithfully stands by his betrothed. A bumpy and exhausting eighty mile donkey ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Arrive to find out every room is booked at the ancient Motel 6 so the birthing room will have to be in the stable with the animals. Disheveled and unkempt shepherds crashing into the delivery room moments after labor. And then three uninvited kings who don’t bring diapers or food but instead show up with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Kind of imperfect, huh?
As the poet Max Ehrmann wrote in “Desiderata”, “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive [God] to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”
A beautiful world. A beautiful life. A beautiful holiday. But always imperfect. Never perfect. That’s the truth I hope to find gift wrapped under the tree this year.