This post was written by guest contributor, Lindsey Hoffman.
A good friend of mine in high-school was (still is) a figure skater. I rarely had the opportunity to see her in her element on the ice, but occasionally on a Friday night she and I would watch her competition tapes. We’d do this while baking cookies and dreaming about the future, or we’d just skip the baking altogether and go right for the cookie dough. To this day, she probably has no idea just how I marveled at the art she so seamlessly commanded. I would watch as she did circle after circle on the ice, swaying this way and that, completing jumps and spins as if it were as easy as setting a top on a smooth surface and letting it go. I was amazed.
Elegant. Natural. Rhythmic. Refined. Smooth. Beautiful. She was a picture of grace.
I wanted to be that picture of grace, too. This friend made every movement appear easy and natural. For a split second I would daydream about my own debut on the ice. “Maybe it really is as simple as she makes it appear,” I’d think. Only then would I remember all of the times she’d practice–often after school and sometimes in the early mornings. She dedicated so many hours on and off the ice to become the skater she is today.
All of the grace and beauty I witnessed in her wasn’t without years of labor and dedication.
Sometimes this friend had a crowd to cheer her on, but most days it was just she and the ice and her coach. She used to tell me how she’d set goals for herself when it was her day to practice alone. She determined ahead of time to push herself hardest on the days when no one else was watching. There was something in her that propelled her to refine her skill and build fresh perspective–something I knew nothing about when it came to ice skating.
It’s been several years since I had those far off thoughts that skating might actually be a natural talent for me. I’ve learned by experience since then that simply skating across the ice at a steady pace isn’t as easy as it looks!
I think about this when I consider the season of Advent–often times we enter into this time of year with the goal of coming out a graceful figure skater, when in reality we feel and look more like a roughed-up hockey player.
It’s easy to preach to ourselves come October/November that this year is going to be different. We will move about, grace-filled and elegant, carrying a calm, quiet, steady presence everywhere we go. There will be no last minute shopping or impulse purchases for the sake of convenience. We will create plenty of margin for togetherness and carve out space for cherishing the Advent season for everything it is. We determine that the outcome will leave us more graceful this time around, but often times (at least for myself personally) I don’t put in the effort to walk away from December as a graceful figure skater. Not even close.
Year after year, I find myself attempting this balancing act of festive splendor and cherishing the gift. The one true gift.
My desire is to have an outwardly simple Christmas season while I focus more inwardly on the reason for Advent. Somehow though, when Christmas is over each year, I realize that most of what I wanted from the season ended up forgotten again or muted out by my intense focus on balancing “all the things.” I am left feeling discouraged instead of redeemed.
This year, I am clinging to a simple truth, which might just be the start of graceful living:
“Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” –Mt. 26.41
This is exactly where I find myself this December. My spirit is willing to embrace the truest parts of the season, but my flesh is so weak. I can’t expect to celebrate the gift of Jesus and savor Him as the sacred blessing that He is if I am counting on my flesh to carry me through.
It doesn’t matter what my intentions are–if I just expect my spirit’s whispers to magically be heard over the noise of my flesh, the whispers will be drowned out again. Just like my friend who has dedicated years of her life to achieve such a graceful presence on the ice, I need to spend time investing in the heart behind my celebrations.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if I scale back on the decorations or buy less of this and make more of that. It counts for nothing, unless my heart is in the right place.
I can do all of the right things outwardly this season and set goals to become better here and less stressed there; but the thing is, no amount of goal setting and scaling back will eliminate the balancing act. These things will only add to it, unless my heart behind each decision is intentional. The simple thing that Jesus told His disciples to do years and years ago is the profound thing I need to hold onto and practice this December.
Prayer is a perspective changer. It gives me the freedom to drop all of the agendas and return again to the cross. Instead of waking up each morning bombarded with my lists and the spirit whispers that my flesh overtakes, I’m laying it all down to find Christ. As I return to Him again and again, He is reminding me that if I entrust myself fully to His hands, He will indeed lead me on the ice and turn all of my slow, rusty strides into something graceful.
But I must be willing to show up. Day after day and often times moment by moment.
Living out a graceful December is probably the least attractive life choice this season. It isn’t easy to do a heart check when my cart is full of Christmas decor that I don’t need at all, and then to begin my stroll back around the store to put everything back in it’s place. It isn’t easy to say no to things that I recognize deep down will only pull my attention away from the heart of my celebration this season. It isn’t even easy to stick with a more organic gift giving posture for family and friends this year, especially when I set my sights on doing so months before the universe began shouting about all of the other appealing gifts out there.
Graceful looks different for each of us. Something that could spiral my graceful strides out of control may be the very thing that sets your heart back to an elegant rhythm again. That is the beauty behind our unique nature, and I love it!
Each of us will and should approach this Advent season differently, but what I’m suggesting this December is that the heart behind our celebrations will either leave us feeling refreshed and grateful, or weary and undone.
Graceful December, for me, looks like waking up every day of the Advent calendar and getting on my knees before my flesh has time to speak.
It looks like opening the Word and getting lost in the Advent story all over again, and like creating gifts for the ones I love and praying for them as I do. It looks like putting down my pride again and again and serving others, not just pleasing them. It looks like white lights hung all around my house with simple decor. It looks like spending time with my people and truly being present. And it looks like painful heart checks that may feel hard in the moment but will leave me less self-focused come January. It looks a lot like laughter, tears and failures, but it will be worth it because Christ is worth it.
Today I will pray because my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. Today I will choose to embrace a graceful stride and ask Him to bring it back again tomorrow. Today I will live in the moments of now and cling only to God’s leading embrace.
I won’t plan out tomorrow or punish myself for the times I fall down.
I will get back up and find His graceful example again. I will put in the time when no one else is watching. I will, because Christ came as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Won’t you join me, dear friend? It doesn’t matter how yesterday left you feeling down and overwhelmed. Today is a brand new opportunity to lace up those ice skates and begin again. God desires to lead you and make your every move elegantly beautiful.
He is orchestrating something glorious as we show up to the rink this December–each of us moving about the ice and doing the heart work of etching out “G R A C E” in jumps and stumbles and spins, and all the while, directing our audience’s attention back to Christ.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV
A kindred spirit and a very dear friend of mine, Lindsey Hoffman blogs at Becoming Autumn, where she shares her gift of writing and inspires with her eye for design. I invited Lindsey to join us here this #gracefulDecember, because she has taught me so much about grace as we’ve journeyed through peaks and valleys together, great and small. Lindsey is a light to all who meet her–her heart for Christ and for His Kingdom are evident in the way she loves her husband, Chase, her family and friends, and anyone who has the pleasure to sit with her for only a moment. She is one of the most intentional, prayerful, beautiful souls I’ve had the pleasure to know. As is evident in her words and wisdom, she exemplifies a spirit of humility that I pray will bless each of you in this graceful season. xo! molly madonna