Week 2, Day 2…Releasing Expectations

December 25, 2004, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the Christmas when the proverbial poop hit the fan. I finally said out loud to Andy what I’d been stuffing down for the eight years we’d been married: “I hate Christmas!”

I felt terrible saying this about one of the most sacred holidays. Of course, I didn’t hate celebrating the birth of Jesus. It was the crowded airplanes and airports I despised and spending 12 days of Christmas in a house packed with 12 relatives.

I loathed trying to come up with gift ideas for 19 relatives who already had everything they needed. I was bitter about spending evenings and weekends shopping.

The amount of toys our kids received at Christmas put a knot in my stomach. They already had more toys than they could play with, and I envisioned the playroom getting more cluttered with each gift they unwrapped.

I was emotionally drained from trying to please and meet the expectations of my parents, two sets of in-laws, grandparents, husband, and children. Overall, I felt a deep sadness that the Christmas season, which should be a time of worship and meaningful reflection, was instead a season of strain and stress.

As I named all the things that sucked the life out of me at Christmas, I had an epiphany. Christmas doesn’t have to be this way! I can choose a different way, a better way. I can say “no” to excess, people pleasing, and the things that, for me, crowd Jesus out of Christmas. And in saying “no” to these things I can say “yes” to a more peaceful, meaningful season that will give our family the space to ponder and wonder at the mystery of the incarnation.

Our Christmases have gotten progressively better over the years. We’ve stopped traveling at Christmas and instead visit relatives during the summer. We gently encourage our parents to give our children fewer gifts. We spend a lot less time shopping by giving relational gifts of quality time.

Andy has released himself from the pressure to spend two cold, miserable Saturdays on a ladder, hanging up and taking down Christmas lights, and for the most part, I’ve rejected the belief that it’s my job to try to make everyone happy.

Is God nudging you to reject or release anything this Christmas? Trust his prompting, and enjoy the space and freedom to worship him fully.

Marta Oti Sears


Marta Oti Sears is a justice advocate with International Justice Mission and is trying her hand at freelance writing. Her favorite spot during Advent is in front of the fire, Advent Reader in hand, with no light but a candle and the light of the Christmas tree.


5 thoughts on “Week 2, Day 2…Releasing Expectations

  1. Reid Family says:

    Marta, our family is SO INCREDIBLY thankful for your family. Oh, let me count the ways!

    This kind of thinking and writing is yet another reason. We have taken some of these steps with you, but have a long way to go in finding the kind of balanced sense of peace that nurtures a more truthful representation of Christmas.

    Two struggles I’ve had (am having): how do we accurately demonstrate a generous and thoughtful love to family members who give and receive love so well through gift-giving? AND, I struggle with letting go of the generosity that family members direct towards me each Christmas. Am I ready to ask that their generosity be directed towards the work of Jesus in the world?

  2. Josh and Kayla, I totally resonate with your struggles. I don’t want to squelch or hurt those whose “love language” is gift-giving either. One helpful scenario for us is that our relatives often ask us for gift ideas. I choose to believe that they really want to know what we most desire for Christmas, so we tell them that what we truly want most for Christmas is a gift (donation) to IJM or Grace Ministries on our behalf.

    Knowing that they probably also want the joy of watching us open something tangible when we celebrate together, we also give an idea for something inexpensive that could fill this purpose. When that inexpensive gift idea can also bless the poor or the oppressed – that’s golden! Some of the gift ideas we’ve shared include fair trade chocolate or coffee, one of the Micah 6:8 t-shirts or bracelets that benefits Grace Ministries, an Invisible Children bracelet, or an item from Ten Thousand Villages, Punjammies, Trade as One, Night Light International, etc.

    I can also relate to the second struggle you named. This is where I’ve had to take a hard look at myself and ask whether I care about the poor and the oppressed enough to personally sacrifice in order to help them, or whether I’m going to choose to abdicate Jesus’ call to care for the “least of these.”

    Advent Conspiracy sermons and writings have helped me fully embrace the reality that Christmas is about worshipping Jesus. It’s his birthday, not mine. The wise men are often cited as the reason why we exchange gifts at Christmas. But the wise men brought gifts for Jesus, not for each other.

    I’ll be praying for you as you navigate this Advent and Christmas. Love you!

  3. “One of the common fears people have about the Advent Conspiracy is what their relatives might think, do, feel, or say. Quite honestly, in this day and time, it does sound crazy at first to spend less, to give more, and to use our holiday money to love our brothers and sisters around the world. Joseph, however, reminds us that while the call of God isn’t always easy or conventional, it is always right – and God will give us the courage to follow if we are willing to obey. Like Joseph, when we act in obedience to God’s invitation – despite even the social cost – we help God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

    – from Advent Conspiracy (the book), “Worship Fully” chapter, page 41

  4. This quote has stuck with me for several years:

    “WL’s [White Liberals] think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that.”
    ― Paul Farmer

    From the book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

  5. Penny Krueger says:

    Christmas was once a miserable time for me as well. After 2 consecutive 1970’s Christmas Eves spent weeping because I did not have the economic ability to keep up with my sister’s spending, I decided to stop trying. Of course, family comments about how generous and loving my sister was, implying that I was not, did not stop.

    As time went by my children became older and my own siblings began to desire a less expensive Christmas. By this time my sister had gone bankrupt and been divorced. So we all resolved to live simpler. It didn’t happen quickly, but I do think we finally are at a place that is good. Bill & I give cash so our adult children can buy tools, shoes, or whatever they want. We do this at Thanksgiving. It is kind of like a family bonus. We look forward to handmade items. This year I am wishing for a birdhouse such as Joe built at Surfside. Sometimes we forgo gifts altogether and take a short vacation together at Bend or Hood River.

    When we gather with our older siblings we play a fun gift exchange game. This does not involve anymore money than people really want to spend. In fact some of the most sought after gifts have been very ordinary. Although I do admit to observing some tension over $25 Fred Meyer gift cards.

    When we live in a culture of plenty, this is a constant problem. I am so glad young families are seeing the value of being joyfully frugal and concentrating on Christ, not the shopping list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: