This weekend I attended The Gift of Christmas–a night of spoken-word poetry and music with Ann Voskamp, Amena Brown and Ellie Holcomb. I expected the Christmas songs and the candles and for the word “advent” to be thrown around a few times, but I didn’t expect to be so moved by it all.
I like Christmas, but I’m not a fanatic. I don’t want to get all excited about something that will last only one day. I think it’s a self-preservation thing. Anyways, that’s why I didn’t expect much more from this event than to listen to one of my favorite writers talk. But instead of the night being about her, or the music or the holiday season, the night spoke directly to the woman’s heart. More specifically, it spoke directly to the achieving, never-feels-good-enough, perfectionist woman’s heart. That was the part I didn’t expect from a Christmas service.
Maybe one of those adjectives—achieving, never-feels-good-enough, perfectionist—resonates with you. Or maybe you’re lucky like me, and all three apply at any given moment. Either way, the message that night would have moved you, too.
“Immanuel,” they kept saying. “I know,” I thought. “It means ‘God with us,’ and I could stand up there and talk all about that for several minutes because I’ve gone to Christmas things like this every year for my entire life.” What I haven’t been doing my entire life, I realized that night, was applying Immanuel to this need to be enough. I don’t think about God as Immanuel in the midst of all of my striving and hustle.
Ann Voskamp explained the connection. She talked about how in all the other religions of the world, the goal is to do enough, be good enough, check enough things off the list in order to “arrive.” The problem with that, she said, is that not one heart is good enough, pure enough or faithful enough to deserve one ounce of anything good. We are all doomed.
His birth means we don’t have to be any certain thing, act any certain way, perform any certain acts. What makes us enough is him.
Between songs and poems, musician Ellie Holcomb told her story. One that sounded strikingly similar to mine, and maybe yours too. It was about discovering grace for the first time after being raised in a grace-filled home and a grace-filled church. It’s amazing, and scary, how we can almost miss it. The whole point.
And it’s amazing how that message of the manger has escaped me. The message that we are enough because of this little baby, and that nothing I’ve done in my life thus far has brought me any closer to this child, and nothing I’ve done in my life thus far has taken me any farther from him. That’s what it means for God to be with us. Immanuel. Christmas means we have not strayed too far this year, yet we have not earned brownie points this year either. We’re not getting farther away from him and we’re not getting closer to him because he is with us and has been with us all along. It’s like trying to get closer to your own lungs or trying to distance yourself from them. You can’t. Your lungs will always be in the same place, and they will always be a part of you.
Immanuel is the greatest promise, but it’s also kind of a bummer. This weekend I was reminded, yet again, that all the good stuff I do isn’t actually getting me anywhere or counting for anything. This is hard for the perfectionist and achieving types to hear sometimes. Eventually though, like what is happening to me now, the idea of Immanuel grows more appealing than my list of prizes and achievements, and the holiday season becomes a reminder that I can sit down and I can rest, really rest, in the way I was made to.