Giving thanks for the things I don’t have

Walking through my house after being gone for four months, I was struck by what I hadn’t missed while I was away. I didn’t miss my belongings or the furniture or even the neighborhood. Within a day, though, I was back to worrying about this or that. I had my list of chores—clean the humidifier, replace the furnace filter, unpack some things I had stored in the basement.

Father Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — I think.

I had vowed not to get caught up again in being a property owner; yet, here I was on the phone with my insurance company trying reinstate my homeowners policy, which I had replaced with landlord insurance during the time I rented my house. Unfortunately, I couldn’t just restart the old policy. The agent said I had to buy a new one, and that meant answering a bunch of questions about the property. I could feel those old ownership juices flowing again.

It didn’t help that I moved back into the house just before Thanksgiving—the kickoff of the Christmas shopping season, when the urge to buy, get and own things reaches its zenith. It’s a strange time of the year, with conflicting messages and feelings. It seems that two very disparate themes have evolved over the years and are now awkwardly intertwined like mismatched dance partners: One gyrates to the frenetic beat of “buy, buy, buy”; the other grooves to the good news of Christ’s coming and the possibility of peace on Earth.

There are occasional points of intersection, those times when we acknowledge the “true meaning of Christmas.” But is that just sentimentalism, a Hallmark moment? Or is it truly the humbling and sublime experience that the virgin birth conveys?

Each year, I think about setting my priorities straight. Then come those guilty pangs of “maybe I didn’t spend enough on gifts” or “what if someone I didn’t buy for gives me something?” What joy is there in that?

Next year will be different, I say…and so now “next year” is here, and I feel those same old expectations tugging at me. Will I give in to them, or will this be the year of change? And what exactly is change? A trip to someplace warm to escape everything? Shopping earlier so that I can enjoy Christmas Day?

At church, we are encouraging our congregation to engage in “alternative giving.” The idea is to make a donation to one of several causes we’ve identified (housing the homeless, stopping human trafficking, etc.) on behalf of someone else. Make that your gift rather than spending money on another tie or scarf that no one really needs.

That’s a good start to changing the dynamic of the season. I think about my house and being in it this Christmas but also wanting to refrain from feeling too invested in it. Not getting caught up in the trappings of ownership, the acquisition of things. I want to continue to downsize, to give away what I don’t need or never use. To simplify my life to the point where I really can focus on what is important. It may sound strange, but I want to give thanks and celebrate what I don’t have and what I haven’t really missed these last few months. That’s my holiday wish.

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