This seems to be the prominent question when it comes to Christmas décor. One of my friends walked into our kitchen yesterday and admired an arrangement I had made. As she asked whether it was real or artificial, she reached out and touched the branches. “Oh, it looked so real!” The branches felt fake so she knew they were fake.
In our home, we choose real every year for our Christmas tree, our front door wreath, and the garland draped from our front porch railing. Yes, it’s more work, more costly, and more mess with all those needles and sap. But the smell of real pine? And the feel as I run my hands along the branches? Ahhhh! Nothing like it! Not even from a burning Yankee balsam fir-scented candle—dyed green, of course!
As with Christmas décor, we choose real relating with each other around here, sharing what we really think and what we really feel instead of wearing fake smiles and uttering less-than-true words about our inner states. Sure, being honest often means being vulnerable, especially when one thinks something that runs counter to majority opinion or when someone feels something other than happy. You know, the other three horsemen of the emotional apocalypse—mad, sad, and scared. But if people want real connection with other people, they need to risk being real and risk making a mess that will need cleaned up. People will risk being real if others will risk being real as well, if intentions are to help and not harm, to clean up messes we all make. This is how safe, fulfilling relationships are formed, grow, and survive.
So we practice, because we’re far from perfect.
Our family, our one little circle of real, we call each other out when we sense fake is intruding on real and the walls start going up, brick-by-brick. No one-up relationships will do, even between parents and children. After all, even kids know when their parents are faking. Consider this kitchen scenario . . .
“How are you, Mom?” the teenager says when grabbing and handful of Cheese-Its from the pantry.
“Just FINE!” Mom huffs while closing the kitchen cabinets in a stronger manner than usual and whipping out the pots and lids, clanging them like cymbals being played fortissimo.
The kid knows the truth. Mom is NOT fine. She’s faking, but not fooling.
Husbands can tell. Wives can tell. Kids can tell. Friends can tell. Extended family can tell. Even perfect strangers can tell. And we can tell when someone ALWAYS says they’re fine while wearing a sappy sweet smile because no one is ever ALWAYS fine. So who are we fooling and what are we accomplishing?
We’re fooling ourselves and we’re accomplishing disconnection, alienation, lack of true relationship, lack of intimacy. We’re accomplishing living anti-Christ. We’re practicing death, not life, with all our fake.
Jesus came to be with us not just as omnipotent God but as real human being. He wanted to put on vulnerable humanity so he could relate with us—so he could connect with us on the most intimate level possible. He gave us the best example of how we are to relate to God and to one another. He showed us love in action.
Could who Jesus is and how He teaches us to relate with God, with ourselves, and with each other be the main reason why so many of us dislike and even dread the holiday season? Could all this talk of love and peace and goodwill toward God, ourselves, and others be a painful reminder that we’re not really loving, or peace-producing, or goodwill-giving in our hearts and that others who are important to us aren’t that way toward us either? Could the pain of this holiday season be the reminder of all that’s supposed to be but ISN’T? Could Christmas be a sore reminder of what a mess we’ve made and how empty we feel even while wallets empty at stores and presents fill up Christmas tree skirts?
Jesus shows us how to be different. Jesus gives us His power to be different. He helps us be real. He helps us stop all the artificial madness. But different requires risk. Different requires vulnerable. Different requires living truth, not lies—real, not fake.
Here’s the rub.
Everything every human being could ever really want is found in real, intimate relationship with God and real, intimate relationship with each other. That sums up the two greatest commandments, per Jesus:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39.
If we loved God honestly and completely—if we loved others exactly the way we need to be loved—this world would have no lack of anything because true love serves and heals and fulfills completely. But we screw it up with our pride, our fear, our selfishness, and our false notions of what love really is. God knows the truth about us. But He isn’t hounding us about it, scaring us off. He’s inviting us to do something so we can find what we most want and so we can love Him and others as He most wants . . .
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (emphasis mine)
We are capable of humbling ourselves—of admitting that we haven’t figured out how to do this “relationship thing” with God and others, or how to even love ourselves properly, for that matter. Our admission of missing the mark is the ticket to receiving what we keep trying to get and give but never end up succeeding—not for long, anyway.
So this Christmas season—this Advent season—where we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child—the one who came to set us free from fake selves and fake relationships—the one who came to show us what real love is—can we try a little humility and admit our need of Jesus in our hearts and in our relationships? Will we learn from Him? Will we practice His gentle, humble, truth-filled ways, both toward ourselves and others? Will we seek to serve as well as being served? He WILL help us. He promised . . .
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
All we need do is admit our need, ask for His help, and practice, practice, practice His ways.
“He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” Isaiah 2:3
Why would we want to choose God’s paths instead of our own?
Deuteronomy 10:13 says walking in God’s way is for our own good. Believe it and thrive spiritually. Or don’t, and find your heart and soul withering, eventually, as well as your relationships.
How about we choose Christ and His ways this Advent season? Choose real. Choose true. Glorify Him and LIVE!