I never thought much about tradition until I brought Carl home for Thanksgiving.
I knew that all families do holidays a little bit differently, but it wasn’t until I brought in an outsider that I began to examine our traditions with fresh eyes.
Carl and I talked about traditions a lot that week, and at first it started slowly. At first it was, “what does your family eat on Thanksgiving?” and I was baffled at the word he uttered at the end of my beige, mushy, classically Thanksgiving list.
I looked back at him blankly.
“What do you mean why? We eat those things because that’s how we do it.”
I thought the discussion was closed.
But thankfully the discussion wasn’t closed and we spent the week observing and taking part in traditions that before that week, had always just been a routine for me.
And even better, we got to dream about our own traditions and the ones we wanted to adopt, or do a bit differently.
And I began to really like this idea of tradition. I like that each family has their own way of doing things. I like that my family eats cheese and chocolate fondue for our Christmas meal—all of us still burned out on turkey and stuffing and the like.
And I like that traditions can evolve.
Just like people grow and change, so do families, and so do traditions. They’re ways of marking where we’ve been, and setting a course for where we want to go.
And fresh off Thanksgiving, I began to examine my family’s Christmas traditions.
One of the first things that comes to mind are the presents.
We love presents in my family. And to this day, my sister and I run down the stairs in our penguin onesies to find the mountain of gifts under the tree.
It’s so much fun.
And I get that not all families do Christmas this way. I understand that as an adult, I’m not entitled to any presents, let alone a mountain of them. But if it helps, I’m always incredibly grateful.
But that’s a word I’ve been thinking about recently, “entitled.” Or maybe it’s more the word “deserve” that I’ve been chewing over lately.
My prayer life has been tough this year.
I think I’ve stopped trusting God like I used to. But it’s not because I don’t trust God, it’s because I don’t trust me.
I am NOT a perfect Christian. You’d think that working in a missions organization would make that easier, but instead it reminds me of all of the spiritual things I should be doing, but often don’t.
I don’t pray enough, or read my bible enough, or give away enough money. I’m not kind enough, or loving enough, and I don’t spend nearly enough time with God.
And so when I come to him, with a Christmas list, or a prayer or two, I come afraid. Because I know that I don’t deserve a thing that I am asking for. I almost don’t want to ask at all.
I was at my home church’s Christmas service on Sunday, and the pastor brought up the passage Matthew 6:9-11
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
And as I watched the parents in the room listen to this verse, I caught sight of my own mom and dad out of the corner of my eye.
I have NOT always been a perfect child. In fact, I went through a long phase in middle school, high school, and probably part of college when I think they may have wanted to send me off with the circus. (I certainly would have if I were them.)
But still, each year on Christmas morning, Kelly and I would tumble down the stairs to find a mountain of gifts—not one of which was deserved.
And so this year, as I tumble down the stairs, feeling like I never had to grow up as I tear through piles of wrapping paper, I’m going to be thinking about the word “deserve.”
I don’t deserve a single thing. I’m not a perfect daughter to my parents and certainly not to God.
But that pile shows me something.
It shows me love that is undeserved but given anyway, a kind of love that I didn’t earn, of parents that love me not because of who I am, but because of who they are.
Jesus is, to this day, the greatest gift the world has ever received. And it wasn’t our resume or good behavior that paid for that gift. It was a Father who loves us—not because of who we are, but because of who he is.