Throughout my adulthood, the holiday season lost its luster. At first, I attributed this to “growing up.” But as I have further reflected on it through the years, I no longer buy that argument. As a child in the 1970s, you tended to get clothes three times a year. You got them at Easter, when school started, and at Christmas. Easter was marked by a new set of what my mother called “good clothes.” They were for special occasions. I got my first “good” watch when I was twelve. People thought back then that a man needed a watch. It was a sort of right of passage. Of course, with the start of school, you got everyday clothing. The kind of stuff you could rough house on the playground and after school with your friends. At Christmas, you got new clothes for Spring.
This is not a blog about nostalgia. I am just describing the way that it was. However, I overlooked what I call “the times between” for years. You see, I only got clothes occasionally. I only got to have special meals occasionally. The meals at my grandparent’s house (where I spent most of my childhood) were the same every week, like clockwork. I can recite the menu to this day. I never asked, “what are we having for dinner?” It was practically etched in stone. We went out to eat maybe once a month. Most of the time, it was for a birthday celebration or other special occasion. It was not until the roaring 90s, at least in Tennessee, that the roadsides became littered with every kind of food you can imagine. When McDonald’s created the Happy Meal, it presaged the end of celebration. Let me explain.
The holidays have lost their luster not because we have forgotten how to celebrate but because every day has become a celebration. We eat very high-calorie foods every day. America has an obesity epidemic. We watch all the new movies at home on streaming services. Amazon delivers clothes quickly and cheaply to our doorsteps. We open presents (Amazon/FedEx/UPS boxes) frequently. The public school system fell into disrepair, and so Christians began to homeschool. The Boy Scouts imploded into immorality, and the Girl Scouts began to promote anything but girlhood. PTA meetings are now about whether you can teach Woke and FBI agents attend them. Excess in everything has led to the collapse of our social fabric.
The question arises, to quote Francis Schaeffer, “How Should We Then Live?” The knee-jerk response, at least the mistake I made, was to try to amp up my special celebrations. We tried to make birthdays and holidays something special in our house. But how can you compete with the excesses of modern American society? No matter what we did, once the children were old enough to venture out, just like their parents, they were sucked into the vortex of excess. Then it hit me like a lightning bolt. I didn’t need to amp up my celebrations. I needed to tamp down on the excess between the seasons of celebration. I was missing not “celebration” but “the times between.” But how do you do this?
I explained part of the answer last week from a different angle. Step one for me was to return to a Christian Calendar and leave off the pagan one. In short, I first began to try and celebrate again. I started to make the celebrations of God… which are celebrations of worship, the rhythm I chose to live by. The second aspect, and just as important, is that I began planning my life around self-control as a matter of worship. In the times between celebrations, I started to bring the TIMELESS Practices (Giving, Prayer, Fasting, Serving the Poor, and Rest) into a more formal, planned-out schedule. I went about it this way.
I noticed that there are seven beatitudes that I could use as a regular meditative rule. A rule is an old word used by Christians to denote a plan for one’s life. Usually, a rule is meant for a group of people. I placed the beatitudes one on each day in the order of their listing by our Lord in Matthew 5. So, for instance, Sunday is “poor in spirit.” I meditate on my spiritual poverty on Sundays. On the Lord’s Day, I am reminded of my need and the riches of Christ. I partake of a sacred meal that I could not provide for myself in the Lord’s Supper. Before one can appreciate their riches “in Christ,” they must realize how truly poor they are without Him. As long as a man thinks he is rich and in need of nothing, Jesus can never be His. Nothing in my hands I bring, only to the cross I cling, as the old hymn writer says. Then I noticed that as I laid out my week according to the beatitudes, there was a place where I could regularly place confession, a fast day, service of the poor, witnessing, etc. My rule came into existence by teaming the TIMELESS practices (the means of grace) with my meditation. Here’s what my personal Daily Meditative Rule looks like.
Sunday is “Poor in Spirit” I rest on this day. I give my self to receiving the riches of Christ instead of laboring for money.
Monday is “Mourning.” On this day I confess sins. Mine, the churches, my cities, the nations, etc.
Tuesday is “Meekness.” I try to be more gentle in my speech. Very hard day for me. I used to hate this day the most. 🙂
Wednesday is “Hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” I fast from food and pray more, desiring deeper sanctification.
Thursday is “merciful.” At one time I saved 5.00 per meal from Wednesday (15.00) and sought to use it to serve the poor.
Friday is “pure in heart.” I try to examine my motives and make sure they are godly and not self-serving.
Saturday is “peacemaking.” A great day to try and help or serve a neighbor in some small way, or share the Gospel with someone.
By ordering my life around Christian disciplines, I found a natural resistance was built into it against excess. And when excess creeps back in, as it inevitably does because I am a 21st Century American like everyone else, I can sense it early and begin putting it back aright. One doesn’t truly know darkness without light. Breaking the cycle of excess and living for a season in Christian self-control governed by the Holy Spirit and the biblical disciplines brings light. When the shadows start to creep back in, because one has experienced the light, you can feel it. By using the beatitudes and biblical disciplines together, I was able to build back into my life “the times between.” In other words, I found that the key to feasting was fasting. The way to the recovery of celebration was by returning my life to the mundane. Our Christian forefathers and mothers knew the way to a life of abundance (spiritual abundance) was through delayed gratification. It sounds funny for a Christian, after ten years of following Christ, to finally learn that the way to a life of meaning is through a life of self-denial. But that is the lesson I learned, and it was at least ten years into my walk with the Lord that I began to learn it.
May the Lord richly bless you all in Christ and Happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. If any one would ever like to join me in following this rule of meditation and practice for any length of time, the more the merrier I always say. I’d be happy to walk with a group of folks in following this daily rule. I’m always on it so jump on any week or weeks you would like, just let me know so we can fast and pray together, encouraging one another as we do.