Slot A and Tab B

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That Christmas should be a time of joy and peace is a given. That it’s often instead a time of stress and disagreement is also a given. No matter how much we try peel back the stress of gift buying and meal planning to glimpse the holiness beneath, things can get complicated. A case in point: My wife has taken the kids to town under the ruse of some last minute shopping. But the truth? She wanted to put a little distance between my children and me. It’s been a rough morning in the child-rearing department. Lots of crying and screaming and tantrum-throwing. And that’s just on my end. I’m a big believer in The Rules of the House, those dictums set in place by my wife and I in order to ensure peace and domestic tranquility. Kids need structure, I think. Boundaries. They need to know what’s expected of them and what will happen if they shirk their responsibilities.

In the space of four short hours this morning, more than a few of those rules have been broken. Two rooms have gone uncleaned. One set of teeth has gone unbrushed. One shoving match had to be broken up, two sets of pajamas had to be picked up, and the remains of a Play-Doh battle had to be cleaned up. All by me. The result? One lecture, one mini-sermon, and an exodus to Target so Daddy can have some alone time to calm down. I’m using this opportunity in a constructive manner by putting together the centerpiece of my daughter’s Christmas—an easel. Complete with dry erase board, chalkboard, and painting paper. When finished, it will be a springboard to creativity. Problem is, I’m not sure it will ever be finished. I’ve been at this an hour, and so far I have a total of one piece put together. One. And it’s the smallest one. The one that actually came out of the box with the screw already in it. All I had to do was tighten the stupid thing. And yes, I’m using the directions. I’m not so vain a man as to believe that an instruction manual is an unnecessary waste of a tree.

Ignoring the directions isn’t the problem. The problem is the directions themselves. Consider: Insert wood screw A into slot A and rotate counter-clockwise into tab B, securing with bolt K, washer L, and nut C. Align both into slot D and secure with bolt M, then repeat process with opposite side O. See what I mean? It would be easier for me to split the atom. This experience hasn’t been all bad, though. I’ve found a new respect for God that may have otherwise gone unacknowledged. I can’t put together a simple toy, yet He put together an entire universe. On the other hand, maybe it would have taken Him longer if He had to go by directions like these. Isn’t that the way with instructions sometimes? They’re necessary, no doubt. But the people writing them are often either too educated or too vague to allow a guy like me an understanding of exactly what they mean and what I need to do.

That, I think, is why Christmas is so amazing. I’ve read there are about 613 rules in the Old Testament that govern what people had to do in order to find favor with God. Eat this, not that. Wash this way, not that way. Accept this, shun that. Having to follow all those instructions would be pretty daunting. But the joy of Christmas is all that those instructions were rewritten in the form of a baby. The way to God was simplified. Those 613 steps were reduced to just these few—we can’t get to God, so He came to us. Believe in the child from the manger, and you’ll have life everlasting. I’m not sure, but there are probably close to 613 rules in our house. That’s way too many, I think. So in the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to simplify them—take care of others, and take care of yourself. That should cut down on the crying and screaming and tantrum-throwing. From the kids, too. I’m thankful the instruction manual for my life doesn’t involve slots or tabs or funky maneuverings. The God of my life isn’t the easel sort of God. I take comfort in that. It helps me know that even if my Christmas has yet to be in order, I am.

Post by Billy Coffey of Photo by Ann Voskamp of Holy Experience.