The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees

Just the other day, my wife Deborah and I were having a discussion about how the set up for Christmas has gotten out of control.  The kids keep pressuring us into having the most “lit” house in the neighborhood, and the little Christmas trinkets and decorations keep filling more and more plastic bins in the attic necessitating a complete home makeover every December.  We no longer have the square footage available to accommodate all of it.  I had my own Clark Griswold moment last year.  I was attempting to illuminate a snowman, but couldn’t get it right in the tangle of wires.  In frustration, I kicked poor frosty across the lawn.  In the end, it took a day and a half to get everything setup right.  Afterwards, I lamented to Deborah about the feeling of futility that rushed over me thinking that I’d be putting it all back just 4 weeks later.

There is a very human tendency to stress over the anticipation of an event and to miss out on participating in it.  As the saying goes, “we miss the forest for the trees.”  Have you ever obsessed over the planning of a family gathering, or a party knowing that everything had to be just right for those who were attending only to find that your obsession over everything being perfect inhibited you from ever relaxing enough to enjoy it?  I’ve noticed this in playing music for the church worship experience.  Sometimes I get fixated on playing the chords and the music just right.  Someone might mention to me how great the worship experience was that morning, but I wouldn’t know what they were talking about because I was focused on staying in rhythm and not making any mistakes.  In those moments, I forget that it’s not about the music, it’s about who we are worshipping.  It’s easy to get distracted by activity and miss the point altogether.  It reminds me of a warning Jesus gives recorded in Luke’s gospel.

Luke 21:34
“But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once.

I used to take this as Jesus warning me not to be caught playing video games when he returns.  How embarrassing would that be?  But let’s get real for a moment.  With six billion plus people living in the world, it’s a real possibility that two billion of them will be asleep upon the return of Jesus and a few million more will be arbitrarily sitting on the toilet (literally, caught with their pants down).  Life is full of plain, mundane activities.  It’s not healthy to go overboard and radicalize the Christian experience by placing the bar at 110%.  In fact, isn’t that the very response Jesus criticized the Pharisees over?  So, what does Jesus want from us?  

Jesus is gently reminding us here to not let our faith grow cold.  Don’t let the light inside of you dim.  Be on your guard against the dulling of your faith.  Activity has a way of sucking the meaning out of life; busyness has a way of distracting us from what is most important.  Let’s not spend another Christmas exhausted, or anxious.  Let’s be mindful of the presence of Jesus and the gift of his incarnation.  We can know God through Jesus Christ and we have hope for the future.  Filling our hearts with the implications of those two things alone will keep us on the edge of our seats waiting for whatever comes next.