Sunday, December 14, 2008

Give me fewer choices

As the holiday season advances upon us I am struck by how difficult it is to keep up with friendships near and far in these days of overly busy schedules and obligations. I hear the advice to simplify, and I am mystified as to what I can reasonably give up without failing someone in my circle of friends and responsibilities. Really, I am not that important, and I know it.

Yet, I feel surrounded by people who are waiting for me to do the next task. No doubt it's more a mindset than a reality, this phenomenon that I am describing. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way and that this feeling is a very central piece of the holiday season that coincides with the end of the year. Folks are beginning to reflect upon the past 12 months and tally up what's been done, what's been overlooked, and what's been left behind.

I suspect that a lot of the angst arises out of the old “cup half full, cup half empty” points of view. It’s much easier to count my shortfalls at year end than to count my blessings. Somehow counting my blessings seems to fall into another holiday season, not this one. I torment myself with all the things left undone, and occasionally when I remember not only the thing left undone, but the thing forgotten altogether until just this moment, then I really spiral into the darkness of inner space where self-blame reigns.

It’s a lot easier to give advice than to take advice, and as my husband, Herb, says, “From a Darwinian perspective, all the advice-takers died off, and only the advice givers remain.” I know how to counsel the ones who see the cup as half empty. Think about the people who have added to your life in 2008. Reflect on the things you’ve done and seen that have added to who you are. Focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown in the past year. Being thankful and actively giving thanks are intentional acts. They don’t happen just because you’re a person of good character. That’s why I consider my practice of giving thanks to be a spiritual discipline.

When I think about simplifying my life, I recall my oft-voiced lament in supermarkets and department stores, which I actually seldom frequent anymore. I find myself remarking, “Give me fewer choices.” Just exactly how many colors, sizes, shapes, and new designs of consumer objects does anyone need? This question seems especially relevant during the flurry of Christmas shopping occurring right now. I am equally overwhelmed by the choices in packaged breads. All I want is a loaf of tasty whole grain bread at a reasonable price. Much as I appreciate the splendor of a gourmet counter full of 300 different domestic and imported cheeses, I would eat and cook just fine if there were only 30 from which to choose. I can’t even begin to imagine the waste that surely ensues given so many choices and so many things left behind, unchosen.

I’m thinking that I need to focus on the ones who have suffered losses in the past year and tell them that I haven’t forgotten their loved ones either, be it a parent or a beloved animal companion. I’m reminded of the ones who have left the churches and communities where we spent time together and how much I want them to know that I miss their presence. I’m planning on letting go of the things that I didn’t get around to doing, because maybe, they weren’t meant to be done . . . by me. I’m going to sit in the warmth of the sun and call up the faces of the ones I love and send them good vibes.

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