For many children, the Christmas season is filled with excitement and a sense of joy filled anticipation. It was no different for me. I loved everything about Christmas. My family was a church on Christmas and Easter kind of family, and I didn’t really know Jesus until I was 19, but I loved the beauty of the Christmas Eve service. It was special to be allowed to stay up late and wear a new dress. I remember stepping outside on a clear, cold Christmas Eve in Illinois and thinking the stars seemed especially bright. A thin layer of ice blanketed the driveway, and I was careful not to let my new patent leather shoes slip, even as my eyes were drawn toward the night sky. In that moment, my heart wanted to believe there was something magical about Christmas.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
Joy of surprise!
Each Christmas morning, I padded into the living room, taking in the glow of our colorful Christmas lights while inhaling the scent of fresh pine. Even the memory feels magical. What would be under the tree? There would surely be the gifts I had hinted to my parents I would like. But there would also be surprises I never anticipated. I especially relished the small wonders tucked inside my stocking. Perhaps some fancifully-shaped marzipan or mind-bending puzzle. What joy to be surprised!
The December I turned eleven I couldn’t contain my excitement in the days leading up to Christmas. I decided I had to know what joys awaited. I stealthily searched every conceivable hiding place in our home. I found books and clothing, crafts and trinkets, games and gadgets. It was all delightful, and my anticipation grew. What other surprises would I discover on Christmas morning?
That year, I entered the living room with my usual anticipation. As an only child, the moment was all mine. In the early morning silence, I was free to unwrap everything under the tree. One by one, I unwrapped the gifts I had already seen hidden throughout the house. Surely there must be more? But there were no surprises to be found, not even in my stocking. As the reality hit me, I was overcome by a profound mixture of disappointment and shame. I knew the only person responsible for ruining my Christmas morning was me. My own impatience had stolen my joy.
Joy and time
Like many of life’s disappointments, this was a lesson. Never again would I attempt to experience the wonder of Christmas morning before its proper time. I would learn to savor the wonder of expectation instead. And this lesson can be applied to every season of our lives. Like Mary, anticipating the birth of Jesus, our part is to trust that God will fulfill all things in their proper time. I wish I could so easily say, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
But how often do we find ourselves trying to unwrap life’s surprises before the proper time? We want to know what good things are headed our way. And sometimes our prayers reflect this restlessness. We ask God to reveal things we aren’t yet ready to receive. We become impatient with God. Why? Perhaps we don’t truly trust in his goodness. We aren’t sure that what he has for us is what we really want. We want some assurance that life is headed in the direction we desire.
There’s no doubt life can be difficult to navigate at times. No one goes through life free from pain and struggle. People mistreat us. Tragedies happen. Our own human failings cause disappointment. In the midst of challenges, it is natural to want assurance that something better is around the corner. But the danger in rushing ahead is discovering we are no longer in tandem with God.
We have a Father who delights to “give good gifts” to his children (Matthew 7:11), but we often don’t want to wait for his good gifts and attempt to take matters into our own hands. Just think of Sarah trying to fulfill God’s promise of an heir by sending her servant Hagar to have a child with Abraham. God still blessed Sarah and Abraham with their own child, but Sarah’s impatience had terrible consequences—especially for Hagar. (Genesis 16)
The world often whispers to us, Why wait? Get what you want now. Make your dream a reality. But how sweet it is to savor what God has for us in the moment, while still anticipating the good he has for us in the future. There is joy in the waiting, joy that we miss when we take matters into our own hands and ignore God’s perfect timing.
The joy of expectation
In the last four years, my husband and I have heard at least five completely unrelated people say to us “God has something special right around the corner.” The first time you hear it, you think “That’s nice.” The second time becomes, “That’s interesting.” By the third time you hear the same words, you begin to think, “God, what are you up to?” The last time someone said those words to us as she prayed, I actually bust out laughing. Not a cynical laugh, but a laugh filled with the joy of knowing her words were true.
This is the place where I continue to wait. I’m not going to try to charge around the metaphorical corner to see what’s there. I have learned to trust more and more in his perfect timing. The joy of Christmas morning can’t be rushed. In the meantime, I am savoring the wonder of expectation. That in itself is a gift.
Shay Mason is a Chicago-area native living in North Carolina. An auto-immune disease and OCD/anxiety overcomer, she is a firm believer in God’s healing love. Her particular passion is helping people go deeper into God’s heart. In addition to writing, Shay loves travel, music, coffee, quirky indie films, and hiking. Shay and her husband Bruce are the founders of Love Inside Out, Inc. in Raleigh and have spent extensive time ministering in Madagascar. They have two college-aged kids and a spoiled Goldendoodle. Shay is a contributor at She Found Joy and a member of Hope*Writers. Her blog The Spacious Place can be found at https://www.shaysmason.com.
This article is from the Joy issue of iola bookazine. Find out more and get your copy here.