Maybe it was my delivery. Maybe it was the young age of my children. But all my efforts were met with great frustration and perceived failure.
Back in November of this year I decided to try something a little different and follow the mantra of "Let there be peace
For almost two weeks I followed the reading schedule strictly and marched my way through over 250 pages of scripture. But did I feel an overwhelming closeness to my Savior? Not really. Instead I felt stressed and guilty as I cruised by passages I wanted to study more closely all in the sake of completing the daily reading assignment on time. Enter more stress and guilt for devoting so much time to rushed reading when my children were watching TV, mindlessly, or inciting my anger and frustration with unattended messes and sibling arguments. Once Thanksgiving week hit, I began to fall behind and just never could seem to get caught up.
I felt terrible on top of all that stress and guilt. I had failed at even this.
I beat myself up about it for a few days, feeling like once again my efforts to make Christmas mean something for my family was a flop. I toyed with the idea of just giving up. (But c'mon. We moms never truly give up, right?)
Over Thanksgiving we had traveled to Idaho to visit my family and while there attended church at my parents' ward. It seems to be common practice in the LDS religion to send home lots of little papers with their primary children. I confess, I recycle most of these with hardly a glance. While meaningful, they're often scribbled, wrinkled, and quickly forgotten.
But for some reason, one paper that came home that post-Thanksgiving Sunday caught my eye. It even made it all the way from that church building in Home Town, Idaho to Current Town, Utah, (a veritable miracle in a car packed to the brim with four young children and loads of other stuff).
This paper somehow escaped the car clean-out after our trip and the recycling bin. It just kept resurfacing in my house and eventually I found myself studying it and realizing that this simple little activity might be worth a try.
Each night, through the month of December, I pulled out the corresponding picture from our Gospel Art Kit and we read the related scriptures. This replaced our nightly scripture study. We fell behind a few times, but were able to quickly catch up by reading a couple of stories at a time. Sometimes if we were crunched on time we would simply read the summary on the back of the picture instead of diving into all of the scripture verses. After each reading we would say our family prayers. Then after putting everyone to bed I would tape the picture on the dining room wall so we could look at it throughout the month.
It all took very little time and even less effort.
But "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6).
Let me be totally honest here. There were several nights where I was practically yelling by the end and our prayers were said with more than one child goofing off or sulkily saying "Amen". But there were also several nights when the Spirit poured into our home. As we learned about Jesus from the foretelling of his birth, to his childhood, to the miracles he performed, to his suffering in Gethsemane and his Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and his visitation to the Nephites, He became very real to all of us. Even I learned a few things I didn't know or remember. We were no longer celebrating the birth of a strange and distant God, but our beloved brother and Savior. The kids would ask questions and we were able to have several conversations, some kind of silly, but some very sincere and spiritual in nature. It gave me the natural opportunity to bear my testimony to my family and share my love of Jesus Christ and the gospel with them.
Every year I feel kind of sad and melancholy when I take the tree and decorations down, but it will be these pictures that will be the most difficult to see go this year. Maybe we will just leave them up...
This is such a small, simple Christmas activity, definitely easier and less time consuming than that monumental 40 day challenge I totally bonked out on. Instead of feeling stressed and guilty, I felt peace and comfort that I was spending time and energy doing what Jesus would have me do. While reading the Book of Mormon in forty days is not a bad thing, it wasn't the best thing I personally could have done at this season of my life. I officially declare this as our new family Christmas tradition and I can't wait to do it again next year. Hopefully, I can stay out of my own way and not complicate it and just let the Spirit guide.
A couple of notes: I'm not exactly sure where this activity originated from; I just saw the paper that came home with my daughter. But from what little research I've done it's possible it came from the December 2008 issue of the LDS monthly publication, The Friend.
Also, while I am of the LDS faith and appreciate that these stories include the Savior's visitation to the Nephites on the American continent, this could very easily be tweaked for someone of a different faith. Most of the scriptures are in the New Testament and Gospel Art Books are very easy to order online (and only $3.50!), no matter what faith you are.