It’s time for me to come clean. This time of year, in addition to watching the classic Christmas movie list (you know Elf, Home Alone, and Die Hard), I have made it an annual tradition to sit through at least one Hallmark Christmas movie.
One of the best parts of watching one of these movies is that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I’m telling the truth here, there are even bingo cards because the plot points are that predictable.
Even if you haven’t yet seen one, you know the story:
- A busy businessperson visits a small town with the intent to destroy it.
- They, then, serendipitously meet the person they are supposed to be with.
- But they’ve also lost sight of the meaning of Christmas due to a dead relative, typically the mother.
- But they find old letters from the mother that remind them of the spirit of Christmas and together with their newfound love interest they save Christmas for the small town, just in time.
Why do I nestle into my couch to watch these movies annually – especially if they’re this predictable? Maybe it’s because they offer an expected escape. For two hours, I can step away from the unpredictability of my life and the perpetual moral incongruence that comes with being alive. I can forget all the ways I don’t live up to the ideal self I’ve concocted in my mind. I find respite in these movies where everything slows down, moral lessons are simple, and consequences for wrongdoing are easily mitigated. I want my life to be neat and tidy, like I’m living in a snow globe, where even when things get stirred up it is always beautiful and I remain completely put together. Like the perfect kiss as the snow falls at the end of a Hallmark movie, I want things to be pristine and simple.
My longing for simplicity often shows up when I think about what it means to have a relationship with God. Specifically, the mechanics of sanctification or what it looks like to be growing in grace. I want my growth in Christlikeness to come to me in an easier, more controlled, and morally clear way. I don’t want to keep taking two steps forward and three steps back. I want my life to play out like a Hallmark movie. I want easy “snow globe” sanctification, where I control the severity of my problems and the outcome is effortless and expected. I don’t want to be pushed over limits I didn’t know I have with surprise car maintenance or a sick baby screaming at 2am with an overloaded work day waiting on the other side of this sleepless night.
In my pursuit of simplicity, I stack up unbiblical performance metrics like IHOP pancakes and continually assess myself against a growth chart that the New Testament doesn’t prescribe. Where Jesus and the apostles talk about sanctification in the slow terms of agriculture like mustard trees (Mark 4:31-32), and bearing fruit (Gal 5:22-23), I insert mental charts and self-imposed data analytics into my walk with Jesus to quantify things and to make sense of myself.
Life in Christ and growth in grace is not simple, linear, or congruous. Snow globes are at rest but not fully beautiful until they get shaken up. It is precisely when things get messy that they can become beautiful. When I stop measuring my life and let grace shake me up, I realize that God isn’t interested in my performance and my own efforts to make myself holy.
It’s also worth noting that easy life lessons never actually change people. What we need is a rescuer, not a teacher. The cross of Christ looms large here because his death for sinners like me means that God is not pacing the throne room of heaven, worrying about the messes we make or waiting for us to figure out how to better ourselves. The only one who was ever morally congruent put on our incongruence and mess. He became bloodied, bruised, and was ultimately killed — you could say he was the true snow globe who was shaken up and disturbed — because he understands the transformation process for people requires new life, not moral ladder climbing.
Instead of focusing on how to make my life more predictable, I’m reminded that God has invested his Spirit to move like the wind (John 3:8) in my life, and to make me like his son Jesus (Rom 8:29), and he will complete his work (Phil 1:6). In the meantime, I get to continue allowing grace to shake me up. As I behold the overwhelming beauty of Jesus again and again (2 Cor 3:18), I find the simplicity and rest I long for and begin to experience God at work in transforming me.