What We Need More than Presents this Christmas

by | Dec 11, 2017 | Advent, Books

In London, by 3pm, the sky turns dark and sullen. From a second story perch at my writing desk, I glimpse windows turning golden; the glow of lamplight illuminating interior rooms from a row of terrace houses behind us. Moments earlier, those same windows were like framed mirrors, reflecting outlines of bricks, mortar, roof tiles and chimneys.

“Hel-looow,” my son bellows from below, in a deep, playful voice while waltzing through the front door from school and clanking the lock back into place.

“Hi Honey, I’m up in my office,” I call out, then spiral down thirty-two steps while balancing a coffee mug with my thumb and forefinger. “How was your day at school?”

“Good,” Harrison says when I meet him in the kitchen in wool coat over a navy suit, scarf tied around his neck. He is standing in front of the open pantry, surveying snacks and debating options.

A few moments later, we move to the living room, sit in twin armchairs, share a footstool in socked feet and scroll  our phones in silence. He is in his last year of school before transitioning to university and rarely wants to talk feelings or divulge details. His only agenda is to unwind, and my only agenda is being with him.

Later, at the dinner table, candles blaze, and between bites of turkey and mashed potatoes, he’ll enlighten his Dad and I from what he’s learning. And I’ll be thankful for the open window into his world.

Is doing nothing with my son a waste of time?

I can easily become focused on doing good things for Harrison – cooking, ironing, cleaning, shopping – and miss the value of simply being with him.

During Advent, we can do a lot of things for Jesus and miss the gift of encountering his presence.

Is there any more meaningful present than being in the presence of God?

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Psalm 85: 10-13

Wasting time with Jesus may be the most productive thing we do this Advent.  

Because we need steadfast love and faithfulness as consolation for the void left by disappointment.

We need assurance that righteousness and peace aren’t only topics written about in history books.

We need to know that the wilderness we walk upon will be faithful to bloom again; that we are seen by a loving God when our pain seems invisible to those in our spheres of influence.

Jesus longs to be with you, not because of what you do for him but because he loves you.

How will you waste time with him during the second week of Advent?

Lord, help me to love you more than the answers I seek for requests. Teach me how to be still and listen when I am prone to fill emptiness with chatter. May my only agenda be discerning your still small voice. For it is in filling up with your love in times of stillness that my capacity to give love away increases. Help me to find contentment in being over doing. Admittedly, I want authority without intimacy, power without pondering Truth, and relationship without practicing Presence. I long for our love to deepen but my actions say something else. Forgive me. As I move out into the world, lead me to the places and people that need Presence more than presents this Christmas. May my prayers be like lanterns lighting up the darkness with hope.

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:10-11

Our Advent conversation continues this Friday in the Sabbath Society letter. Join the community here and receive my weekly epistle quietly into your inbox every Friday morning at 6am EST. For further information about how to make Christmas more restful and less stressful begin here with the introduction and details about the series.

Recommended Resources for a Meaningful Advent

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

I re-read Kimberlee’s book throughout the year to remember the meaning in each of the sacred seasons we celebrate as Christians. Her chapters about Advent and Christmas are highly recommend reading.

The Diary of Private Prayer by John Bailie

I’ve recommended this book before but it’s still one of my favorites. I return to it often and give copies away as gifts. Updated and revised by my dear friend Susanna Wright, the prayers are perfect to ponder during a penitent season like Advent.

God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I just discovered this gem of a book. The readings are short but deep and rich. I may be returning to this one during the ordinary days too. No matter what day you start the book, it’s worth the read.

Twenty Inspiring Hashtags for December by Makelight

Makelight is one of my favorite places to find inspiration for Instagram posts. You can find more of my London Christmas photos @shellymillerwriter on Instagram. And also, we’ve had snow!! Follow me here.


Subscribe for Shelly’s stories and free resources here: https://shellymillerwriter.com/free-resources/


  1. Celeste

    I simply love the prayer at the end.
    It was very much needed for my heart thus morning.

    • shelly

      Thank you Celeste. Grateful, grateful!

  2. Susie Crouch

    the gift of this writing is so timely as today I head out to my last client of the season to decorate their Christmas Tree. I have done a perfect dozen and although had an overstrained body, my mind was in ministering less work and more joy for each home I was in. I love the fellowship while I am on a ladder and they are either sipping coffee watching me weave yards and yards of ribbon, or they are busy at their own chores and I silently focus on the peace and love that I pray will be in this home and that it will be greater than the hectic ness we so easily can bring to the Holidays. My husband reminded me this morning for us to take the rest of the Advent season to gentle our voices while busy and to actually make an effort to be less busy. He is such a good sport during this season with my client demand to make their homes magical. Now that ours is as well I look forward to the same picture you painted this morning, feet up sitting together by the fire – starting and ending our days this way into the season that brings all the meaning to our lives. Wishing you and yours all the quite still Love for each other and all the Lord holds for you.

    • shelly

      Susie, it’s so lovely to see you here in the comments. I can only imagine what joy you bring to each home with your smiling face, warm welcome and beautiful creative gifts. Praying that you both enjoy lingering long, hurrying less and basking in the goodness of God.

  3. Lynn D. Morrissey

    This is a beautiful post, and a bit convicting for me, Shelly… or maybe “confirmation” is a better word. I don’t so much have difficulty in spending time with Jesus, which might seem extravagant to some (though I know you wouldn’t think so). Even when I had a full-time job I was able to wake early and luxuriate with Him before I left the house (albeit, it is easier to spend more time without that job–and I never feel guilty about it). And I smile when people ask why I would get up several hours before church to read my Bible. But they’re not comprehending that “just-me” time with the Lord prepares me for all that is to follow. But what you said about your darling Harrison is a reminder that I need to be “all there” for Sheridan. She doesn’t plan when she will talk. She’s at university now, in fact enrolled in a masters program, but we are blessed that she is going to school at home. She never wanted to stay in a dorm, and we love that. But between her studies and student practicums, she will pop into the kitchen where I’m reading or in my study where I’m writing, and just want to engage in a kind of stream-of-consciousness talking, and out comes whatever is on her mind at the moment. But I can have the bad habit of only half-listening or even continuing to gaze at a computer screen (how rude is that) while I talk, when I should be gazing into her sweet face. I have not given *her* the gift of whole conscientiousness. So, your post is timely and piggy backs right on a book I’m reading called Rhythms of Grace. I’m really trying to overcome my bad habit. And you know, the more time we spend attentively before the Lord, I do think He gives us the grace to do the same with others. His is our wonderful example to follow. He was always really present with others. I’m so glad you have been given such special times with your son, no agendas, just hearing his heart. Actually, it is the best Christmas present you could give each other. I love Circle of Seasons. May I also recommend Anglican priest Malcolm Guite’s Waiting on the Word (for Advent) and Waiting in the Wilderness (for Lent), along with Luci Shaw and Madeleine L’Engle’s Christmas Song? These books are rich with poetry and commentary and I think would provide you and your readers with an Advent feast.
    I wish you, H, Harrison, and Murielle a very Merry Christmas!!
    PS I have always wanted to experience a Dickensian Christmas. In fact, I read A Christmas Carol annually, and am in the process now. It is a masterful work of art and talk about redemption–what a redemptive, hopeful story. Your photos are lovely and remind me of the English Christmas about which I dream!

    • shelly

      Oh Lynn, please know that I do that with Harrison too. I’m constantly distracted by my phone or computer or whatever it is that is spinning inside my head. I don’t have being present perfected; I do a lot of half-listening too. But sometimes I am quick to wander off whenever he is sitting in silence and staying with him can be meaningful too.Thanks for all your Advent suggestions! I’m going to go look them up now.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Oh Shelly. Tears. Thanks for your vulnerability and letting us know you struggle too. And you know what? After I read and wrote here and was having tea and “quiet time,” Sheridan came in, exuberant. I stopped and listened, sure that God would not mind an interruption that was really an invitation to listen to the gift He’s given me: my daughter. I knew this had to do with *your* post! I really love you for sharing your gifts!! Thank you. And yes, I think you will love these Advent books!! Oh, and be sure to dig out Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. They are secular, but breathtaking and filled with beautiful Christmas messages. Let your fingers do the annual Amazon Christmas Walk!! 🙂

  4. Katie

    Thank you for sharing from your life, your heart, and God’s Word. These words of yours, have shown me wisdom. The scriptures you’ve shared have been a balm for my soul. Your prayer: “. . .Lord help me,. . .Lord teach me,. . .Forgive me.” May we all be still and listen and allow Christ to lead us to those who need Him. “May we be like lanterns lighting up the darkness with Hope.”

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