by Bill Scholl
I’ve reached that age in life when one experiences the deaths of significant people, and so I’ve encountered someone my wife and I call the Stuff Monster.
The Stuff Monster is that graspy, dark spirit that shows up in the time of extreme emotion at the death of a loved one. He gets families and even friends to fight and pick over the deceased’s items like vultures. Because I’ve seen the damage he can do to peace and relationships, I take great care around anyone’s death to be on the lookout for him.
Recently, I’ve had occasion to realize that the Stuff Monster also shows up at the holidays. Christmas is also a time of strong emotion, when we are all looking to be loved by our friends and family.
The Stuff Monster can show up and get us so focused on getting and giving stuff that we forget that this is a time to reflect upon, prepare for, and be changed by the sublime, historical reality that God became man and came to restore us in his image.
During this time when we are supposed to get out of ourselves, I find the Stuff Monster trying to get me into myself. How can I get that power tool I want? How can I be a star and give awesome gifts? While there is nothing wrong with gift giving, the Stuff Monster has a way of getting inside our heads and, as is his forte, getting us to care more about stuff than people.
Consequently, here are some tasks I am adding to my Christmas to-do list that perhaps you might try as well:
• Do some extra praying. Set aside some extra time for prayer and add some prayers you don’t normally do. The Advent wreath is a great way to pray with the whole family.
• Be humble and resolve not to go into debt over Christmas. The Holy Family celebrated the first Christmas poor, so don’t feel like you have to go beyond your means.
• Do something significant for the poor. This is one of the best ways to give a gift to Jesus; it is his birthday after all.
• Focus on the giver, not the gift. Receive the gift as the sign of love that it is and don’t worry so much if it fits.
• Make a baby step for the baby Jesus. Identify one small thing you can do to be holier and do it. The grace is available every holy season to become holier, so take it.
Perhaps this is why the Stuff Monster shows up at both death and Christmas. He wants to distract us into grasping at stuff when it is really a time Christ has made for us to be grasping at God’s grace.