Virtual happy hours, drive-by birthday parades, Zoom game nights—I’ve loved seeing the spirit of making lemonade out of our recent lemons. Thanks, by the way, because I’ve used some of your great ideas. But I’m calling re-do on all the celebrations we missed out on! Today is the day you start to plan the thing you missed.
Did you know it’s not selfish to admit it has hurt to miss special occasions during quarantine? That it’s OK to say that you’ve felt down without events to look forward to? The joy of celebration is part of being human.
I personally had a birthday, an anniversary, and finished a master’s degree during these past few months. Those days stung as we tried to figure out ways to mark the occasion. We’ve been feeling this pain and sorrow like we got cheated out of something important—and we did.
We all put celebrations on hold, and that was appropriate for the time. I’m only suggesting that we now go back for what was missed.
I so appreciated all the attempts to make days memorable. However, watching my graduation in my PJs from a few states away left me feeling a little alone at the finish line. My energy for half-baked celebrations dried up faster than wine bottles during a shelter-in-place order. I’ve heard all the comments like, “How can you even think about that while people are dying?” I get where those comments are coming from, but we are also whole people. What if a celebration wasn’t quite as trivial as it might seem?
I have been guilty of devaluing celebration as a product of the American never-take-all-your-vacation-days culture. I’ve been the one saying, “We’ll just do a quick toast or something. No big deal.” But this quarantine has given me a new appreciation for the fact that God wants more for me. Yes, he wants me to thrive physically. Also, relationally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
Throughout the pages of the Bible, we see a God who designed human life to include community festivals, shared feasts, weddings with (a lot of!) wine, dedications, and long dinners among friends. Over and over, we see big, meaningful, joyful, shared, often lavish celebrations. Pretty much the opposite of the low-cost, low-commitment ways we had to enjoy special moments over the past few months. I think we did our best, but I’m starved for more.
After you decide to go back and celebrate ‘the-one-that-got-away’ (pause and do that now), examining the life of Jesus can help you with the planning. I wish followers of Jesus had a reputation as great party-throwers and amazing celebrators, but unfortunately, most do not. We should because Jesus did. He went to big historic Jewish festivals (as part of a God-ordained Jewish “party calendar”) as well as dinners with his close group of friends. If we take our cues from him, we can make our do-over a truly soul-satisfying moment.
Here are a few things I see in the celebrations of Jesus that might help us:
Have great food and drinks.
Bring out the good stuff. In most celebrations in the Bible, there’s good food or drink at heart. Like the time Jesus famously turned water into (high quality) wine to save the host from embarrassment at a wedding. Or the week-long feasts celebrating the harvest. Or the symbolic food of the Passover. At a great event—the food is important! Maybe you pop the good bottle and use the crystal from your wedding. Or you clean and eat the fish you just caught. Or you take the time to get growlers from your favorite pub or bake and decorate a special cake. Whatever. Just make it good enough to remember.
Put goodness on display.
Ask yourself this question ahead of the event: What is something good I can put on display? Maybe it’s humble service, lifelong oneness, trusting God for the future, honor for parents. Maybe you want to dedicate something for special use or celebrate something God made or did. Deciding ahead of time to point the event at something God cares about will give depth and meaning that people crave in real celebrations. You don’t have to announce it; just do it. In Jesus’ last dinner with his friends, he washed his disciples’ feet to leave them with an undeniable picture of the kind of loving service to others they should embrace. For my graduation celebration re-do, I want to somehow dedicate my learning for God’s use. Still thinking about exactly how that will go down, maybe just a few simple words at dinner or maybe a symbolic gesture of some sort.
If someone leaves your event feeling uplifted, encouraged, and loved well with words, the impact of the day will last. Celebrations are great moments to say out loud what we love about someone, how they impacted us, or who they are to others. Jesus’ life shows us that words are not just words: words spoken to others at the right time have the power to give life. Wielding that power—especially in front of others—can create a lasting imprint on someone’s heart. Our family has a tradition of giving a “special plate” to the birthday person and taking turns saying out loud the uniqueness that person brings to our family team. Words stick to people for years to come.
Gratitude creates an atmosphere of humility, blessing, overflow. It is so easy to give and creates so much richness in relationships. We are starved to know that our lives matter to others, and when you say a simple “thank-you,” it fills others up. Maybe you ask people to thank the guest of honor for something. Maybe you give a quick toast just telling people why it matters to you that they came. Maybe you bravely pray before the shared meal, thanking God. Gratitude is vulnerable and sets a meaningful tone.
My best friend always asks me on my birthday to tell her the high and low point of my year. This year, I didn’t even know my low point until it popped out of my mouth. It made for a great conversation about how to hope for something better. Whether a moment of hope is explicit (like a wedding toast from the father of the bride) or implicit (you pick up the check as a gesture of trust in God), hope fights off the fear and cynicism we build up from just living in our world. The Jewish festivals that Jesus attended were created to make a bold statement of hope, trusting God for the future by acknowledging the way He’d been faithful to them in the past. These festivals required big sacrifices of time and resources to celebrate in the specific ways God had commanded. Even having the festival was a statement of hope in God’s continued faithfulness.
Use one or more of these elements, and you’ve got yourself a meaningful re-do of anything you missed during the quarantine. If you had a birthday alone eating carry-out or did your graduation with honking drive-bys, you get a re-do. If you had an anniversary with a quick toast after the last kid was in bed, you get a re-do. If any special day passed by with only a sign in your front yard, you get a re-do.
It’s good (and even godly) to cross over milestones with our people around, and to celebrate them for all they’re worth—whether that’s lingering over after-dinner coffee or having a week-long party to honor what you completed. You need this. We need this. Today’s the day you commit to your re-do. Let’s do it right this time.
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...
What strikes you most about this article? Why?
How would you rate yourself on being able to celebrate? What makes you pick that number?
How do you feel about the idea that God loves celebration? What does that make you feel towards him, and what does it say about how he feels about you?
Do you think of people who follow God as being fun or having great parties? Brainstorm some ways to fix that in your community.
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