The title of this post is (more than) a little tongue in cheek, but hear me out…
Having a little fun with this holiday tradition might just help us stop treating God like the Elf on The Shelf and start seeing El Shaddai, our God almighty.
So let’s start at the beginning, what is The Elf on The Shelf anyway?
According to the official website:
“The Elf on the Shelf® is a Christmas tradition centered around Scout Elves who fly to the North Pole each night. Scout Elves arrive at homes in a keepsake box set that features a storybook. The book explains that elves love to report to Santa to tell him about each day’s activities! The best part? Kids love to maintain their best behavior when their Scout Elf is around. This way they are sure to be on Santa’s nice list!”
So basically you buy an Elf on The Shelf to be the designated tattle tale between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The makers promote this game as a great way to convince your kids to behave. If they do, they can stay on Santa’s good side and get the presents they want.
Even the start up steps sound a lot like some of our faith journeys:
- Adopt an official Scout Elf.(Accept Jesus as your personal savior, anyone?)
- Read the book as a family to understand the tradition and rules. (Don’t break the rules and touch your elf or the magic is lost…..This is Old Testament legalism at its’ BEST y’all!)
- Name your elf. (After absorbing all the rules and traditions decide who you think God is and build a relationship around that.)
One of the most creative things about the Elf is that he/she leaves to work with Santa each night. Then, the Elf picks a new spot in the house when they return.
Every morning children run through the house to discover where the Elf landed after pulling a graveyard shift and surviving (what has to be) a brutal commute to and from The North Pole.
The Elf reminds us that someone is always observing and judging our behavior. The threat of retribution for our disobedience looms large during a season that’s supposed to be filled with generosity and connection.
It may help kids change their behavior, but only out of fear of being punished, losing the approval of Santa and their parents, and forfeiting potential gifts.
Even if parents don’t actually withhold gifts, the threat is real to our kids who hold every word we say as gospel.
This is where it falls apart for me.
Trying to motivate my children through fear, shame, and loss isn’t the type of parent I want to be.
Primarily, because I don’t believe it’s the type of parent God is.
(Secondarily because research shows how harmful it is to motivate our children with fear and shame-but I’ll save that for another post at a later date.)
In all seriousness, how many of us have been taught that like the Elf, God is fickle, ever shifting, untouchable, and ready at a moment’s notice to strip away what we want if we can’t or won’t follow the rules.
Like Adam and Eve we suddenly feel the urge to hide from God when we’ve disobeyed. Shame and fear rule us because we don’t want to mess up. We worry that God will kick us out of his family for messing up.
The Creator of all things gets boiled down to some sort of moral accountant who keeps us in line, sometimes creates mischief to test us, and comes and goes with the seasons.
But that just isn’t true….
The God who dreamed us up, sculpted us from the dust, and breathed His very own breath of life into us….
Isn’t a figment of your imagination that will lose His magic if you get too close.
Unlike any other god that’s ever been worshipped, Yahweh encourages us to come close at all times because our God is big enough to carry all of us. The good, the bad, the messy, and the broken parts are equally welcome. Even in our hiding, El Roi (the name Hagar gave to the God who saw her when she felt abandoned) will not turn away.
The abundance of God’s presence is the wild sacred holy magic that flows from God, Jesus, and The Spirit.
It generously flows over you, and me, and the rest of the world.
That’s the magic of Christmas and every other season.
No shame or fear needed.
No brutal commute to the North Pole required.
Angela J Herrington, MA, LSCC is a Life and Leadership Coach for Christian Women at AngelaJHerrington.com , founder of Broken Beautiful BOLD online women’s ministry, and Christian feminist activator at WildSacredHoly.com.
Angela is a spunky Gen Xer who creates sacred spaces for vulnerable exploration. Her specialty is helping Christian women untangle themselves from limiting beliefs, toxic religious culture, and all the ways the enemy tries to keep them small. She holds a BA from Indiana Wesleyan and a Masters in Leadership from Wesley Seminary. Her graduate research project focused on leadership development and opportunities for Gen X women in the US church.
Angela and her unique online ministry were featured in Lyz Lenz’s 2019 book God Land: Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America. She also has been published in Hope for Women and HOPE is Now magazines.
Angela is also a Lark’s Song Certified Life Coach who reaches hundreds of thousands of women in 40+ countries each month on Facebook, IG, Twitter, Pinterest, and two blogs. She is Director of Communications for Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy, a women-led organization dedicated to engaging, empowering, and equipping women to lead in the church.
Angela is also a wife, mom to 6, and proud resident of Marion, Indiana with her family when they’re not traveling the US in their RV.