Thinking back to the birth of his first son, theology professor Randall Woodard reflects on what matters most as we prepare for Christmas – and journey through life.

By Dr. Randall Woodard,

Assistant Professor of Theology and Religion

When my oldest son was born (he's now 15!) I was in graduate school and had no money at all.

In fact, money was so tight that a friend of mine found a crib on the side of the road and decided to pick it up for me, knowing how financially embarrassed I was at the time. It was somewhat humiliating, but Danny slept in that crib in the one-bedroom apartment for the first two years of his life.

At the exact same time, several friends were also expecting and it was fun to prepare for parenthood together. It wasn't long before I noticed a very stark contrast between my experience of expecting the birth of a child and that of my friends.

Granted, all of us were stressed and uncertain about the transition that the birth of a child brings to one's life. However, because I had no money to renovate a child's room, shop for all sorts of "must have" baby items and worry about a lot of busy, expensive things that didn't matter later on, I found that I was really able to focus on the birth of this beautiful child and the wonderful difference he would make in my life.

To-do lists obscure the season 

Fifteen years are now gone and I do find myself overwhelmed a lot.

The Christmas tree has now been up for a week with no decorations, the house is dirty, Christmas shopping is not done, final exams are just barely graded, planning for courses I'm teaching and one I'm taking in the spring has begun and my nights are spent chauffeuring three kids to soccer, gymnastics and ballet interrupted nightly by below-average slow cooker meals.

This past Sunday Catholics celebrated the third Sunday of Lent – known as Gaudete Sunday – a day of joy because the birth of the Savior is so near. It gave me a real wake-up call.

I looked at my watch during the sermon and could not believe that it was already December 14th! Ten days before Christmas Eve!

Then it hit me.

Because of the lack of simplicity in my life I had fallen into the trap this year that I had avoided with the birth of my own son over 15 years ago.

Rather than being properly prepared for the birth of a child – this time the Incarnation of the child Jesus into human history and the wonderful difference He can make in my life – like times before, I had allowed the busyness, the "must-haves," and the pace of the world we live in to distract me from the clarity I really only had when I was poor.

The insight that this is all really about the birth of a child had been hidden behind a to-do list that had blinded me to the beauty, simplicity and goodness found in that stable in Bethlehem.

Refocusing on simplicity

I would imagine that the students and faculty who may read this post can relate to the difficulty faced in the attempt to balance family, work and school. It's so easy for to-do lists and busyness to blind us to the simple things that truly matter – especially this time of year.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

As with the birth of my son 15 years ago –focusing solely on his birth and the difference he would make in my life – I want to simplify my focus on the birth of God's Son, and the everlasting difference He will make in my life.

With one week until Christmas, it's not too late for me, or any of us, to do that.

By prioritizing our time and our attention, when Christmas does arrive, it can be met by a real preparation for the birth of the Messiah and a profound appreciation for the passionate love of God that was demonstrated by the birth of this child.

And that refocus on what matters most in life – on simplicity – is a gift we can all take in to the New Year.

I wish a very Merry and restful Christmas to you all! 

How do you keep your priorities and life balance during the Christmas season?

Randall Woodard has been teaching in the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religion at Saint Leo University for the past six years and loves the student-centered teaching environment and passion for learning that he finds at Saint Leo. Outside of the classroom, he serves as a taxi driver, maid and 1.5 star chef to his three wonderful kids.