when Christmas doesn't go as planned

December 15th, 2017 | Posted by

Most of us have images in our mind of the first Christmas. The peaceful scene with Joseph and Mary serenely gazing down on the sleeping Baby in the manger.


But the truth is, those images barely resemble the reality of that first Christmas. We have sanitized the story to the point that it’s just a myth or fairy tale. It’s become so familiar to us that we need to see it afresh.


What did the first Christmas really look like? It looked like a mess. Especially from Mary’s perspective. We have the benefit of two thousand years of hindsight, but Mary didn’t.


When you strip away the idea that it all made sense and would turn out for the best, you begin to see things with Mary’s eyes. How much did she really understand?


I imagine Mary, like any girl, had dreams about how her life would play out—her betrothal, her wedding day, maybe nine months later, a baby shower.


Instead what she encountered was scandal, gossip, and heartache. Virgins don’t have babies! It was all so irrational and hard to comprehend.


Strip away the imaginary silence of that first night. “Away in a manger . . . no crying He makes.” Really? The trauma of childbirth is anything but silent.


Strip away the look of joy and peace on Mary’s face. Why did they not have a reservation? And why could no one give up a guest room? She was giving birth to the future King! It was her first baby, so labor probably was hard, long, and exhausting. If you’ve ever witnessed it firsthand, you know that in the hours after childbirth, no one looks like the Mary you find on Christmas cards.


Strip away the tidiness. It was messy. I’ve seen the dirty hands and unwashed faces of shepherds. I’ve seen sheep and oxen in close quarters.


Yes, it was messy, just like your life and my life. There is the mess we inherited as humans, there are messes we ourselves create, and there are messes that come and blindside us out of the blue.


Mary had imagined her life would be a certain way, and it wasn’t that way in real life.


In reality, every plan has the potential to go off the rails. Mary and Joseph had to accept the changes they didn’t get a vote on. The same is often true for you and me. We have a plan . . . and whoosh it changes! Proverbs 16:9 says that we can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.


You might look at your Christmas, or your life for that matter, and it’s not going to plan. God’s plans are not making sense and it looks like nothing more than a mess. The good news is you don’t have to understand fully in order to obey Him. Like Mary, you can embrace the change, even through the pain, when you know God has a purpose.


It isn’t what you think.

It isn’t what you planned.

But it is better than you imagine.


Mary was planning a wedding, but God was planning to send a Savior into the world.


Don’t let your plans make you miss God’s purpose. Mary didn’t. Her response to the angel was, “May it be to me as you have said.”


I want us to look at messed-up plans as blessed interruptions. By faith, we can celebrate before we understand. We can offer a sacrifice of praise for the beauty that will come out of the messes in our lives.


Stop chasing your plan A and let God have His plan A. He can handle the mess. He walks with us through it. Emmanuel, God with us. That is why Jesus came to this earth. Not so we could have parties, decorate our homes, and go shopping. He came to this earth to die on the cross to clean the mess of our sins, because He loves us.


For Mary, it didn’t look so pretty, like what she hoped it would. And right now, your story may not look like what you hoped. But God invites us into His story. He wants to do something wonderful for you, and it will be better than you can imagine.



  1. Caitlin says:

    This is so wonderful….this really hit home for me:

    “It isn’t what you think.

    It isn’t what you planned.

    But it is better than you imagine.”

  2. Allie says:

    This Christmas is like one I have never faced before. We lost our beloved family; sister, brother in law, niece, and nephew in a car accident in May. Christmas was our favorite holiday to spend together as believers and this year what I had thought is not as God has planned. Thank you for your encouraging words that bring comfort during this difficult season for my family. I found myself saying just yesterday, God please let it go back the way it was. I find great comfort and hope knowing that although my plans may not be the same as they were last year or even each day forward, God never changes and his plans are good. I pray a fresh hope would fall over all those that encounter this message. Who hopes for what they have? We hope for what we cannot yet see.
    Thank you again,


  3. phyllis says:

    Praying for Allie and family

  4. Susan says:

    This was the message that my heart needed to hear. I, like so many others, want to have a “perfect Christmas”. I want to have a “perfect Christmas” for my husband who grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. I want to have a “perfect Christmas” for my daughter who survived a domestic violence marriage. And then are other family and friends who I believe need a “perfect Christmas”. In the end, I need to remember and hold to the knowledge that God knows all the outcomes and all of my assumed “perfect Christmas” scenarios are not needed by God.

  5. Brad says:

    I am so grateful for your encouraging words and knowing that GOD has everything planed with a purpose in each of our lives. I am so grateful for the precious Emanuel, GOD with us everyday. I have been struggling with a lot of physical issues and many family members that see me as a failure for my family as I have been out of work for a while. I know that the LORD loves me and my family and I will still rejoice and keep JESUS in my heart all the days of my life. Thanks again for bringing the story of the birth of our savior to a clear light and I pray that more may come to the cross of JESUS who loves them dearly. Blessings and Merry Christmas to all.

  6. Bridgett says:

    Well said. I feel my life if a mess right now. My husband losing his job 2 weeks before Christmas and my son in Afghanistan. I have faith that God is leading me in the direction I need to be going even though it may seem tough right now.

  7. Debbie Zamora says:

    Hi Cathe, ah.. thank you so much for sending this is really beautiful and for saying the truth there is a song by Point of Grace it called Labor of Love ah… if you have sometime to hear it. This Christmas I begging to understand more and more about My Jesus and why He left Heaven for me? This brings tears to me.. I heard a teaching Christmas is about pardon.. thank you for the reminder I love this stop chasing your plan and let God have His plan He came to handle the mess Emmanuel God is with us more and more I’m starting to understand the truth about Christmas! Thank you My Jesus!

    I really love this thank you for sending I do appreciate it I want to keep to share with my family.:0) Have a Merry Christmas my friend hugs to you. Thank you! :0)

  8. Grayce Teves says:

    Thank you for your inspiring message. It made me pause and think on my own life and how blessed I have been even in the darkest hours.

  9. Ramona says:

    Praise the Lord when HE allows our reality to come full circle in blessings. I often strive to really appreciate the beauty when my flesh/eyes see the dirty and messy. I heard long ago, ‘the interruptions are what make the book’. Jesus was always on the way somewhere when he was interrupted. May our interruptions and detours be just what is needed to grab our attention.

  10. Annie says:

    The Lord, He is good. Many years ago my 6 year-old son passed and the Christmas that came was difficult. I have grown children and grandchildren. They are a blessing from God. I continue to celebrate my Savior each Christmas and remember my son with a small candle by his picture. I did not think I could smile again and now I see my grandson and know that God’s plans for my life are majestic and true. God is with us always. Our steps may be so painful sometimes but He sees all and he holds my son with Him. I praise the Lord each day. -Annie

  11. Lorraine says:

    Thank you Cathe for your words and thoughts. They always bring me back to the center and always remind me to try to stop controlling everything and to just rest in God’s arms.

  12. Karey says:

    So need this encouragement today! As I look back on my life, He has always come through for me… Honestly, a bit scary right now.. Praising and waiting on Him for what He has next for me…

  13. L. G. says:

    Thank you for your words of wisdom. It is so true as is shown in Proverbs that we can make our plans, but God determines our steps. When I make my plans, I need to remember that God is in control and He will lead me as He sees is best. I need not be discouraged when my plans do not go as I originally planned because the Lord still loves me. I need to trust in the Lord and have faith, always.

  14. Laura Lee says:

    This past year HAS been a bit messy, with my husband finding out in January that he had bladder cancer. Then not long after that one of my brothers was told he had bladder and kidney cancer. A few months after that, one of my younger sisters discovered she has bone cancer…
    My husband has recovered well from surgery and a neobladder. He walks alot and encourages the men in his Links fellowship. We have discovered a new faith journey and are more aware than ever of how God’s plan A is not our plan A.
    But in 2 Tim it says that “God has not given us a spirit of fear…” So we press on, focus on God’s Word and growing spiritually, and sharing Jesus’ love with others.
    We have realized this year just how many people suffer from so many things and that we need to be lifting others up just as we are lifted up!
    Cathe, thanks for the devotional, that helps me see more beauty in the messes :)

  15. Debbie says:

    This year we have a prodigal son who wants to come home for Christmas. My other family members have informed me they will not come if he is there. Not the Christmas I had planned but I feel I need to accept him into my house no matter where he has been in his life. This Christmas will surely not go as planned. There will be no grandchildren’s smiles or laughter but I will trust in God’s plan A.

  16. Adeniyi Agbelusi says:

    This is a profound and timely message!
    Thanks for sharing.

  17. lucky says:

    Jeus’s first on planet earth was to sort out our mess, give hope to shepherds who were neglected by the system, he gave them a voice, he reconciled those who were worshiping other gods – a star was born.

  18. Ron Boyd says:

    We at Citizens of Hope Toledo nonprofit started our mission to help refugees to re-locate into our area. After about a year, with little success, we changed over to helping veterans acquire homes to live in. After experiencing much set-back and what appeared to be approaching failure, in two days two of our veterans will be moving into their first realhome. We sure are glad that we stuck it out until we saw the victory in sight. One of our favorite verses out of the Word of God (Bible) is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding; Acknowledge
    Him in all your ways and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
    Also: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish
    but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world
    through Him..” John 3:16-17


  19. Christy Harker says:

    I literally laughed out loud when I saw the title and then after reading it I had to share it with my husband.
    My husband is a firefighter and the fires this month here in CA have really thrown everyone involved into a crazy month. The families who lost homes, the firefighters having to work crazy extra days and the wives and kiddos at home missing them during all the Christmas festivities.
    We were saying the other day,”Man, this has been a crazy month!” But as we talked and were reminded so sweetly by your writing; God is good and He always has something better in the works for us even if it’s not “Our plan A”. We want to be obedient in giving God thanks ahead of time for His goodness and faithfulness even if it sometimes looks different than we first imagined in our own small perspective.
    Blessings sister in Christ!

  20. Gayel says:

    My life is a mess right now , thank you for your words.

  21. Avis Owens says:

    Cathe, you’re absolutely right! Christmas can be a mess but if we spend time at Jesus’ feet, crying out before Him, reading His word, He can use that mess for His glory, if we are honest. Please pray for a Christmas miracle for my twin sister Arden, her husband Clyde and his guide dog, Parcel. Melissa, who is lost. They need gas and food to make it to drive to CA. from Conroe Texas. They can stay with Melissa, our youngest sister. Melissa’s husband passed away after Christmas last year. We need healing and reconciliation, a Christmas miracle of forgiveness! God is able! Thank you for praying Cathe! I love you, Greg and your family! (Luke 2:11). Love, Avis Owens

  22. Maggie says:

    Thank you for your inspiring words. These times are beyond difficult and I am just not sure what God will do with this mess that had turned out to be my life. I continue to pray that God will show me what He wants me to do.

  23. Myrna says:

    Wow, God’s timing with this message could not be more perfect! Thank you, Cathe!
    God is handling my mess so I can be a better servant to Him. He knows my life needs more of Him and less of me. This Christmas will be extra special because in our mess we can identify more with the experience Mary had, causing us to see truths we need to see.
    May we share our faith in You, Lord Jesus, with those who have yet to see with Your eyes.

  24. Sylvia says:

    Thank you so much Cathe for sharing the hope that is only found in Christ our Savior King. my beloved husband was suddenly and unexpectedly taken home to be with the Lord 2 1/2 years ago. I can truly say that I would not have survived the grief except for the comfort, grace, healing and hope of the LORD. He has given me a wonderful platform to encourage others that have lost a spouse through the support group Grief Share. What a blessing that He can turn our mourning to joy as we depend on Him and praise Him even in the hardest times. Merry Christmas to you all!

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