In recent years, Chinese internet has invented the term tang ping (躺平), which means “lying flat.” While the expression reflects a negative mindset of giving up because you can’t get what you want, I’ve been thinking about this mentality from a Christian perspective as we enter the busiest part of the calendar year.

What if, this Christmas, we released ourselves from the pressure of trying to do too much for the sake of holiday activities? What if we understood that part of living out our faith in a harried season might be to “lie flat,” that is, to accept our limits and embrace the freedom of our own inadequacies at the very time the most is being demanded from us?

Busyness hurts spiritual health

Our days are full with singing Christmas carols, rehearsing dramas and skits, and preparing sermons. We clean and decorate our homes for church gatherings, buy gifts, and get together with friends and family, all for the sake of celebrating Christmas.

Further, for many Christians in China—where I live—evangelism is heavily emphasized during this time of year. Especially as the holiday becomes increasingly commercialized, many churches want to redeem the spiritual significance of the season and are therefore eager to evangelize, invite more people to church, and lead seekers to faith in Christ.

These are all good ideas. However, the problem is that we often invest so much time and energy in these activities that our daily lives and spiritual wellbeing are affected. For example, many brothers and sisters take time off from work or sacrifice time away from their families to rehearse for Christmas programs. Many churches give tasks directly to small groups, resulting in the group’s normal Bible study and prayer time being taken up by evangelistic activities and disrupting the group’s regular pastoral care.

When I served at a fellowship in my college years, during Christmastime the number of people attending prayer meetings often decreased sharply, as did the willingness to participate in regular services, small groups, and church life. When campus ministry leaders expressed concern about this, students would explain they were preparing for their final exams. But this was not unrelated to the fact that they were spending too much energy on holiday activities. And immediately after winter vacation, when the school year started again, many of them stopped coming to the fellowship.

Younger students in our fellowship told me that they were under a lot of pressure with the Christmas preparations. They were already heavily involved in their studies, and on top of that, music or drama rehearsals took up a lot of time. But they felt they shouldn’t complain, because they were all doing it for the gospel and for God.

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When I asked them if they had ever thought of celebrating Christmas differently, one of the students said no; at the church he grew up in, Christmas was all about performances and programs. When he left his hometown to attend school in a different city, his new church also celebrated Christmas in the same way. It had never occurred to him that there were other ways to celebrate Christmas, and he even felt guilty if he didn’t celebrate Christmas in this program-oriented way.

For years, growing up in a Christian family, I also believed Christmas was just a big church party. When I was a child, other Christians took great pains to prepare for the festivities, and I was only responsible for eating, drinking (non-alcoholic beverages), and having fun. However, when I later found myself in charge of the event, I became physically and mentally spent. At its conclusion, I felt an emptiness in my heart.

Ultimately, these (often thoughtfully organized and well-produced) programs and activities have nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas.

Jesus gives us peace

Where I come from, an area still animated by many local folk religions, there are all sorts of idols whose birthdays are celebrated. People kill pigs, slaughter goats, and enjoy feasts to celebrate the birthdays of their gods. Judging by these celebrations and our Christmas chaos, if this holiday is only about celebrating our God’s birthday, we may give people the wrong impression that we not different from those who worship idols.

Christmas is more than celebrating the birthday of Jesus Christ. We’re not just celebrating the arrival of Jesus but also attempting to acknowledge the ramifications of his incarnation, contemplating his birth but also his death and resurrection. That is why in Chinese we call Christmas Eve “the Night of Peace” (ping an ye, 平安夜). The significance of baby Jesus’ arrival on this planet was totally different from the birthdays of others (including idols) because he brought salvation to a sinful world and shalom to a suffering humanity.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we are busy organizing sermons or evangelistic conferences on Christmas Day, and when we sing in earshot of the seekers at our church that “Yesu ci ni ping an” (Jesus gives you peace), have we received peace ourselves first?

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If we have dark circles under our eyes and are tired and flustered, will people see peace in us when we tell them about this great message of peace? When we call out, “Come to Jesus, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and you will find rest,” do we ourselves still carry many burdens that prevent us from resting?

Are we so busy during this season that we have no time for devotions, that our regular small group pastoral care is disrupted, to the point that we fall into a prolonged spiritual slump?

I’m not trying to dismiss the significance of Christmas events in the church. I want us to understand that before all the actions and activities, we need to come back to the grace of Jesus and the peace that he gives. Jesus Christ became incarnate, died for us, and rose again for us—he paid the full price to give us this peace. What we need is to receive this peace and live it out in our lives so that it can be felt by others. We might even say that we need to practice a kind of spiritual tang ping.

As believers, we can reclaim tang ping as a call for us to “lie flat” in our hearts and rest in the peace brought by the incarnation of Jesus. It is not passive indulgence or inactivity. Rather, it is the unloading of our insecurities, of our thoughts that we can earn God’s blessing, and of our fear of being punished by God for not doing enough things. We can unload all these and instead take up the grace of Christ.

Traditional Christmas programming does not bind our hearts, and year-end evangelism KPIs should not fill us with guilt. When we have peace in our hearts, we will not easily get caught up in busyness and anxiety no matter what we do. When we have freedom in our hearts, we have a way out of our exhaustion.

As the writer of Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

Sayah Tu is a church leader who lives on the east coast of China.

Translation by Sean Cheng

[ This article is also available in 简体中文 and 繁體中文. ]