Q&A with Ruth Chou SimonsI was always struggling with feeling like why I can’t get to the heart of what the season is about—which is Christ Jesus.
Ruth Chou Simons is the bestselling author of several books including her most recent book, “Emmanuel,” a Christmas devotional. She is an artist, entrepreneur and speaker through her online shop at Gracelaced.com and her social media community. Ruth shares her journey of God’s grace intersecting daily life with word and art.
PEER: What was the inspiration behind this current devotional?
RUTH CHOU SIMONS: “Emmanuel” is an invitation to prepare Him room at Christmas and is a 25-day Advent journey. It would be leading up to the 25 days leading up to Christmas day.
But the inspiration is really that I have not ever successfully had a Christmas season that I didn’t feel stressed or I was disappointed or that somebody was disappointed in me. I was always struggling with feeling like why I can’t get to the heart of what the season is about—which is Christ Jesus. When I came to thinking about what kind of resource would really speak to my heart in the Christmas season, it was one that would point me to what is the heart of what we’re actually talking about here. What is going on in my heart that makes me think that I’m going to find joy and peace in all these other things that come with celebrating a holiday rather than Christ himself?
The inspiration and the hope here were to provide a resource. It’s a beautiful book that will help us to just pause and linger long both visually but also maybe to point us back to some truths that we so quickly forget in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
P: How can a young person focus on having a more meaningful Advent season with their family?
RCS: For somebody who works on Instagram a lot, the first thing that comes to my mind is it’s impossible to prepare room in our hearts for the real meaningful intentional part of Christmas if we’re constantly distracted and filled up with everything else.
First and foremost, I would just say if you’re like me, it could feel not very meaningful if you’re constantly bombarded with ideas of how it (the Christmas season) ought to be what you should be doing and how you’re going to find your joy in everything else, but the meaning of Christmas found in Jesus. Put some guardrails about how much consumption you have of social media.
P: What is an expectant posture?
RCS: Let’s just start with the word posture. You and I are probably sitting on somewhat ergonomic chairs because we’re in an office space. But you know how it feels when you’ve been like scrolling and scrolling and huddled over with your phone and you’re suddenly like, “Wow I’ve got a crook in my neck, my back hurts.” We know posture in the sense of that right? We know that like if you do not have good posture for a long time, you will hurt your back and it will be out of whack. You’ll have to see a chiropractor.
Emotionally and spiritually, if the posture of our hearts is that we have a whole lot of expectation and we feel like that I’ll never be happy if my family doesn’t treat me this certain way or if I don’t get the certain thing or if I don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend or whatever it is, I mean truth be told, honestly as a Gen Zer, I can only imagine all the pressures. I know that the pressures and there’s every pressure to say, “Okay how do I figure out my life and I need to figure out exactly where I’m going and what I’m supposed to be doing with myself and who I’m supposed to be doing my life.”
While all those pressures are good things to figure out, when we have this posture, anxiety and tension, and if we have high expectations and we’re hoping in those expectations, then we’re never going to be happy until we attain what we want or somebody else. But if we’re expectant, then that’s us saying, “Wow God, you’ve already provided for so much more than I deserve.” The expectancy is one where we say I can’t provide for myself. But God can and I’m expectant to see how He does this. I’m expectant knowing that it’s already there for me and I’m just waiting to receive see how that’s a different posture. It’s a different posture than “I better get what I want and I better figure it out and I’m going to condemn myself until I figure out what I’m doing with my life or until I you know.”
P: At the end of each chapter, you include 3 Ps: ponder, praise and pray. Can you explain why you included these words the end of every chapter?
RCS: I think it’s really easy for us to know something about God and know something about our relationship with Him but then to not really apply it and when we look at the Psalmist, he’s always repeating the truth of who God is and who He is.
If you need help starting a prayer, use the prayer that I wrote to converse with God. Ask yourself some of those questions. What’s the posture of my heart right now? I happened to put in some classic Christmas hymns and you might have to go look those up and to know the words, but whether you borrow the words from that hymn or you have other words of praise, we need to sing out and speak out the truths about who God is and not just keep it inside when we verbalize it and vocalize it then we’re also in worshiping with others and saying, OK, I’m going to declare what is true because when I say it out loud I’m reminding my heart just like the psalmist does over and over where I’m reminding my heart because I’m hearing myself say it of what is actually true are using.
P: What is your hope for any young person who picks up this devotional?
RCS: I hope it just gives you a mental and visual rest in a world where we are constantly creating things that are digital. I hope holding a physical, chunky, beautiful, textual book with a lot of hand-painted art that Ruth painted by hand and that it would just give you some rest. I hope that you might log off for a second and get off TikTok and your text messaging and all your Whatsapps and literally just spend a moment just kind of resting and letting your eyes linger long on the Word of God.
I hope that your listeners and the readers will just truly have an opportunity to engage in a way that feels restful. But secondly, I really think that my prayer for any young person reading this book is to realize that it’s possible; it’s possible to not get sucked into the commercialism. It is possible to not constantly feel the weight of comparison. It’s possible to actually have an intimate relationship with the Lord that’s not based on how well you decorate your room and how much stuff you have and whether you throw the perfect dinner party or whether you have the perfect hot chocolate bar set up. Pinterest is a wonderful tool but you have a chance right now in your youth before you have full blown families, before you are stuck with a mortgage, before that time comes you have an opportunity to enter in to a tradition—if we want to call it a tradition or just a natural rhythm every day of your life—that it’s about God’s presence and not your performance. That’s going to be my heartbeat forever. He’s not looking for you to perform for Him and that even applies at Christmastime. I would just encourage you to start now. It’s not too early. It is certainly not too late.
P: What are your favorite Christmas traditions?
RCS: I have six boys. My oldest is 20 and my youngest is nine so my family unit looks like a huge fan of ages, right? Because they’re all guys, I’ve got a lot of helpers in the kitchen. I’ve got boys who love to cook. They’re not obsessed with decorating. But they are really into hosting and hospitality. So, the two main things that I would say you will find in the Simons household year after year is that we have people over—especially people without families that are nearby.
But the second tradition. It’s really easy to think what kind of gifts I want my family to know that I want and how what would make me feel peaceful in the season. One of the things that we do year after year is we focus about the gifts that they’re purchasing for somebody else. And so, we exchange names. The boys exchange names and the obsession all season long is how do I bless that brother the most; they don’t get the same person every year. They do exchanges with one person and they make it their ambition to study that one sibling and know what really makes that sibling tick. And in our family, it’s all boys so they really go study that one brother and Christmas Day is about whether or not they studied that brother and just blessed him. I think that having that rhythm really helps keep us from thinking so much about ourselves and so that’s one of our traditions.
P: That’s a good tradition. What is your advice for young people this Christmas season?
RCS: If I could look back, and I think about my college years, my high school years, I think about the years where I probably didn’t think intentionally enough about how I was being formed in that season. I think when you’re young, you think you have so much time to become who you’re meant to be. I look back now, and I go oh, my 20s, even my teens, they were really formational years. The habits I developed during that season of life were habits that continue on so meaning if you really never develop a habit of turning to the Word of God and you turn to Instagram and you read a verse every once in a while on Instagram, it’s going to be really hard to develop a rhythm and a pattern later in life when you’re more busy and when you’ve got a full-time job when things are really crazy and you’ve got kids. That’s not meant to shame. That’s meant to encourage but in the same way as we look at the holiday season. You don’t need to wait for your parents or your extended family your grandma and grandpa or whoever you’re spending time with. You don’t need to wait for them to help you discover a rhythm you get to become who you want to be in the Lord by taking small little steps that are intentional.
You don’t have to become a different person by tomorrow I think sometimes we’re all or nothing we’re like tomorrow I’m going to have a whole new wardrobe tomorrow or I’m going to start dressing like this or I’m going to start listening to this or from now on I’m only going to be gluten free. Not that any of those are wrong, but we don’t have to be so dramatic. Take one small step; I’m a real believer that tiny little adjustments actually shape an entire lifetime. So, if you’re young and you feel like you have a lot of days ahead, maybe you do and maybe you don’t but start today with a small adjustment towards in the direction of who you really want to be.
P: What is your favorite Christmas song/hymn?
RCS: Wow, that’s a tough one. I think, ultimately, has to be Joy To The World because it is the proclamation of the Gospel.
P: In 1-2 sentences, describe your current morning routine.
RCS: My current morning routine is that I wake up and the first thing I do literally before I even get out of bed is I have a conversation with the Lord. It usually goes something like this, “I don’t know if I’m going to make it today. I don’t know if I can handle what’s on my plate, Lord. Please help me press into you today and not try to do it all on my own.” I literally start every day like that.
P: What’s a Bible verse that’s been on your heart recently?
RCS: Philippians 3:10, but I feel like I can’t read that out of the context. So let’s start at Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV), “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
That’s been on my heart and on my mind a lot because life is hard, right? We didn’t even have time to talk about all that. But I’m sure listeners and readers alike know that these last couple years have been really tough and we are still feeling the aftermath and sometimes in our own hearts, I can think of young people struggling with what they’re having to deal with after all the pressures and the isolation and the questions of these recent years. When life feels like valleys, and darkness and suffering and aloneness, turn to Christ and know that His resurrection and His sufferings are what we can hide ourselves in and know that He goes with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.