I got up and wrote a blog post this morning. And then I deleted it, because it wasn't actually what I wanted or needed to say. It was rambling and over-wordy, and rather self-indulgent. Despite the fact that I believe (in theory) that perfect is boring, I find myself in a constant battle with my own unrealistic expectations. I always feel like I should be doing more, being more, and feeling upbeat all the while. The act of writing – whether in my journal or on the blog – helps me understand what I'm actually feeling, but I've realized that some thoughts are best left for my journal. So instead, I want to talk about the picture above.

At first it might not look like much: a table, some dishes of food, a few hands, glasses and bottles. The lighting isn't ideal, and it was snapped with my iPhone. It's certainly not a picture you'd see on Pinterest: there's no food-styling, no pretty runner or flowers, or place cards. It's a bit of a mess, actually. But I love this shot precisely for its imperfection – because it's real, because there are people joining together to share a meal, and because this was an actual gathering, not a photo shoot.

As much as I love to create beautiful table-settings, and to throw pretty dinner parties, I'll take a meal like this any day: a pot of soup, a big bowl of pasta (or in this case, gnocchi) and a platter of salad, and some good bread, all served family-style. This picture was taken in Pennsylvania several months ago, when we rented a farmhouse with a bunch of friends in the middle of nowhere, and spent the majority of our time cooking and eating and talking. It was so low-key and absolutely wonderful. Why? Because the goal was connection, not perfection. We were just happy to be together, and to be off the grid for a few days. Truth be told, most of my gatherings look like the one above. They're messy and loud and fun. And they make my heart explode with joy. The whole reason I wrote The Yellow Table cookbook was to inspire dinner tables that look just like this one.

However, lately – in the midst of the holiday season – I've found myself looking at Instagram and feeling really bad about my messy life. I suddenly feel guilty that I'm not making cute homemade gifts for everyone I know – or at the very least, sending out artisanal Christmas cards. I feel bad that my nonexistent fireplace isn't decked with fresh pine boughs and that I didn't go into a snowy forest to cut down my own tree. (Instead, I bought a forlorn-looking 3-foot tree for $20 because I felt sorry for it!). I feel like I should be throwing a festive cocktail party with vintage coupes of bubbly and fancy canapés, and I feel bad that I haven't wrapped (much less bought!) Christmas gifts and arranged them under the tree. And I really feel terrible that I'm not baking up a slew of holiday treats and snapping pretty photos of them for the blog. (I'm being slightly melodramatic here, but I'm sure you see what I mean!)

But here's the thing: if perfection is what I'm striving for this holiday season, then I'm totally missing the point. I'd rather have a messy table with dear friends around it, then wait for the moment where I have time to make my table look Pinterest-perfect. (Hint: it will never happen.) The holidays should be about connection – with our friends, with our family, and with the One who came into the world to bring us hope. We aren't doing ourselves any favors by comparing lives on social media, especially at this time of year. It's such a joy-sucker, this comparison game. Sure, I love to share photos as much as anybody, but I'll be the first to admit that my life is far more broken and chaotic than those little squares portray. And that's part of the challenge of this season: learning to live with the tension that exists between beauty and pain. Between healing and brokenness. Between the idealized version of Christmas we see in movies, and the reality of a messy house and an extreme lack of time. Though we can't wish away the hard parts of life, we we can accept the Hope that is offered to us this season. And we can invite others to walk with us through the ups and downs (and we can do the same for them). We weren't meant to go this journey alone: perfection is isolating, but connection is crucial.

This holiday season, I hope you choose connection. I hope you leave some things off the to-do list and spend some extra time with your kids. I hope you do the little things that maybe won't make it to Instagram, but that fill your heart with true joy. I'd love to hear if any of you struggle with expectations – your own or others' – to have the perfect table or the perfect home. Or to stay "cheerful" throughout the holidays, even if your heart is breaking inside. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!! You are certainly not alone!