This time last year I was killing it with the Christmas spirit and cheer. Christmas decorations were up early, cards out on time, even daily holiday-inspired excitement awaited Ansley Grace each December morning with a coordinating ‘present’ to open. It was precious. And I was way too proud about being that mom.
XMas 2016, my A game is no game, and my cheer has been, well, lacking. So we’ve been looking at lots of lights, singing to pre-set Apple playlists and talking about baby Jesus’ birthday. I want our family to have sweet memories, but I need to maintain a little sanity. I didn’t even send out Christmas cards this year, and I love Christmas Cards.
You see, some days the grief still feels insurmountable. Just when I think I’ve been able to move forward from recent heartache (mentioned in previous post), a trigger appears that makes me incredibly sad all over again. And I know for a fact that we’re not alone, as some of our beloved friends and family are hurting in their own, very real ways this season.
Together, we pray for deliverance. We pray for peace. We pray for rejoicing hearts. We pray not to lose sight of the meaning of the season, even though it sure as heck hasn’t been ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ We are fighting through the over commercialism of our culture to peel back the layers of what Christmas looks like through brokenhearted lenses.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to ‘grieve well’ during the holidays because I have convinced myself December is supposed to be perfect. According to my subconscious, December is supposed to be non-stop laughter, and cookies with milk by the tree as the fire crackles nearby. There’s stockings and Santa and Rudolph too. Every single day of December should be sparkly. No pain, only happy feelings.
Yet, God never gave us Rudolph, we gave ourselves Rudolph. God doesn’t ask for sprinkles or decoration. God gave us his son, who he allowed to be born in a lowly, humble, quiet way, because that baby was worth sacrificing for us, and nothing about that is common or commercial.
We create holiday traditions that have absolutely nothing to do with the grit and grime of our Saviors’ birth, or the mind-blowing significance of his arrival and promise.
I think I’ve had a hard time this month because I’ve allowed myself to be overwhelmed by Americanized holidays & a wannabe dream-life that is supposed to be tidy and pretty.
We wrap up our ornaments & put them away each year to protect and preserve them, but I wonder if we think about ourselves in the same way. We preserve our hurting hearts and think that we should keep them safe and out of sight. Because during the holiday season, one shouldn’t hurt. We try to separate sorrow and joy, but as I continue to live, I continue to see the impossibility of that.
God gave Mary the most incredible honor of birthing his very own son, yet her life was anything but bubble-wrapped. There’s nothing sanitary about a stable; nothing comfortable about riding on a donkey at 9 months pregnant. And yet, she was the chosen woman to carry on the task.
This year, I need to remind myself that our scaled-back Christmas season is not failure. Maybe it’s a holy triumph. Maybe it’s me finally seeing December 25 for what it’s really supposed to be. Instead of having cheer because of Santa, I want to sing John 16:33 in my heart. The King James translation of the verse says this: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Be of good cheer. Other translations use phrasing like: “But have confidance” (Douay-Rheims) and “take courage” (NET Bible) or “be courageous” (ISV) and also “take heart” (ESV, NLT, NIV).
We can do all of these things because of the fulfilled promises and prophesies that Jesus’ birth offer us.
One of the things I think I’ll most remember from this season is a conversation with a friend, who in the gut-wrenching sorrow of her own deep loss, between tears and muted sobs she said “Rachel, I need my daughter to see me follow God at all times, and in all circumstances. Whether God gives or takes away, I will still praise His name. I want that for her, too.”
As we prayed, and mascara stained our faces, we came together before the throne of God. Two broken women, without answers, looking for peace and healing. That day, she taught me what living out Deuteronomy 6:4-7 looks like “Hear, Oh Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
My friend is living out this verse in front of her daughter. As her heart breaks, she remembers the love of her Father. In her grieving, she teaches her daughter what it means to be a woman of faith. Like Mary, she has listened to the voice that has called out to her. She has walked through impossible circumstances; obediently, humbly, and with gratefulness.
For me, this December has been a call to do the same. I want to learn the Christmas story as Christ meant it. I want to have the words of Jesus’ birth, breathed into scripture, written on my heart. I want to have the peace offered to us in John 16:33.
With every new pregnancy announcement and precious newborn, Satan entices me with isolation, jealousy, and an opportunity to feel sorry for myself.
Yet, Christ invites us in. He invites me into his embrace, and reminds me of another baby. His baby. Every December, and every single day, I can accept and embrace that baby.
The thing about walking through a holiday season while sorrow takes space in your heart is this: now that I know how it feels to be broken, I also know what it feels like to have joy. Each recognizes the other more distinctly now. When I feel moments of complete joy – I am aware of it, and much more present.
When God allows us to mourn during the season of Christmas, it is, in a way, a gift. It is a new depth I have never known with God before. There is a new appreciation for the life of His son here on earth. I feel a stronger appreciation for all life. I feel a dependence on his grace and mercy that I had not before experienced.
Maybe next year I’ll send Christmas cards, because I love Christmas cards. But this year, I’m going to use that time differently.