In the last five days, I’ve had a dozen or so conversations with people who are trudging though the season: People who feel like failures in gift giving, phonies at parties and the only person on earth who doesn’t adore the holidays. If you know me very well, you know I am one of them.
But I’m no longer afraid to tell you that because:
1. I know I’m not alone.
2. I have a warm, well-lighted fortress I run to every time I get discouraged. It arrives in a manger tomorrow.
The bottom line is I’m ok with all this and I want you to be too.
What’s interesting about these conversations is, almost universally, nobody feels safe to admit they are lonely or grieving or disappointed or sad. It’s like we know the Hallmark version of Christmas is actually quite fragile, but we want it to exist and nobody wants to be the one to shatter it. So we smile and play along, then berate ourselves for not having a better time.
Beloved. Stop that. He knows. He sees you.
We know, in the midst of the sparkle, people are lonely and broken and the holidays amplify that. So what I want to say is, it’s ok to be lonely because you’re not married and you’d like to be. It’s ok to miss someone who died and to feel their absence like an ache. It’s ok to be sick about someone who is languishing in jail, or to cry for your family and your dog as you do something hard on the other side of the world.
Jesus sees you and I wonder if it would please him more to see us abandon some, not all, of the pageantry in favor of authentic emotion. Maybe we don’t want to do that because we don’t want to ruin it for the kids, but what better gift can you give your kids than to demonstrate how to manage joy and sorrow at once? That is a courageous gift.
So if Merry Christmas feels like a tall order, maybe have a Real Christmas instead.
Here are three strategies:
1. Don’t wipe the mascara streaks off your face before you walk in a room. When someone asks what the tears mean, tell them. What if they take a deep breath and cry too? What new thing will come into being between you?
2. Chose, right now, as a practice, to notice what is, rather than what is not. In my case: Legs that work. Eyes that see. Music playing. Dogs sleeping. Fire burning. Fuzzy socks. Poinsettias. This is more than just counting your blessings. It is a deliberate practice, one where we choose the object of our focus. As the Apostle Paul says:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Phil 4:8
3. Stop and breathe. Really deep. Low and slow. Match the duration of your inhale to your exhale. Maybe do this in child’s pose, which some people think looks a lot like surrender.
If it helps, imagine a manger in front of you.
Real Christmas everyone.