There are good years when everyone is home, getting along well, happy with their gifts, and focused on the “reason” for the season. But there are also difficult years when what we hoped for or what we envisioned does not come anywhere close to happening. Both are very normal in life. The problem is not the difficulties, the problem is our expectations. Our expectations that Christmas will be perfectly wrapped, shiny-bowed, and glitter-dusted like a beautiful Christmas gift.
Our reality doesn’t match our hopes and expectations.
Maybe you have a “special” person in your family or group of friends. The one who, no matter how many advent candles you burn or how many advent calendar dates you turn, you just don’t feel filled with Christmas spirit when you’re with that person. They push your buttons, triggering your feelings and emotions so that you are angry or frustrated or discouraged, or you feel judged and criticized no matter what you do.
Perhaps you have experienced a loss this year that’s going to affect your Christmas. There will be a gap, someone missing in the pictures, in the activities, at the table. Maybe you didn’t lose them this year. Maybe it was sometime in the past, but their loss still impacts you, especially in times like this. This is the first year my mom won’t be with us. I get blindsided by missing her when I least expect it.
It might be that you have done your shopping, your decorating, and your baking, and you think you’re doing great until you happen to spend time on Facebook or Pinterest or visit a friend’s home, and all of a sudden your work feels a little inadequate, a little sub-par, not quite how you would like it. Comparison gets to your head and heart and makes you feel “less than” or incompetent compared to others around you.
If comparisons do not make Christmas hard for you; it might be that your financial situation is more difficult than you had hoped. Maybe that promotion didn’t come through or the new business hasn’t taken off or you are out of work, and you don’t have the money to buy what is on the wish list. You’re worried about seeing disappointment in some young, sweet eyes looking up at you on Christmas morning.
You might be sick or caregiving for someone. Holidays with those realities make celebrating more challenging. I will spend Christmas with my Dad. He has Parkinson’s, dementia, and alcoholism that are affecting his days, and therefore they are going to affect our Christmas. He may or may not remember what day it is.
Maybe your difficulty is not the ones you care for, maybe it is more the lack of someone to care for… maybe you feel alone and lonely during these days.
These are real Christmas challenges for many of us.
It could be that none of these issues affect you this year. Last year was close to perfect for me. My biggest challenge was dealing with a form of survivor’s guilt – or “blessing guilt” – because I had all my children at home and we had a great time enjoying every minute of it. At the same time, close friends and family were dealing with all kinds of pain – the realities I just mentioned. I struggled to fully enjoy the gifts that God had given me without overlooking or underestimating the realities of others.
Whatever your reality this year, I hope you experience Jesus not only as “the reason for the season”, but also as truly present with you for the season and for all your needs. He is not distracted by preparations or decorations or gift buying or baking. He has plenty of time and energy and limitless power to take interest in what’s difficult for you, to come along beside you and help you.
Jesus had relatives who sometimes made life difficult for Him; Jesus experienced loss and wept; Jesus went through many difficulties and would have traded some of His experiences for another if He could. And His birth we are celebrating this season? A cross-country journey by a very pregnant teenage mom on the back of a donkey, an unsanitary birth with only a first-time father to help, and His first days surrounded by smelly livestock and shepherds?
Jesus understands a reality that is different from the ideal.
I pray that for you this Christmas not simply as an opportunity to bake and decorate and buy and wrap, but also a time to reflect and lean into Jesus to find understanding and hope in a deeper way than ever before. When we let go of expectations of what Christmas will or should be like and embrace our reality – even our difficulties, even struggles can become sweet gifts in our faith journey. A blessing for you:
May God build your faith stronger
as He heightens your awareness of His presence always.
May He deepen your appreciation for people,
as you recognize that life is so very fragile.
May your contentment grow greater – with yourself – and your circumstances.
And may you become a more gracious person – grateful for what you have received and compassionate and empathetic with others in need.
These are the best gifts.