The holidays are tough. As a kid, you don’t think about it too much. You count down until school breaks and dream of what Santa might bring. Everything is fun an exciting. Someone else put up those decorations with the flashing lights that you’re enjoying and someone else cooked all of those delicious meals and treats. No one expects presents from you because you’re a kid with no job and no money. Time moves as slow as molasses dripping to the other side of the jar and patience is the biggest virtue that you have to practice.
Then you grow and “reality” starts to seep in. You start to learn that not everyone has a happy Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year. Celebrations take money and not everyone has that. Celebrations are only fun and celebratory when you’re around people you love and people who love you. Not everyone has that. Celebrations are great until the year that there’s an empty chair around the table where that loved one used to sit. Now instead of bringing happiness, that celebration only amplifies the searing loss.
One of my first memories of realization that Christmas, and life in general, might not be fantastic for everyone was when I was about eight-years-old. Someone gave us a VHS tape of Christmas cartoons, so we watched it. The only cartoon I remember was of a little girl and a boy who lived with their poor single mom. They had no food to eat and their mother sent them out into the town to try to scrounge something up; I don’t know if they were given a penny or something like that to buy a small piece of bread or if they had nothing and had to try to look for something. No matter, they walked by all of the shops and longingly looked at the treats that the baker baked, but walked on because they had no money. Then they stopped by the butcher’s and happily salivated over the meats, and on and on they went. Despite starving to death, these children had a pleasant demeanor, which made it all the more gut wrenching. Oh and I think this was Christmas Eve that they were out trying to find food to make this all the more sad. At the end of the day, the children come back and either have nothing to eat or just a small bite. Their mother is sad that she can’t provide more for them, but the children go to sleep. While they sleep, they dream of mountains of food and wonderful things. Then they wake up and still don’t have anything. However, moments later, the baker, butcher, and all of the other shop owners who saw these starving children bust in with a great feast and help for this family. It had a happy ending, but it still left me traumatized.
So, on Christmas Eve night when I should have been sleeping, I laid in bed thinking about the fact that there were children who wouldn’t be getting anything for Christmas. So I sat up in bed and sobbed. Then, I heard my parents up and the rustling of bags and gifts. Just as I suspected, Santa wasn’t real either. That would explain why poor children who are still good don’t get cool toys for Christmas. Yeah, I knew some things were off.
Over the years life has handed over victories and disappointments, happiness and grief. But in between there’s those whopping doses of fear. The holidays, while I enjoy them greatly, also sober me like nothing else. You see, most of the fear that I experience is irrational or at best uncertain. If I don’t keep myself in check, I fear time passing. I fear losing this temporary because I lose sight of the eternal. Christmas and other good times remind us just how temporary this life is. I’m forced to take a good look at my parents and see that they aren’t as young as they used to be. They won’t be here forever. My grandparents are even older. The people who used to take me walking through the woods and worked in the gardens now have a hard time just getting around. Then I wonder about Christmases in the future. What if I never get married and have kids. Will I end up that lonely old lady in the Hallmark commercial that gets invited to the Christmas dinner of the family across the street because their ten-year-old son feels sorry for her? Actually I think it’s a Publix commercial and it brings a tear to my eyes each time I see it. But then even if I did get married and have kids, that’s no guarantee that I still won’t end up that lonely old lady across the street. People die and kids grow up to abandon you. I think that’s what happened to the lady in the Publix commercial anyway.
Working at a larger church with an aging congregation doesn’t help either. We get the hospital list everyday via e-mail. Then there are death notices almost daily. I read them. I think about the families. I hurt for the families each time. Then there’s my own aging body. Recently one trip to the dermatologist lead to getting places cut off of my body and sent to the lab. I was told that if nothing was wrong that they would send me a letter. If they found something abnormal, they would call me. One morning at work my phone rang and I saw on the ID that it was the dermatologist. Abnormalities. Come back and get more cut off. This time the results were ok, but there are more doctors visits in my near future. There’s the fear of the time that the results won’t be so fine, that life altering and interfering treatments could be down the line. But then you can go to the doctor, get a clean bill of health, and then drop dead on the treadmill. Or get hit by a bus. Or an airplane.
The point of this depressing talk is that we don’t know what’s going to happen for sure. We can’t even control that much when we think about it. We can try to eat organic and cut out sugar and place ourselves in safe spaces or whatever, but we’re still not guaranteed our next breath. What’s worse, our loved ones aren’t guaranteed their next breath. We can’t hold on to this life forever. But we can put our trust in the God of forever. When He said, “Don’t worry,” could this have been what He was getting to? Maybe life isn’t about our plans and goals and grasping tightly to what we can’t keep, but maybe it’s about taking each step in trust that God has a better plan for us and what we can see with our own eyes isn’t the whole picture.
When reading over the Christmas story, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she’s going to have a very special baby. She genuinely asks how that’s going to happen. After some explaining, the phrase “For nothing will be impossible with God,” is spoken. Mary’s response is “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:34-37) Time and experience has shown us that God had done and can do some amazing things. Most of us can even look around now and see wonderful things in our lives that we’ve been gifted and ways that He’s come through in the past. It’s just hard when we’re in the thick of trials to see those things.
Therefore let us always remember. When we’re tempted to let fear cripple us into stealing away the joy and happiness of now, let’s put our foot down and then the other in front of it, walking forward in faith and trust. This is how we make it successfully to the finish line.