Last Saturday, Andy and I travelled into the evening hours towards a Christmas party. We passed candlelit windows that seemed to invite family and friends in for a warm welcome. Evergreen trees sparkled with twinkling lights. At the party, bursts of laughter bubbled above Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
The Christmas season is wrapped with a festive focus and glittery gatherings. People want to feel uplifted by the season—to find peace, hope, love and joy; I am no different.
Christmas, referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, isn’t always. For many, it can also be the most painful time of the year. It can highlight the broken things in our world—sickness, loss of loved ones, estranged relationships or divorce. It may be a reminder of past mistakes and regrets.
Sometimes holiday festivities can feel like salt scrubbed into a wound.
Emotional heartache resonates in people I know:
- A friend estranged from her twins;
- The young man who reaches out to his mother on a regular basis, rarely receiving a response;
- The mother who has her five-year-old child only on weekends;
- My mom with recurrent breast cancer;
- My father-in-law with bladder cancer;
- A girlfriend who has been separated from her husband for over a year;
- The father whose children became estranged shortly after his remarriage;
- The fifty-eight-year-old man who can’t feel his left side after suffering a stroke; and
- The wife who unexpectedly lost her husband.
I long over the loss of my two estranged adult sons. For years, I thought it wasn’t Christmas until my relationship with my sons was rekindled. In Decembers past, I tried to hide estrangement’s ashes. I used to be ashamed to say that as Christmas trees and lights went up, my anxiety level climbed as bittersweet memories flooded in.
My heart weighs heavy with more—the cancer my father-in-law and mother fight.
Three weeks ago, my mother-in-law’s fears flashed in a text on my iPhone. “Do you think he has advanced cancer?” The pit of my stomach bottomed out like an elevator plummeting down a shaft.
The sense of helplessness hammers along.
Last week when talking with my mom, who recently learned of her breast cancer recurrence, I admitted, “I feel lame when I ask what I can do for you.”
I remember my year with no Christmas tree and no desire to buy or receive gifts. What I wanted for Christmas couldn’t be bought.
I wanted reconciliation with my sons, but that wasn’t happening. I desired peace and joy, but instead felt torn apart.
The brokenness in our world can threaten peace, hope, love and joy. Cancer invades peace. Estrangement strangles hope. Emotional hurts harm love. Death deadens joy.
But then several years ago, I learned the most amazing thing: I’ve always had the power to find blessings in the bitter trials. As I was able to tear away the layers of my emotional pain, I held my hurt before it seeped between my tear-doused fingers. In that exposed place, I unwrapped a gift that burned another, brighter life.God uses torn places to reveal His glory. Click To Tweet
Jesus was ripped apart to reveal His gifts to us. He told His disciples He was leaving the gift of the Holy Spirit for us.
Once I dried my eyes, I could focus my vision on the gifts I already had.
“… the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness…” Galatians 5:22 (NLT).He shows me in the giving is the receiving. Click To Tweet
Solomon tells us in Proverbs 11:25 “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”
To give water is to be watered. One evening my church’s small group visited an elderly woman in the nursing home, bringing her flowers and warm homemade raspberry muffins. As her joy spilled out, our hearts were quenched. Sharing coffee and encouragement to the woman of two estranged children nourished me. Sending a card with supportive words to a friend with depression uplifted me. When I offered an ear to a girlfriend who is separated from her husband, I gained inspiration from her perspective.
This Christmas may not be everything you or I want it to be this year, but we can receive glorious gifts if we look to Jesus and help others.
Last week, I came across a poem entitled “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.
To make music in the heart.
The efforts can be simple, yet make a tremendous difference. Invite the lonely person to coffee. Approach the neighbor who lost her husband. Make soup for the housebound elder. Encourage the person imprisoned by divorce.
Serving others restores the music in my heart, and makes available the gifts of peace, hope, love and joy.
Yes, Jesus comes in the deepest, darkest torn places. And that is why Christmas even matters to me. Without Him, I couldn’t find the gifts at Christmas, or any other time of the year.
Praying you find His gifts and a melody in your heart.