I tiptoed out of bed just before midnight, too full of sadness to sleep. I’d kept the tears at bay all week as I hopscotched from work to errands to chores, their distraction accomplishing what distractions do as I focused on various to-do’s. But under the cloak of night, the distractions disintegrated, and I was left with my own troubles attaching themselves to my attention, at attention, front and center.
I moved downstairs, plopped down on the sofa, and cried my eyes out. I cried over a few things, not the least of which was a friendship that didn’t look like it used to. I mulled over its history, and in the dark of night I could now see plain as day that the more effort I put into crossing the gap between us to improve the relationship, the more it became apparent that the other person wasn’t interested in improving the relationship.
I couldn’t change the other person’s “want to,” and I couldn’t do the work for the both of us. I knew it was finally time to accept that fact and quit forcing the relationship to be what it wasn’t.
A few days later, at our favorite Christmas tree farm, my husband saw me take a deep breath of chilly December air and let out a sigh as big as the nine foot Canaan fir evergreen next to me.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” he asked, eyebrows furrowed.
“This! This is what’s wrong.” I raised and dropped my arms dramatically. “For the first time, we’re picking out a Christmas tree without all the kids. I know that’s not wrong, but it doesn’t feel right either. Oh, I guess it’s just different, and different right now makes me sad.”
Since our daughter, the baby of the family, sprang the nest this past August — three years after our twin sons did the same — my husband and I are doing a lot of Christmas traditions as a party of two. The usual Christmas activities look and feel much different than they did when at least one child lived at home, and I’m surprised at how this change hurts a little more during this time of year.
As I try to comfort myself in old family traditions, the reality of new losses means I’m a literal far cry from merry and bright.
Now, you may be as far from my own parenting stage as you are from the North Pole, but I bet you sit rather close to a change or two that is messing with your familiar Christmas feels. Maybe you’ve had a change in a relationship, and someone you’ve spent more Christmases with than without won’t be celebrating with you this year. Maybe someone you’d like to distance yourself from is going to be sitting at your Christmas table for the first time. Maybe you’ve had a change in finances, your job, your address, or your stage of life. Whatever it is, that change feels particularly acute this time of year, a Real Life roadblock between you and your holiday happiness.
Wouldn’t we all like the realities of Real Life to take a vacation during the Advent and Christmas season, at least for a little while?
I sure would. I want to reside in the land of the Sugar Plum Fairies where I can simply relish my traditions of sugar cookies and cinnamon rolls and Bing crooning about a White Christmas in the background alongside all my favorite people. I want delight without a lick of drama, holiday cheer without the harshness of change. I want only good tidings of great joy, not the hard-on-the-heart realities of broken relationships and missing my kids.
But then I’m reminded that the actual good tidings of great joy — Jesus — is why we can walk through Real Life every day of the year, no matter where we are and what season we’re in.
Before Mary gave birth to Jesus, she had to first receive the miracle formed in the shadows. She had to sit in the shadow of the Most High.
“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.'”
Luke 1:35 (NIV)
Miracles form in the shadows, and we never know when one will show up smack-dab in the middle of Real Life.
There’s no shame in being sad if things look different for you this Advent and Christmas season. Following that shadow of sadness, perhaps a miracle will come — a birthing of a new truth or tradition that will bless you for decades to come. Maybe something will change for the better, and maybe it won’t. Either way, you and I serve ourselves well when we let go of our expectations that the Christmas season will only be good if it looks a certain way.
Things may be different, yes, but different can still be good. Because while something new isn’t familiar, it can still be fantastic.
During this Christmas season, may we be acutely aware of how God births miracles in the dark. He did so for Mary, and He, in His sovereignty, can do so for us. May we remember He turns our impossible into possible, our difficult change into a grace. When we start to doubt or forget this, may we take our eyes off of what’s around us and instead look toward Jesus — the Way, the Truth, and the Real Life that is with us always.