Listen. Can you hear it? Look around you. Can you see it? Christmas is everywhere. Are you ready? No, I don't mean your gift-giving list or the invitations to your Christmas drop-in or even the ingredients for your favorite Christmas cookie. I mean your heart, your emotions. Are they ready?
Since I love everything about Christmas it comes as a surprise to me that many Christmases have left me less than "merry." As long as I can remember, it's been a struggle—the anticipation, the indulgence, the expectations, and then the letdown—the way life so quickly returns to what it was before all the excitement began. The special traditions seem to hold such promise to delight my heart. But it's been my experience that if I haven't focused on the truths of Christmas, my celebrations become a roller coaster of emotions.
In the past, I've had Christmases where my focus was to have the best gifts, family gatherings and baking in recorded history! I know better, but this time of year seems to bring that desire out of me. I want the illusion of everything being perfect.
A series of not-so-perfect Christmases
One year I thought, Why not make all my presents this year? What could be better than handmade, personal gifts? So I found a couple projects I could mass-produce. I purchased all the items needed, brought them home, and set them aside. Unfortunately, I didn't get back to them until long after Christmas was over.
The next year I changed my focus to family gatherings. It's hard to have the perfect Christmas without lots of family around, right? At least that's what all the TV specials seem to indicate. The problem was that my parents and sisters live in Minnesota, which makes it hard to share the holidays with them, let alone aunts and uncles. And my husband, Drew, has family in Colorado and Texas.
What used to really upset me was a commercial on TV. As the commercial begins, you see a mom and dad by themselves on Christmas Eve. Flashbacks of Christmas celebrations when their children were young fill their heads. But the children are grown now and unable to be with them. They go to sleep and wake Christmas morning to unusual noises. They run downstairs to find their children home for the holidays.
As I watched that commercial, I dreamed of similar reunions for my family and myself. Drew would find me sitting in front of the TV crying, and I finally had to make the decision that when I saw it beginning, I needed to turn the channel or leave the room.
The following year I turned my focus on Drew and me and the family we hoped to have. That began the long, painful process of trying to have children. Each New Year I thought maybe this would be the year we shared our Christmas with someone new. But seven years went by with no baby toys under the tree. Christmas became a constant reminder of failure.
I'm sure many of you have also had Christmas celebrations that were less than picture perfect. Maybe your Christmas wish would be to have a family gathering where everyone didn't go away with hurt feelings. Or maybe you're hoping for a few minutes to enjoy the season in the midst of caring for ailing parents. During the year we cope pretty well with our challenges, but at Christmas, those challenges are intensified.
A Christmas prayer
After several less than merry Christmas celebrations, I decided my future Christmases were going to be different. Or so I hoped. I asked the Lord for His wisdom: How can I enjoy the wonder of this special time of year without feeling empty?
My answer came as soon as my prayer ended. The Lord compassionately spoke to my heart, "Trust me with your Christmas celebrations, Kit. Give me your hopes and dreams for this special time of year. I know your needs. Allow me to fill them."
A new Christmas tradition was born. For every year since, I have begun the holiday season with my Christmas prayer. That prayer reminds me to entrust my Christmas hopes and dreams to the One this holiday is all about. As we celebrate this time of year, we are reminded that Jesus did for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. Our sin had separated us from God, but Jesus' birth marked the beginning of a life that would change that. Christmas is in reality an invitation to have a personal relationship with God. What a wonderful reason to celebrate.
I still love Christmas, and it no longer leaves me empty. It has a very different focus now. The gift giving reminds me of God's gift of love in desiring a relationship with me. The family times remind me that I'm a part of a huge family—God's family. And the wonderful smells of my favorite Christmas cookies baking remind me of the sweetness of God's presence always with me. Each Christmas delight is a reminder that one day I will celebrate the ultimate Christmas in heaven. And perhaps the best part about God's gifts is that they will go with me into the New Year. When all the packages, family gatherings, and special treats are finished, God's love for me is just as strong.
Indeed, that is the very best reason to celebrate.
© 2008 by Kit Coons. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Looking for help or inspiration this Christmas? FamilyLife offers several resources to help your family focus on Christ during your Christmas celebration. The Ever Thine Home® Christmas collection includes ornaments and other decorations help you honor Christ and proclaim your faith. The 12 Names of Christmas™ ornaments are designed to help you teach your children about Jesus is and why He came to live among us. And in When Christmas Came, Barbara Rainey reveals the substance of Christmas in poignant prose and vivid watercolors.