Christmas: a time for joy and a time for cheer… But, unfortunately, it is also a time of profound loneliness and a yearning of days gone by for many people. A few years back, I received a call on Christmas Day. One of my parishioners was stretching out to put the angel on top of the family Christmas tree, and fell over dead from a heart attack. The family’s Christmas will never be the same again, a weird mix, a strange amalgam of both happiness and heartache. Tragedy that occurs around the holidays makes all future holidays awkward and different.
I have also known folks who were expecting a juicy Christmas bonus, finding instead a pink slip and a surprise lay-off from their job. Children of divorce probably know the strangeness of the holiday the most, being shuttled here and there obtaining more gifts than they need but more bitterness than they want. For every one of us who look forward to Christmas Day, there is another who dreads facing another season with unpleasant memories of what happened and what could have been….
Whether Christmas is chiefly joyous for one or sorrowful for another, the bald fact of the matter is that we all suffer in some way. Let me offer a definition/description of suffering for you to ponder:
Suffering occurs when someone or some circumstance acts against your will and damages either your body, mind, soul, spirit, or all/part of them, creating the great need for healing.
Suffering creates a portal, an opening to either love or hate. It brings us to the point of decision: We did not choose suffering; it chose us. But the choice for healing is very much in our control. Suffering is an event, maybe even extended over time, which will make us either bitter, or better – it’s your choice.
There are numerous people who will offer you a cup of bitterness, the sour wine vinegar which will dull the pain. Jesus had such an offer while he hung on the cross, and he refused it. Nothing was going to stand in the way of his full faculties experiencing the vicarious suffering for our sins. Dulling the pain doesn’t bring healing; it only makes us forget for a time and just prolongs actual healing.
Instead, the wise choice is to take charge of your life and choose the hard path of healing. There is a world of difference between the pain that is forced upon us, and the pain which we choose so that we become better and healthy. The pain of violation must be followed with the pain of healing.
A major way you know your choice of healing is happening is when your heart and life open-up to love, when the shape of grace begins to mold your soul and brings a reception to people who benevolently wait to help with kind words and ways. Your sight becomes different. The world becomes brighter. Decisions are motivated more by love than by protection. There is the willingness to persevere and patiently complete the process of healing and see it through to a new maturity. You cease trying to manipulate others and focus more on your own responses to people and situations. Every day becomes a fresh opportunity to love God by serving others.
Because God is love, and we are created in the image of God, this means we were designed to receive and to give love. We are love, as well. To not love is to buck our inherent design from the beginning of time. We are not just to grit our teeth and force-out loving words and actions; we are to tap into the originality of our souls and be love. The great task of the Christian life is to awaken to who we really are, to become a whole person, complete and mature. The only means for this to happen is through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus, our great professor in the faith, knows that suffering is a teacher.
Far too many persons are perplexed as to why they still struggle and hurt. They have prayed. They have read the Bible. They have tried, time and time again. Hurt and pain might and is very personal; but healing is communal – it demands more than our own efforts. Unless we open ourselves to the love of others, and risk putting our souls on the line, we will not realize the peace we long for and the mending of our spirits.
The first step is speaking to someone who is safe, someone for whom you trust, and telling them where you are in your soul – not making yourself look better than you are, and providing a real picture of the state of your life – and, not diminishing the very real abuse which occurred against you by saying others have it harder than you. In other words, be real. Humility and honesty will always serve you well.
Yes, it’s Christmas. How will you choose to deal with it?