Before I say anything, let this be known: I love Christmas.
But during this time of year, if you feel like roasting more than just chestnuts on an open fire or if a certain song by Mariah Carey sends you running for cover screaming, “MAYDAY!” let me gently provide reassurance: You are not a Scrooge.
With the joy of the holidays comes plenty of stress and anxiety, especially if your family isn’t cookie cutter mom and dad plus two children and a golden retriever housed under a lovely brick Tudor decked out in icicle lights. One look at a Williams and Sonoma holiday catalog can make you feel like an utter failure and a stroll through Pottery Barn can quickly turn into a downward spiral that’ll leave you wondering why the heck you don’t have cashmere tartan throws to match your tartan table runner.
Some years, it can feel like our family members are crumbly gingerbread men and leave us feeling a bit like figgy pudding: confusing and out of touch. After an avalanche of things seemingly going wrong in the past few days, I took to the Monon Trail and quite literally ran away from my problems. I won’t explain to you the healing sensation of running because chances are, if you run, you already get it. And if you hate running, then that sensation isn’t a healing one. After stopping on a bridge overlooking the White River, I tried to caption the beauty of the half-frozen, half-rushing water flanked by trees, peppered with snow. I was struggling to make sense of all that seemed to be working against me during a time that should be joyful and merry and bright, when the word “seeking” popped into my mind. I often go to that spot on the Monon seeking peace, seeking clarity, seeking anything.
I typed the word into my phone and looked at it, wondering if I had spelled it right, and then realized the two words within the word:
See king. See the King.
It should be obvious at this time of year, when the entire holiday is centered on Jesus’ birth. But sometimes the Higher Reason–whatever the reason for the season means for you–gets lost in this pressure to be joyful and move the Elf on the Shelf to the best hiding places and bake better cookies than Donna at the office and bring the most coveted Secret Santa gift. Sometimes, unmet expectations and feelings of inadequacy can leave us slipping on ice, willing to grab onto anything in order to steady ourselves during what can be a turbulent time. Let me tell you, societal standards of what makes for a good Christmas won’t steady you.
I’ve had plenty of beautiful Christmases as a kid to know the magic of the season. As I get older, become keenly more aware of just how painful the holidays can be for some: the absence or sickness of loved ones, juggling between families, the inability to afford presents, travel snafus, lonely friends, inability to worship, lack of basic necessities.
I guess it helps to remember that the first Christmas ever started out with a young pregnant woman traveling on a donkey and giving birth among farm animals.
However this season finds you, be kind to yourself. Turn inward and journal or put on a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie (if you want something absurdly fluffy, predictable, and uncomplicated). Turn outward and extend a kind hand to someone else struggling through the season. Allow yourself, and this season, to be redeemed. Wherever you find yourself this holiday—whether you’re alone at a church far from home or balancing between parents or missing a loved one or working the late shift or stuck at an airport or drunk at a Chinese restaurant—Jesus will meet you there. He might come in the form of angelic airport employees, nurses, a stranger at the grocery, a kind Cracker Barrel waiter, a stable owner when there’s no room at the inn. Or maybe his presence won’t be apparent at all, and you’ll look back on this season as the time when He taught you what it meant to hope.
After all, it is his birthday.
And what kind of savior doesn’t show up to his own party?