December 30, 2020
It was the Christmas nobody wanted.
“That’s what people are saying about 2020,” you think. And you’re right. The vast majority of 2020 has not been what people have wanted. In fact, if you would take a break from reading right now to list all the aspects of 2020 that you would’ve rather not experienced this year, you might just be so discouraged that you wouldn’t even come back to finish reading this blog.
But I’m not referring to 2020. The Christmas I’m thinking about happened in 1992. Dad was in the hospital during what would be the final eleven months of his life. I can’t remember if he was hospitalized over the actual Christmas holiday, but he was before, and afterward he would be again. He was only 68 years old, and Dad’s heart was growing tired of all the work it had to do in its enlarged and increasingly inefficient state.
In the struggle, we can be blessed with gifts of love
It was the diagnosis of congestive heart failure that nobody wanted that Christmas. But besides Dad’s repeated hospitalizations, I also remember how he shared the story of a woman from a volunteer organization who visited him and other patients in the VA Hospital right before the holidays. She was pushing a cart filled with hand-crafted gifts that patients could choose from to take home and place under the tree for Christmas, since they’d likely not had the time nor some of them the resources to buy much on their own.
My dad had picked out a tiny doll with long dark hair that came with a homemade crocheted pink and white blanket and cradle. The cradle turned inside out to become a little pink purse. Dad gave this to our nine-month-old daughter for Christmas, and I can still remember the grateful spirit with which my dad shared that small gift with his first granddaughter.
Another year, Christmas Eve came just four days after the death of my husband’s sister. She’d died on December 20, after a recurrence of ovarian cancer. Months of treatments had extended, but not long enough, the time she would spend with her young adult daughters, new sons-in-law, husband and other family members and friends.
It was the empty space at the table that nobody wanted that Christmas. But in addition to the grief that enveloped our hearts at that time, I also remember the gift of a four-year-old boy that holiday. He and his mom had just moved to town. They lived just a few blocks from us but hundreds of miles away from family, so they accepted the invitation to join us for Christmas Eve supper.
When they walked into our home, little Colton handed my husband Keith a bag filled with a variety of items. There was a candy-cane colored pen, little ginger cookies he called peppernuts, and other items only a child would pick out for someone. Colton’s mom explained, “These are all things that make Colton feel good, and he wants Keith to feel good again.”
Sharing your story with others can be a gift
This year you may very well have stories to tell about how this was the Christmas that nobody wanted, and I hope you share those stories as your spirit feels the need. It helps to talk about, even with just one other trusted person, instances of disappointment, anger and heartbreak. Name precisely what was or continues to be unwanted in your life this Christmas season.
As you reflect back on Christmases past, were there other years that were also far less than ideal for a variety of reasons? And as you remind yourself of the details of those challenging years as well as this one, are there examples of God’s love—through either small or large acts of another—that stand out to you?
Spiritual director Joyce Rupp shares the following in a prayer titled Discover Divine Presence: “May we see your empathy in those serving the wounded of the world…May we recognize your courage in the valiant people who speak out for justice…May we observe your generosity in every gift we receive, no matter how small the gift.”*
Talking with a spiritual director could help you discover the gifts of your journey
Jesus came that first Christmas not into a picture-perfect setting. Instead he was born in a smelly barn after his parents’ long journey to a town that didn’t even have a bed for them. Likewise, the Spirit of God comes among us again and again amidst the harsh realities of life.
Maybe you find yourself longing for someone with whom you can share stories of the journey of faith that takes you through the mountain highs and valley lows of living. Or someone with whom you can look for the ways God once again becomes incarnate in and through you and others you encounter.
If so, you’re invited to consider having a conversation with a spiritual director, like those trained through Seeking the Spirit Within. May God’s presence be revealed to you in very real ways during this season of Christmas and beyond.
Lisa Kramme, Certified Spiritual Director
*Taken from Prayer Seeds: A Gathering of Blessings, Reflections, and Poems for Spiritual Growth © 2017 by Joyce Rupp. Used by permission of Ave Maria Press ®, Inc. All rights reserved.