Mixed Blessings

This Christmas season was unusually difficult for me. I typically become so busy with work and preparations that it can feel as though Christmas and New Years is gone within a ‘blink’! But, this year I found my heart was heavy and my mind distracted. I was still busy, but there was this constant hum in the background which pulled me into moments of sadness and anxiety, and I couldn’t seem to pinpoint an exact cause. Most likely it was a lot of different concerns and fears that somehow became all entwined together and kept weighing me down like pulling an anchor along behind me. Some days I merely found it exhausting while other days I had to simply find a space to cry. It’s not as though I were completely miserable this season. There moments of laughter and fun with friends, but I just couldn’t seem to shake this anxious sadness.

I tried my usual techniques for managing stress and anxiety with meditation and exercise, and of course I already pray– a lot, so bringing my concerns to God was front and center. But that was just it, even though I asked God for help I kept feeling that sadness creep back in. Was I not letting go? Was God not paying attention? Was there some higher purpose for my suffering? When you’re feeling crummy it really doesn’t matter, you just don’t want to feel crummy anymore. I just had to keep telling myself to ‘just keep swimming’. After all, I had a lot of responsibilities over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The services at my church were magnificent, as always, with soaring music and beautiful rituals. I continued to struggle with some difficult emotional moments, but what was interesting was the homily on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. At that same moment in each service it was as if the preacher were speaking directly to me. I know some of you have had those experiences, when the message just strikes a chord in your heart. It was strong enough that I sat up and took notice. It was as if God, as if a friend, were tugging on my sleeve and saying, “I know you’re hurting, but I’m right here… I’m right with you.” My heaviness seemed a little lighter in that moment. I didn’t feel alone in my pain.

Isn’t that what what the entire biblical narrative is really all about? No matter what is happening, no matter how people are hurting inside or causing each other pain– isn’t God constantly saying and showing us, “Hey! I’m right here… I’m with you. I never leave you.”

I held my sorrow a little differently from that point on. I realized that I could at once feel my pain and believe that God’s love was enfolding me, protecting me, and guiding me onward. My suffering did not exist in the absence of God, nor was it possible because I was not faithful enough. Sometimes we just hurt. It’s real, it matters, and it deserves attention, but it need not overshadow our capacity to walk with God and each other each. That gift was offered to creation from the very beginning.

Divine Love didn’t begin at Christmas. That sweet manger scene in Bethlehem was another ‘beginning’ to a ongoing, unending, display of God’s miraculous mercy and love. There were countless people hurting, one way or another, on the night in which Jesus was born. There were countless people suffering on that bright Easter morning when an empty tomb heralded Christ’s resurrection once more. I believe God’s persistent Emmanuel reminder is not an end to human suffering, but to show us that no matter what we are experiencing we can know that we are not alone– That God is in us, experiencing our sorrow, and working through us in every moment.

The end-of-the-year holidays can be a challenging time for many people and sometimes in the hustle and bustle of carols and cookies, shopping and church, we can become blind to our fellow brothers and sisters who are hurting right in our midst. So keep your eyes open to those around you who are vulnerable this season. Offer them kindness and prayers of peace, and if you are hurting this Christmastide, know that God is with you now and always. That is the true peace that passes all understanding.

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