Finding That Christmas SpiritDec 25, 2021
Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, not even for Christmas!
When we think of the holiday season, we might get snow-dusted, starlit images in our heads of quaint shopping, family gatherings, gifts, cookies, Christmas lights, hot cocoa, and general smooth sailing.
We might get images in our heads that speak of emotional warmth and inner peace.
And while, unfortunately, our life and holiday plans don’t always work out according to the same neat script that directs those cheesy Christmas movies that are made by the dozen for Netflix and Amazon (many of which I have watched, by the way), we can still find that emotional warmth and inner peace.
No matter what our holiday situation looks like this year, we can find that fabled “Christmas Spirit.”
The things that make up that Christmas Spirit—inner contentment, spiritual gratitude and reflection, feelings of safety and hope— aren’t dependent on life looking like some Hallmark card or Lexus holiday ad. They aren’t dependent on having a million-dollar Christmas tree, or on having the perfect job or house or family situation. They aren’t dependent on having life all “figured out,” and they aren’t dependent on having everything Christmas-card perfect in our daily existence.
They are simply dependent on orienting our hearts and thoughts toward faith.
Faith, my friends, is what allows us to move forward through times both good and bad. It is what allows us to set and follow goals that make our lives meaningful.
Faith is what helps us to find healing. It is what creates miracles.
So, if a miracle is what you are desperately needing this holiday season, I urge you to spend the upcoming days and nights focusing on faith: faith that your situation will work out okay; faith that you will find the strength and blessings needed to move forward; faith that you are loved and worthy; faith that an all-powerful God is above you and beside you and in your heart and every step.
A Christmas Disruption
I have a startling admission to make. Although I was born and raised in Wisconsin, I actually am less than fond of the cold and snow. These things annoy me to an extent, and at times I actually find myself cursing them.
While others (especially those who have never actually lived in the midwestern United States) might think that snow completes a romantic image of Christmas, when I think of snow I often think of travel issues and shoveling and the depressing way it looks when it is blackened by car exhaust and piled up into sloppy curbside piles by plow trucks the morning after a storm.
When I think of snow, I might think of how the cold that produces that snow can freeze both household pipes and human extremities alike, and about how that same deep chill can actually make it painful to breathe when a person is simply trying to get groceries loaded into the car.
Bottom line, I like sunshine. I like warmth. I like beaches. I like to get tan and run outside and grill out as a beautiful sun sets. I like to take my coffee or beer on a patio (preferably in Miami), and in general my idea of vibrant life looks like the opposite of what December through March is in Wisconsin.
So, knowing myself, and in an effort to circumvent that “bleak midwinter” feeling this year, my wife and I made plans to travel to Arizona for ten days in December. We would visit family and relax and stock up on natural vitamin D, and we would return home just before Christmas, tan and refreshed and ready to survive the Wisconsin cold until our annual trip to Florida in late January.
I was excited. I’d found a “life hack,” or a “winter hack” if you will. Arizona in December and a month later we’d be in Florida.
And as a bonus, we’d begun ripping up our master bathroom, too, so that my brother could do a bunch of handy work in it while we were gone. It was a mess, with exposed subfloor and no shower door and supplies and tools sitting everywhere. But, like magic, it would be immaculate when we returned.
After that trip to the Grand Canyon State, I would feel new and the bathroom would look new.
How neat and clever my plans were!
I found myself checking the weather obsessively in the weeks leading up to our flight. What was the temperature in Phoenix that day, and what would it be when we landed?
But that trip to Arizona never happened.
Instead, my wife got Covid. And her body aches turned into piercing headaches, that turned into worry and virtual doctor’s visits and a treatment regimen of vitamins, over the counter pain relievers, and certain medications.
The nights were filled with feverish dreams for my wife (and little sleep for either of us), and the days were filled with tending to pains, logging medication and vitamin times, monitoring symptoms, and waiting out the grey.
Long nights blended into longer days.
Headache medication and cold compresses, breakfast, dishes, pharmacy drive-throughs, laundry. Heart breaking to hear her moaning, trying to help, worrying, wondering.
The sickness became monotony peppered with periods of spiked symptoms or fear. It was groundhog’s day as day five turned into day six, and then eight, ten, and twelve.
I heard the lyrics of that old Billy Joel song play in my head. “Tomorrow is Today.”
Each day, in fact, not only seemed like a cruel repeat of the previous, but it also seemed to last a million hours, and each one seemed colorless (both on the inside and out). Oftentimes there was no sunrise to speak of, just the arrival of a sickly “blah” hue that was the cloud-covered “daylight” in December.
It seemed as we were on the moon, disconnected.
And there were other family members that were sick as well, my parents included. I thought of them. I prayed for them.
I powered through on adrenaline, trying not to allow my mind to drift to dark places. After nearly two years of being bombarded with fearful news about Covid, it had finally arrived in my home. Was this a fairly “normal” virus, survivable like any other, or was it truly a manipulated super virus, an unconquerable foe; a harbinger of worse nightmares to come?
My energy was sapped, my nerves were a little frayed, and I found it hard to find faith sometimes.
Then, one morning as I was at my desk, I saw several sparrows land on my driveway. In the middle of the December cold and grey, the tiny sparrows flitted about like they were enjoying a mid-July birdbath.
The scene reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter ten:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Translation: You aren’t alone. God knows your situation, even before you tell him. He knows exactly what you need, and you are valuable to Him. We are inside of His care at all times. He won’t abandon us in our hour of need.
And on another morning, as I was in bed reading stories of Jesus’ healing miracles in Luke chapter eight, I was given another much-needed infusion of faith.
In this particular snapshot of Jesus’ life, He heals a woman who has been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, and He raises a little girl from the dead.
“She had spent everything she had on doctors,” the Bible verses say about the hemorrhaging woman, “and still could find no cure.”
But when this woman reached out, in desperation, to touch Jesus in a crowd, she was healed.
And Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace.”
And as this scene with the hemorrhaging woman was taking place, Jesus was also approached by a man named Jairus, whose daughter back home was sick and near death. This man, desperate to find a way to preserve the life of his child, sought out Jesus. But as he was approaching Jesus, a messenger arrived to tell him that it was no use.
The messenger told Jairus, “Your little girl is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher (Jesus) now.”
But Jesus replied: “Don’t be afraid. Just trust me, and she will be all right.”
And when Jesus arrived at the home of Jairus shortly afterward, He said to the little girl, “Get up my child,” and the life returned to her.
After finishing these readings, I picked up my cell phone from where it sat on my nightstand, and I saw that I had received an update from my cousin, whose husband was in the ICU with Covid in another state. The update was news of an improvement.
As my wife slept beside me, still sick but healing, I couldn’t help but feel that my desperate prayers—both for her and for everyone else I knew dealing with this sickness—had been heard and were in the process of being answered.
What were the common threads in these stories of Jesus’ healings in Luke chapter eight (and in many others throughout the Bible)?
- People in desperate situations reached out to the one person who seemed capable of doing the impossible and creating miracles, Jesus.
- The people who reached out had faith that Jesus had both the power and desire to help their situations. They had faith, and that made the difference.
“Your faith has made you well,” Jesus said to the women who had been sick for twelve years.
“Don’t be afraid, just trust me (i.e., have faith),” Jesus said to the man whose daughter was dying.
Faith. We either focus on that, or we focus on fear. Which will it be?
Have faith, and allow that to bring positive transitions into your life.
Transcending This World, Finding Peace
The capacity to find healing and remedy for our earthly troubles is an alluring (and important) part of finding God this Christmas season. If there is suffering in your household, no matter what that household looks like or what that suffering looks like, cast your anxieties upon God and tell Him your needs. You are valuable to Him and He will answer you and care for you.
And remember, if the answer to your prayers isn’t exactly on your timetable or in accordance with your tidy vision of it, that is okay. God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His understandings our understandings. Even if you don’t yet understand His work, Have faith that He is working for your good in a way that is more powerful and beautiful than you can presently comprehend.
Also, if you are getting tired of this world and its troubles altogether, that is okay, too. We all feel like that sometimes, and in fact Jesus came to give remedy to this sunken feeling.
He came to at times “fix” our earthly problems, but also to offer us a larger transcendence for them.
Pray not only for fixes for your problems, but also for a way to rise above those pains and worries in general.
Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace. Here on this earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
And He also says, “Peace I leave to you. My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The Christmas movies on Netflix and Amazon might create a shiny version of the holiday season, one that is full of unexpected romance, familial reconciliation, lost dreams realized, and general “at-the-end-of-the-day” warmth and fuzziness.
But honestly, life isn’t always so neat and gift-wrapped. We all know that.
Life can come with unforeseen disruptions and illnesses. It can come with loss and loneliness. It can come with rejection, self-doubt, fear, boredom, anger, uncertainty, and a whole bunch of other stuff that doesn’t make it onto Santa’s list of what to deliver to the kids on Christmas Eve.
However, with faith we can not only survive these things, we can begin to transcend them. We can begin to see that Christmas provides us with a bridge to another reality, one where the maladies and frights of this world no longer exist.
God sent His son to forgive us of our personal failings (and to remove them from memory, as far as the east is from the west), and He sent His son to give us all that one thing we need in order to find that “emotional warmth” that creates the true Christmas Spirit: Peace.
Jesus gives us a way to find peace on earth, even though this earth is not always a peaceful place.
He gives us a way to find peace in our hearts, even though our hearts too often become “troubled” by things both large and small.
Have faith that you are valuable to Him. Have faith that He knows the status of every hair on your head and every need in your heart.
Have faith, and feel the peace of Christmas.
An Impromptu Dance in the Kitchen
Earlier today my wife and I went to the gym together for the first time in several weeks, a huge sign of physical strengthening for her. And tonight, as I took a break from writing and ventured into the kitchen, she grabbed me and began dancing with me by the sink as Latin music streamed from Alexa.
“This is what real Christmas music sounds like,” she said as she positioned my stiff arms and guided my flat feet through the steps of a dance that only one of us was having success with! She’s from Argentina, by the way, and it’s currently about 100 degrees there for Christmas. Maybe that will be a part of our “winter escape plan” next year.
No, I didn’t get most of the money back from our cancelled flight to Arizona; I’d booked with a discount airline that offered non-stop travel but not much else. And no, our bathroom still isn’t finished, so I shower and brush my teeth amidst cold disarray for the time being.
I won’t be heading into the Christmas weekend super tan and fresh off that “vacation feeling,” either.
But I am feeling refreshed. My family is finding healing, and I think that in many ways the events of these past few weeks forced me to get back in touch with the true Christmas spirit as nothing else would have. I was forced to find God to survive each day. I was forced to find signs of the Divine in the everyday (the sparrows in the driveway, for example). I was forced to pray early and often, and I was forced to focus on family and faith over frivolities or fear.
By the way, I was also forced to remember that the weather isn’t the most important thing right now, and maybe I’ll even allow myself to enjoy the snow a little bit in the coming weeks. Maybe I’ll remember what it felt like when I was a kid, sledding and building forts and not worrying about being anywhere else.
No matter what your life looks like this holiday season—no matter what your inner or outer struggles might look like—please know that you are not alone.
The source of protection and peace is upon us—above us, beside us, within us—and He became human to give us further assurance that God both understands and holds the remedy for the human struggle.
You are understood. You are protected. You are loved. You are guided.
Look to the sky tonight, and have faith these things are true.
May God bless all of you this Christmas season.
Until next time,
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