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Strangers in a Christmas Land

Strangers in a Christmas Land

I borrowed my title for this blog from the clever folks on our church’s worship planning team. The title came about as we discussed whether to hold a “Blue Christmas” service this year. If you’re not familiar with Blue Christmas, sometimes called “Longest Night,” or “Darkest Night,” the service is a lament service offered sometime in December. The goal is to offer a time for people to experience sadness in the midst of all the holiday cheer.

If you’ve ever been heartbroken, depressed or simply down in the dumps during the Christmas season, you know how hard it is. Everyone else is fa la laing along while you’re just hoping to make it through. It’s hard enough to be sad. It’s even harder to be sad when every store front is urging you to “be of good cheer.”

We can, indeed, feel like strangers in a Christmas land.

The feeling comes when everyone else is complaining of the busyness of the season and you’re spending your evenings watching re-runs of holiday movies on TV.

Or when you decorate your tree and remember the last time you decorated it with them–the child, or parent, or spouse whose presence no longer graces the house.

It comes when the service is full of stories about expectation and pregnancy but your story is full of doubt and disappointment.

And sometimes it just comes for no reason. When the nostalgia suddenly turns to grief. Or the tinsel is suddenly revealed as nothing more than cheap strands of a fool’s dream.

Sometimes, we don’t even know why we’re being left out of this Christmas fairy land, we just know that we are. But what makes it worse is the pressure to feel better. Because for the love of Christ (literally) it’s a celebration. We’re supposed to “be of good cheer,” and “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” and celebrate because “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

So here’s what I want to say about that. I’m not at all convinced that the point of Christmas is to be happy. I think the point of Christmas is to remember that God makes a way. God makes a way through grief, through happiness, through distraction and through relentless boredom. God finds us no matter where we are. And maybe God isn’t on calendar time, and maybe God doesn’t know that God’s required to show up by December 25, but God is making a way.

One of the buzzwords at Christmas is “glory,” which might help us out here. Biblically speaking, glory means “making the presence of God known.” On the other hand, we sometimes we use “glory” much the way we would use the word “delicious,” as though it describes a particular experience. But there’s nothing about glory that requires us to feel happy–in fact, most biblical and personal instances of God’s glory revealed come in times of hardship.

Our work this Christmas season is the same as it is the rest of the year: to look for God in all times and places. So maybe you’re looking for God’s glory amidst a too-busy winter schedule. And maybe you’re looking for God’s glory amidst the ghosts of Christmas past. Maybe you’re even having one of those amazing Advent seasons that comes along once in a while, where you’re finding it easy to stay centered and focused and prayerful. Those are all fine ways to do Christmas.

But if you’re feeling like a stranger in a Christmas land this year, remember that glory and cheer are two different things. Just as we can relieve ourselves of the pressure to do Christmas perfectly, we can relieve ourselves of the pressure to do Christmas in manic cheerfulness. Focus instead on glory–not the forced glory of humans trying to create an experience but the glory of the God who makes a way.

 

Hope For The Time Of Doubt

Hope For The Time Of Doubt

Friend, I see you in this hard time. I know it’s a struggle, this faith business. I know that sometimes it all seems like a crazy dream or a silly idea that some people invented. Opium for the masses and all that. I know what a dark night of the soul feels like. I know how it feels to have your heart break because you can’t find God right now. I know how you’re asking for prayers and simultaneously wondering if it even matters. Is anyone listening out there?

I want you to know that I know. I see you there because it’s a place I’ve lived. I’ve been there, pacing the floor in the middle of the night, wondering about life and meaning and God and is it all in vain? You can see the place on the carpet where I’ve worn it down with all my pacing. Right there, down the middle. See?

I see you looking for the way out. The hallway of faith used to be so clear but now the light is dim and the doorway isn’t marked. What was that about following Jesus? Because his footsteps are getting pretty faint.

hallway

I have some words of wisdom I’ve saved up for occasions like this. I’d like you to know that doubt and belief aren’t opposites. No, they’re just two sides of the same experience. God can work with doubt. Every story of every biblical figure is a story of doubt. (I dare you…find one that isn’t.)

Plus, there’s a thing that Richard Rohr said when I heard him speak last summer. “There’s no shortcut to the transcendent.” This is written in my notes in large letters. Apparently, we have to go through the nitty-gritty in order to grow.
Of course, this sucks and is a small comfort when you’re in it but the point is, you’ll make it out. You will. You won’t be the same person you are now but you’ll make it.

Those might be helpful things to ponder. However, I definitely won’t tell you that a spiritual crisis is required for growth. A mentor told me this once and I cried all night. That’s just discouraging news, to think you’ll have to do this again someday. (Although, when you get there, you’ll have a little more strength because you’ll know that you did it before and you can do it again.)

Those are my words of wisdom, for what they’re worth. Really, though, the most important thing I can say is this:

I believe it for you.

I believe you will come out of this. I believe that God is there, and when you can find that again, you will run to God like a child finding a lost parent. And then you might go ahead and yell a bit, like a parent finding a lost child. You know, the kind of yelling that’s only brought on by intense love coupled with incredible fear. “Don’t ever do that to me again.” This is ok, too, when you find your way again.

Exit sign

I believe you will find your way again. Sometimes the trick to weathering a period of doubt and desperation is just to let someone else hold your faith for you. Give it up. Let them believe a bit because you just can’t.

I know, that sounds crazy. You’re used to bearing it alone, walking your own separate groove into the carpet because we don’t talk about faith and doubt very well. But trust me, it’s ok to let go of this need to hold it all together. Just set it down for a while.

Know this, though: someday, when the light becomes clear again, you’ll walk out. You’ll walk out and regroup, you’ll run and hug and scream, and when you’ve rested, you’ll turn around and look back. You’ll see that place you used to walk, the windowless room and the lack of exit signage and you’ll feel relief that you’re not there anymore. Then you’ll peer just a little bit closer, trying to figure out why that place had such a strong hold. When you squint, you’ll see another dim figure pacing the floor. You’ll know just what to do. You’ll carefully reach in just enough to hold their hand and whisper quietly, “I believe it for you.”

And you will.

Someone is holding my faith

Someone is holding my faith

Someone I love is really, really struggling right now. My heart hurts so bad that my head hurts. It’s throbbing as I type.

I was telling myself all the right things. I was praying. I was reminding myself to trust. I was helping where I could and not getting sucked into more than I can do. I was doing all the right things for myself. Really and truly, textbook self-care for difficult times. Unfortunately that didn’t stop the grief from hitting. Oh my dear God, the fear and terror and sadness and lack of control and even more worrisome: emptiness. Like I just couldn’t quite get a feel for where God was in all of this.

faith-rock-150x150

My mom has a rock like this. Actually, hers is greenish but I didn’t think to take a picture of it when all this was going down. It wasn’t a picture moment. My mom’s rock sits on her windowsill as a reminder. She picked it up the other day and said, “Would someone else take this and pray? I’m really struggling to have faith.” I took it and said, “Sure, I’ll hold your faith for you.” It was actually meant to be kind of funny but it ended up being profound.

“Thank you.” She said. “I need someone to do that right now.”

Well, then I felt like a fraud. Do prayers prayed by someone who isn’t sure she’s even connecting with God go anywhere? I did pray but I wasn’t sure God was still on the line. Like the call had dropped and I was just chattering away to empty air.

Then I sat with a group of women and said, “I’m so worried.” When they asked what they could do, I surprised myself by saying, “Pray.” When they agreed it was like a cool breeze floated over me, refreshing and welcome. When one woman shared her own struggle and offered words of hope and faith from a place deep inside her, my tears of fear became tears of gratitude and I felt genuinely refreshed.

As I left that room and marveled at what had happened, I realized what it was. They had held my faith for me.

There’s more to come in this story. I’m sure of it, in ways good and bad. But for now I’m just so amazingly grateful to have the burden taken off for just a little bit. I’m so amazingly grateful for all the people that God sends to hold our faith when we’re just too worried or consumed or empty to hold it ourselves.

An idea for the day: List the people who have been faith holders for you. Send one of them a note letting them know how much you appreciate their help. Or, reach out to someone who you know needs a faith-holder right now. Call, email or text them a word of encouragement.

Loving, giving, faithful God, thank you for the people you’ve sent into my life to be faith-holders. Thank you, too, for the times you’ve allowed me to be a faith-holder for someone else. For all those in need of faith-holders today, I ask your blessing. For those capable of being a faith-holder right now, I ask your blessing. May these people find each other. Amen