Growing up, I loved Christmas. It was, by far, my favorite time of year.
I loved the presents and the music and the lights and the chaos and the traditions and the decorations and the shopping and the Christmas movies and the food. I loved it all. But more than anything, I loved being with my large family.
Christmas with my six siblings and my parents was so much fun. The craziness and the comfort of being together made every Christmas memorable. Whether we were laughing, fighting, opening presents, or eating, there was a deep sense of security because I was surrounded by people who knew me and loved me. These were my people. This was my family.
My love for the Christmas season only increased when I had my own family. It was now my turn to establish traditions and happy memories for my three children. Experiencing the anticipation, the joy, and the excitement of the Christmas season through the wide-eyes of my kids made Christmas even better as a parent than it was when I was a kid. Their mother and I worked hard to create a fun-loving atmosphere of “togetherness” that would make our kids keenly aware that they (like me when I was growing up) were surrounded by people who knew them and loved them.
As happy as my memories of Christmas were when I was young, my memories of Christmas with my kids are even happier.
But those days are over.
My kids are grown up, their mother and I are divorced, our family is broken.
Christmas is no longer my favorite time of year. In fact, I dread it because it triggers so much regret, sadness, guilt, shame, and a deep sense of loss. I live with a measure of these things everyday, but during Christmas they are intensified.
Given how much I loved the Christmas season, it was always difficult for me to empathize with those who would tell me that Christmas was a painful time of year for them. I would listen to them and sympathize with their ache, but because I had not experienced the kind of pain they had experienced, I could not truly identify with them. I heard what they were feeling, but I could not feel what I was hearing.
Now I do.
The death of a loved one, the loss of a treasured relationship, the break-up of your family, financial stress and so many shattered dreams make Christmas for lots of people a hard time of year rather than a happy one.
It doesn't even have to be some big tragedy to make Christmas hard for people. For example, I was talking to one couple recently who are in their late 50's. Their daughter is spending Christmas with her husbands family this year and their son is spending Christmas with his wife's family this year. This couple looked at me and said, "This is the first Christmas since we became parents that none of our kids will be with us."
So when our friend Kari (a single mom who became a widow at 38) called us and asked if I would be willing to speak at an event that she wanted to organize at Living Faith Church (the church my wife and I attend) called “Broken Christmas,” I immediately said I would. Not only because I know lots of people need something like this, but because I need something like this.
I need to be regularly reminded (and I’m guessing you do too) that the hope of Christmas is NOT that we will (in this life) get past our sadness and pain. Rather, it is that God promises to be with us when we struggle through our sadness and pain. Christmas is, after all, the celebration of Immanuel (“God with us”), the One who entered into our hurt and misery and promised never to leave us nor forsake us. As Robert Capon wrote:
“He comes to us in the brokenness of our health, in the shipwreck of our family lives, in the loss of all possible peace of mind, even in the very thick of our sins. He saves us in our disasters, not from them. He emphatically does not promise to meet only the odd winner of the self-improvement lottery. He meets us all in our endless and inescapable losing.”
“Broken Christmas” is a free event on Sunday, December 10th, and it’s for anybody who is looking for some hope and comfort during this difficult time of year. In other words, it’s for all of us.
I hope we see you there.