In light of yesterday's events in Connecticut, and in light of so many other constant world-wide tragedies, sometimes we just have to remember that Christmas isn't easy for everyone. This year, all the families from Sandy Hook will be grieving, living in terror and sadness as they open their Christmas presents and look at their trees.
And, there are millions more like them. Whether families are grieving a recent death, or anticipating a difficulty ahead, enduring the loss of an unborn baby, or fighting off some illness, struggling financially due to unemployment, or maybe their house just burned down...there are so many difficulties in this world. Or, maybe it isn't even something so "monumental." Sometimes the difficulties for many people are relational. After all, getting a lot of people all in the same room who don't have to figure out a way to live peacefully that closely together during the rest of the year is bound to wreak havoc! In many families, people may find Christmas day a difficult obligation of spending time with people that they just can't find a way to get along with - or people who are using drugs, abusing each other, involved in criminal activity, etc. These families might be hurting just as much due to relational traumas as others are from different catastrophes.
This isn't new news for me - as I'm sure it isn't for you. But, for the most part I think the vast majority of us are able to avoid, avoid, avoid...we make sure that OUR homes are happy and cheerful and ignorant of the burdens others are bearing. We want to make our own little bubbles as picturesque as they can be. We want to follow the rules and "be of good cheer," because that's just what you do in December!
Sometimes we seem to think that we have to fake happiness in order to enjoy the holidays. To be honest, knowing that three of my friends are fighting cancer this year doesn't make it easy. But, here's my insight this year:
HAPPINESS AND HARDSHIP ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.
That's right. We don't have to avoid hardship in order to be happy. Actually, the bible says in James 1 that we are to "Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." AWESOME. Truly a good, wonderful, deeply profound bit of wisdom here. The stronger the breeze, the stronger the trees! When bad stuff happens, we are faced with a choice: let it make you worse, or use it to make you better. In order for the crap to make you a happier person amidst it all we must choose to recognize that fighting through these hardships, and learning, and growing, and trusting God's plan will make us develop perseverance.
Perseverance takes time. I couldn't have recognized these things when I was a child, because enough time didn't pass in my life for me to learn how to persevere. Hardship did happen to hit our home at an early age for me; on the 7th Christmas of my life, I had to celebrate through tear streaked eyes without my father, who chose to take his own life in the autumn. We wouldn't laugh and take pictures and celebrate the way we normally did. That year we would open presents from complete strangers who had pity on our state - people who wanted to bring a little bit of brightness to our dark corner of the world. That, for me, was the beginning of learning perseverance. Because even though Dad was dead, Christmas still happened. The next year it happened again - and life just kept going. No one stopped while I would stare into the distance enduring a moment of overwhelming grief. No one at the stores could tell by looking at me that I hadn't slept nightmare free in years. My teachers at school saw my shining smile and good grades and always thought I was a happy-go-lucky kid. Many people had no idea of what I was going through.
He knew every tear, every sleepless night, every overwhelming numbed-out moment. And, He still knows...through the dozens more struggles and sadnesses and traumas and terrible things I've gone through in my life. He still knows. He knows about every heart and every person touched by yesterday's events. He knows every cancer patient, all their children, and every sick person. He knows all the alcoholics, all their families, all the abuse, all the relationships gone awry. He knows and He cares.
Then, I can hear it now, "Well, why didn't God stop it then!?" To answer it simply: He gave humans free will, and sometimes they choose the evil side. Sometimes it's not that anyone does anything wrong at all - Satan is alive and well on this planet, and he is the root of evil, pain, suffering, destruction, and death. To answer it more completely: read The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis or The Shack by William P Young.
In the meanwhile, we all have Christmas to look forward to in only a matter of days. It can be a happy holiday for all of us - even if we're suffering while the carols are ringing, the lights are shining, and the turkeys are baking. We can choose to make it a day of joy no matter what...and maybe it has the potential to be an even deeper, more meaningful holiday for those of us who are going through something difficult.
Merry Christmas to all! (pics from Evalie's first Christmas last year)