Oh, the holidays. Boy, am I glad it is almost over.
It’s not that I don’t like Christmas, or what it means—I love Jesus. I love that He is coming, and He is coming soon! I love the incarnation part, the God walking around us part, the celebration of his birth. I love Advent—when I finally went to a church that celebrated it—I love the anticipation, the permission for agonizing over waiting, the permission to dwell on suffering and to take it to Jesus. I love Advent. I love Christmas—so much that honestly, I wish we Evangelicals celebrated it all the way until Epiphany—the visit of the Magi—Gentiles, like us visiting Jesus for the first time. A holiday season—-about Christ, following the story of Christ.
I don’t like…well, the family part.
It’s not that I don’t like my family, or my extended family—-it’s just my family has never done very much with Christmas. My parents became Christians in my adulthood—and when we spend it with them—it’s everything under their orders, their terms, with their friends. We do nothing. We are practically trapped in their house for days. It’s not really like any other visit—other than all stores are open, and there’s a little more pressure to be presented / compared to So-and-So’s kid and such.
My parents are Christians now—but they have never been excited by the fact I’m in ministry. Every few years, my dad tries to get me out of it: “You’ve spent way too much time on the church. It’s too hard. Go to business school. Help my company. Do something else.”
This year, and last—we spent with my spouse’s family. We hosted like last year. We cooked and cleaned for 3 days, and when it was all over, we were exhausted. “Next year—we’re not hosting. One of my sisters needs to step up.” My spouse says every year. We know the truth. Personality-wise, they are not the type to step up. In fact, this gathering only happens with grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles because we host it.
A full day after, still exhausted, and now snipping at each other with unprocessed emotion and tiredness, we realize again the shortcomings of family. “I don’t want to talk about it,” one of us says, and yet we start all over again, re-playing incidents, the things said. It is as if we forgot everything from the year before or the last family event months earlier–and need to remind ourselves. “She got everyone a gift except me last year,” my spouse reminded me. In truth, they didn’t ask me about me—in general, they haven’t done this at all. There’s no questioning of my likes, my dislikes, my work and ministry. Family, can be disappointing. Realizing how others come short is sobering. They are not who we want them to be. They do not love us in the way we want to be loved. [And I suppose perhaps they think the same of us.]
My white spouse’s family is Christian, long time Christian—and I see little difference in how they celebrate Christmas compared to my family when we were pre-Christian. Both families are loving in their own way. Both families also disappoint.
Yet that is what I hear over and over again at church, at various churches around holiday time. Family, family, family. This emphasis is not wrongly placed—if you can’ t love the people closest to you, what does that say about your love?
And yet—I still remember in my single days—I was single for a long time, of the loneliness I felt—and how the church did not really help. This one church, with a lot of singles, did acknowledge it. “Remember, this is also a hard time for a lot of people.” I always appreciated the pastor saying that—-but this was also the same church where I interned and spent my loneliest Christmas. It was, as it should be, “all hands on deck” during the Christmas season. There was no taking off for home until after Christmas, leaving me on Christmas Eve post-service, with no where to go. I was insanely busy preparing for these services and all that Christmas entailed—the thought of making Christmas plans was too much—-I had too much to get through. And then, the services were over and everyone had scampered off to be with family…and I remember driving in my car until 3 in the morning, wandering the city, looking at the lights, crying out to Jesus in my loneliness.
It was not an unfamiliar loneliness during the holiday time, only more magnified by so many talking of families, and bustling off without asking where you were off to…a loneliness I’d spend a days later as I finally made it to my parent’s house, a loneliness I’d feel from not being known. As I reflect now, it is not that much different than a loneliness from being with your spouse’s family, adults who barely ask about you.
Heed that single friends. Thank God Christ has come, Christ is now near.