“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:23
Far too early on Christmas morning, my daughters burst into my bedroom with the announcement that Santa had come and it was time to wake up. At 10 and 4 years old, they knew the Christmas routine. No one could open a gift until Mom had her first cup of coffee. The girls ran back and forth between snooping through the presents and pleading with me to hurry. The anticipation was almost too much for them to bear as I put the cinnamon rolls into the oven, turned on the Christmas music, and poured myself a cup of coffee.
The truth is, I needed that cup of coffee. It gave me a few minutes to collect myself and muster up some semblance of Christmas joy. My daughters deserved that much. They didn’t need to know I only got a few hours of sleep because I worked into the night wrapping presents and taking perfect Santa and Rudolph-sized bites out of the cookies and carrots. They didn’t need to know I hid my grief behind every decoration, casserole, song, and pine-scented candle. And they certainly didn’t need to know my half-hearted prayer as I sipped my coffee and watched them fuss and giggle in their red, plaid pajamas.
This doesn’t feel right, God. It isn’t supposed to be like this. I should be joyful, but all I feel is empty.
I glanced at the tiny, baby Jesus in the nativity beside the Christmas tree. The figure of Mary knelt in adoration beside him. Joseph, the shepherds, and angels stood behind. I wondered if the real Mary felt the same way I did. She gave birth to the King of the world in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. When she labored among the animals and filth, did she think, “It isn’t supposed to be like this?” Did she wonder if she had failed her Son or worry if she would be enough for Him? Or did the concerns of this world fade into praise as Mary held GOD in her arms?
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” – Luke 2:19
I realized then I needed to treasure up and ponder the things of Jesus if I was to find Christmas again.
SHIFTING OUR FOCUS
Our culture glorifies Christmas as a feel-good, do-good, $465 billion-dollar, secular industry. Providing our children with a memorable Christmas seems an impossible task for a single parent who struggles with loneliness, grief, or financial strain. As we navigate the holiday season, it is imperative we take an honest look at our expectations and consider if it is time to shift our focus.
Reflect on the following questions:
- What are my hopes and expectations for Christmas this year?
- Do I anticipate any issues, pressure, stress, or emotional distress? What can I do to prevent, reduce, or prepare for these struggles?
- What traditions do we have that bring a sense of peace, wholeness, connection, and hope to our family? Restore, retain, and embrace these traditions.
- Do we have any traditions or expectations that intensify our sense of loss, grief, and brokenness? Consider letting these go.
- What new traditions can we adopt? New traditions will help establish your new identity as a whole and healthy family. Consider serving in a soup kitchen, filling shoe boxes with gifts to send overseas, donating a toy to charity, baking cookies for an elderly neighbor, driving through town to see the Christmas lights, taking more photographs, celebrating Advent, and reading Luke 2 with your children on Christmas morning.
- What impact does my financial situation have over Christmas? Has a reduction in our standard of living decreased our joy or increased my debt? If so, what financial or emotional adjustments do I need to make?
- How can I personally “treasure up and ponder” the things of Jesus this season? Spend more time reading God’s Word, praying, or writing in a gratitude journal.
- How can I help my children “treasure up and ponder” the things of Jesus? Teaching your children about the life and character of Jesus will leave a powerful and lasting legacy of faith.
FOR THIS REASON, HE CAME
This Christmas, you may feel pain. You may grieve. You might feel lost, lonely, or afraid. You may wonder where Christmas is in the midst of your loss and suffering. Let me assure you, friend, that Christmas is not lost. It is not out of reach. You may be far from home or perhaps you have long abandoned the tree and presents. Perhaps your pain lies hidden behind the noise and bustle of the day… but know this. It is for this suffering that Jesus came. This babe, borne into a humble state, came to heal the broken-hearted. Our broken hearts.
Pain and suffering may hijack the traditional trappings of Christmas, but we do not have to let it steal our joy. Our thanks and praise. We know that joy and suffering can occupy the same place in the heart. And so, through presents and wrapping, through the pain and loss, we still see Christmas… perhaps more clearly than ever before.
MICHELLE LYNN SENTERS (B.A. Education; M.Ed. Integrated Teaching Through the Arts) raised two daughters on her own and experienced many issues common to single mothers. She is the author of The Unseen Companion (Moody Publishers 2017) and has founded the Arise Ministry for Single Moms at her local church in Colorado Springs, CO.