Confessions and consolations of a jaded Christmas spirit

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Ravi Zacharias describes bedtime stories he would recount when his three children were little.

Bedtime story

All it took was one line, to fire up his youngest –

“There once was a monster!”   That proclamation was enough to send 3-year-old Nathan into the sweetest of shivers of fear and excitement.

Naomi, a bit older, needed more than the existence of a monster to get her going. But Daddy whispering, “The monster snuck up the stairs” produced the same goose bumps.

Finally, oldest child Sarah, a bit blasé about monster stories in general, kept her cool until Daddy inserted the extra detail “This particular monster loved snacking on little girls with braids!”

As we age, it takes more to satisfy us. Most of us can anecdotally attest to this truth when we think about how excited we were as children about upcoming events. The thought of trick-or-treating in costume or an annual trip to the beach brought great anticipation. But by the time we were 14, these annual events might have begun to lose the allure they once held.

Here we are, so quickly it seems, Christmas week! Where is that same anticipation we once had as five-year-olds? The long wait was both a source of impatience AND way to infuse the whole festive time with a holy wonder. Although I can ‘taste’ the long-ago anticipation in my mind, I can honestly say that it’s been decades since I felt those same thrills about anything.

But there have been touch-points of renewed excitement, first as newlyweds, then again as parents with little ones. The novelty of celebrating such a meaning-laden holiday, or travel to Europe under vastly different circumstances did reappear, because they were now shared experiences.

Now as I approach 60, I have (by God’s grace) celebrated Christ’s birth many times. A fellow Christian and I were talking about the diminishment of pleasures the other day. It had been a trying day for him, with a bitter work-related disappointment, and I’m sure that didn’t help his mood. For better or worse, moods are often the context or window through which we evaluate life. He commented how even the approach of Christmas didn’t fill him with much joy or anticipation. I responded that maybe this was God’s way of detaching us from the things of this world. That maybe God was maturing us to appreciate a richer type of true pleasure.

Bored (gargoyle)

People in their 40s and older often succumb to mid-life blues, “Is this all there is?” They draw despondent conclusions from the fact that what used to thrill them no longer does.

But those conclusions are wrong, for the Christian!

And that thought was bolstered by what I read before bed. The author, Thomas Brewer who manages Tabletalk Magazine, reminded believers of ‘the fullness of joy’ that awaits us:

God paints the future reality of ‘fullness of joy’ we will experience in the everlasting kingdom of God.

Psalm 16:11 In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Hebrew word for fullness is ‘soba’ and it means satiety. (Think of our word ‘satis-fied’.) On page 61 of the November 2014 magazine Brewer recalls Paul’s teaching that this life’s present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to what God is going to reveal to us, glories that we cannot even begin to picture. Brewer goes on to write,

  • “In other words, this life is just the beginning. There are joys we haven’t yet experienced – a new life awaits that can’t even be compared to this one.”

How encouraging! So there’s nothing wrong with us! When what used to thrill us no longer does, or at least not to the same degree, we draw a different conclusion. This lessening of earthly pleasures is part of the normal course of God’s providential plan for humans. And in fact, maybe there is something faulty with our theology if we cling TOO tightly to this world. Yes, our family is precious to us and nature still has the power to render us speechless with awe.

As Brewer concludes his essay, he reminds Christians that, “…this life is merely the childhood of our eternal happiness. We wait to enter the gates of that eternal city, where we will enter into the joy of our Master (Matt 25:21)”

So embrace Christmas. But don’t measure today against previous celebrations or what you think you SHOULD feel. Thank God for all his good pleasures and above all for the promise of everlasting life in his presence. Rest in the comforting fact that ‘The best is yet to be!’

 

 

No more taking pride in those bleak ‘Ecclesiastes’ moments!

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“The specific quality of faith is extraspective and in that respect is the diametric opposite of works. …….Faith looks to what God does; works have respect to what we are……,” John Murray on Romans

Psalm 131:2 – Instead, I have kept my soul calm and quiet. My soul is content as a weaned child is content in its mother’s arms.

I think I was approaching 50 when I started occasionally detaching and viewing myself and others around me in a kind of surprise.  I’d be at a red-light at a major commercial intersection looking at fellow drivers to the left and right.

drivers all together

 

 

 

 

I would start to wonder, “What is the point of life? ”  Now, don’t get me wrong; I was a Christian then, well-grounded in my Bible.  I’m just sharing how I was feeling.

Ennui animal

Soon I started going further down this ‘pseudo-sophisticated’ and semi-existential path.  It was a kind of mild depression. It had to do with the daily sameness of an ordinary life, thinking that there was nothing exciting to look forward to.  Maybe it was a kind of weariness of life.

I would even indulge in a bit of superiority in my own special ennui, knowing that buying new stuff  or going on a vacation wouldn’t satisfy me, like it would many of my mid-life peers.  I was one of those ‘deep thinkers who needed much more!’

I infected my husband.  He was in a similar boat in a job that brought no joy.  And when I named my feelings, my unoriginal term, ‘Eccleasisates Moment’ (as in ‘all is vanity’ à la King Solomon) resonated with him.

Not much good comes from all that introspection except for the helpful and salubrious-to-the-budget realization that spending money is no antidote to what is immaterial, namely a feeling.

Recently I have been helped by God’s word to me about taking joy in the simple provisions of life.  I have stepped down from indulging in those super-serious but unfruitful thoughts about the meaning of life.  More and more I am content to settle into and accept  what God says is the meaning of life.

If all life is a gift from God, no matter the form it comes in, then I am meant to live moment by moment with the anticipation that little kids have who are about to receive a treat.  God the good Father via His Spirit implanted in me is growing my feelings of love, joy, and peace.  He is giving me practice (through trying circumstances) to develop the habits of restful waiting, of being kind, of offering grace, of faithfulness in work, of  gentle words and responses to others and most of all teaching me how to control my emotional reactions to life.

Peace - Dove

 

 

So just as the Psalmist himself had finally realized, I am finally learning as a young weaned child of God simply to rest my head on Him.  It is enough to know that I belong to the Eternal God as an adopted daughter.  My good Father plans out my daily events and walks by my side to provide the helping hand and steadying I need as I depend on Him and practice keeping pace with Him.  Our Father is very much like Corrie Ten Boom’s dad who quieted her anxiety about an upcoming train trip and her need of a ticket. He assured his young daughter that he would hand her ticket when she was about to board the train.  So too, God – our Father will give us what we need when we need it, not before. I don’t have to know more than what He has told me and shown me today.

And when I start to fret about the seeming ordinariness of life, I try to remember that Jesus celebrated daily life by living it with bickering fishermen and complaining housewives and restless children.  He didn’t hang out too often with the Important People who were doing ‘big stuff’. He liked good food and physical labor and walking over hill and dale and camping out.  He celebrated with the wedding party and accepted people’s gifts.  He was a mensch.  May we be ones too!

Jesus and kids

 

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