By Kit Coons
Christmas is like no other holiday. The smell of fresh evergreens, the sound of Christmas carols, and the sight of twinkling lights awaken our senses. Smiling faces gather in the kitchen to enjoy recipes made only once a year. Christmas offers a renewed sense of hope, joy, and peace. We can be our better selves for a few short weeks.
Less than Merry
Since I love Christmas, I’ve been surprised that many Christmases have left me less than merry. Even as a teenager, I struggled. The traditions hold such promise to delight my heart. But my celebrations become a roller coaster of pleasures and disappointments unless I hold onto the truths of Christ.
Psychology Today magazine quoted author Ray Williams: “We have been told that Christmas, especially for Christians, should be the happiest time of the year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends, and colleagues. Yet according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year people experience a higher incidence of depression. . . . One North American survey reported that 45 percent of respondents dreaded the festive season.”
Possibly you have had less-than-merry Christmas celebrations. Maybe you get so busy that you simply look forward to the holidays being over. Perhaps your Christmas wish is to have a family gathering without hurt feelings. Or this year you can’t imagine how Christmas could come when your loved one is no longer here. During the year we cope with our challenges, but at Christmas those challenges are intensified.
The Perfect Christmas?
After becoming a Christian, Christmas held new promise for me; Scripture revealed Jesus, the Prince of Peace. However, old habits are difficult to change. As Christmas approached, I thought about how to celebrate. My focus was to have the best gift giving, baking, and family gatherings ever. Even knowing the true meaning of Christmas, I fell into the trap of wanting the illusion of a perfect Christmas.
Gift making seemed authentic, so I tried making gifts. What could be better than baked or handcrafted gifts? I spent days looking for the perfect items, purchased the supplies needed, brought them home, and set them aside. Each day brought more to do until there wasn’t enough time to make the gifts. Putting so much pressure on myself crushed any hope of a peaceful Christmas.
Family gatherings became another focus. Unfortunately neither I nor my husband, Drew, had family that lived close. One TV commercial always upset me. It begins with an older couple on Christmas Eve. Filling their thoughts are flashbacks of when their children were young. But now the children are grown and unable to come home. The couple goes to sleep but wake Christmas morning to unusual noises. Hurrying downstairs, they find their children home by some unexplained Christmas miracle. Watching that commercial, I dreamed of similar family reunions. Drew would find me sitting in front of the TV crying. He suggested that I turn the channel or leave the room when the commercial began. My roller-coaster emotions were unfairly affecting his Christmas also.
With a surprise family reunion unlikely, I determined to focus on us as a couple and the family we hoped to have. This began seven years of trying to have or adopt children. Each year we hoped to share Christmas with a child. But year after year went by with no baby toys under the tree. Christmas became an especially painful reminder of failure. The fact that our family wasn’t like everyone else’s became my obsession.
No matter what I tried, I hadn’t found the peace I was searching for. And my lack of peace was affecting those around me. Drew finally said in despair, “Kit, if you can’t enjoy this time of year, I’d rather spend Christmas alone.”
Finding Christmas Peace
Those words from Drew broke my heart. How could I enjoy the wonder of Christmas without feeling disappointment? I asked for the Lord’s wisdom. Memories of Drew and our first Christmas together flooded my mind. We were Christian missionaries in Nigeria, West Africa. Our relationship was just beginning. So I invited him to spend Christmas in my small village. A couple with our mission graciously hosted him. We still joke about the wisp of a kiss he gave me when he left a few days later.
That Christmas had been wonderful. What was different? Actually everything had been different. We were a small team of missionaries in Africa. Our celebration was centered on Christ rather than the usual traditions. Was this a clue? Without Christ at the center, the traditions are empty. My heart listened as the Lord compassionately whispered: “Trust me with your celebrations, Kit. Give me your hopes and dreams. Allow me to fill them.”
I remembered Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
A new Christmas tradition was born. Now with the first signs of Christmas, I pray for God’s peace. That prayer reminds me to entrust my celebrations to Christ and focus on what Jesus did for us that we could not do for ourselves. Sin had separated us from God, but Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection changed that. Christmas is an invitation to have a relationship with the Prince of Peace.
Not long after, God showed me a way to turn my Christmas celebrations into an investment in eternity. A ministry called Christmas Gatherings uses the holiday season to tell others about a relationship with Christ. Drew and I organized a Christmas Gathering and invited friends, neighbors, and coworkers for a time of sharing traditions, cookies, and a short message about the true meaning of Christmas. During the holidays people are more willing to talk about Christ. The possibility of peace seems more real. Even the hardest of hearts are softened. Reaching out with the message of the gospel became a way to emphasize the truths of Christmas.
Finding peace also enabled Drew and me to create special ways to celebrate. Drew loves the lights of Christmas and each year wants me to put our trees up sooner. He would be happy if they went up in September. We watch Christmas movies and spend chilly evenings shopping together. What started as an annual visit to a new mall has now grown into an overnight trip. We also make a special list of activities to do that bring us joy during the Christmas season.
I’ll always love Christmas and am grateful it no longer leaves me empty. The traditions have a different focus now. The gift giving reminds me of God’s gift of a relationship with him. The smells of Christmas cookies remind me of the sweetness of God’s presence. The family gatherings remind me of my place in God’s family. The joy of seeing someone begin a relationship with Christ enables me to invest in eternity. And the best part about God’s gifts is that they will go with me into the new year. When all the packages are opened, baking enjoyed, and family gatherings finished, God’s peace remains.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
Kit Coons is a retired missionary who has led conferences and seminars in 34 countries.