6. What deepened your spirituality?
This was definitely the hardest question out of Mary's list. For me, it seems as if any spiritual growth is preceded by a period of intense trial and introspection, and like most people---I don’t like looking at myself in great detail. What I don’t see, I don’t have to fix, right?
In early childhood most of us have our favorite things—our things we can’t do without, whether it is a pacifier, a blankie, a stuffed animal or a bottle. As we get older, we learn to do without these security items, these things that make us feel safe. But what if we really don’t give them up, we just transfer them to something else? What if the pacifier becomes the cigarette, the fuzzy blanket becomes sex, our stuffed animals become Ipods and new cars, and the bottle becomes food? Do we acquire new “security blankets” as we get older?
What if my security blanket is my favorite holiday?
Because I am a Christian, Christmas to me has always been a magical time. I love the lights, the trees, the buying of gifts, the baking, the concerts and performances, the stories, and most of all, a feeling of closeness to Christ. But what if my feelings about Christmas were focused more on it being my security blanket and not on Christ?
I refused to believe that was true about myself when my perceptions were first challenged. Christmas had always been about Christ, and worshiping Him. When someone challenged me to examine how much of my Christmas was really about Christ, I was a little offended. After all, for me Christmas is more about giving than receiving. And my feelings about Christ seemed to deepen over the holidays. How could my celebration as a Christian be off base? I refused to believe my motives at Christmas were less than Christ-centered.
Sometimes though, when someone hits the nail on the head, the accompanying headache is too great to ignore. Going into the Christmas season, I found myself thinking more and more about whether or not my Christmas traditions were really focused on Christ, or whether they were really focused on me and my feelings of security.
I began by thinking about something as simple as Christmas lights. I have always, from childhood loved the ambiance created by twinkle lights. I love the multi-colored streams hanging from neighbors’ homes, I love brightly lit trees, and I even love the white lights that adorn fake greenery in restaurants throughout the year. All year round, I have white twinkle lights on my kitchen counter so I can turn off the overheads when I’m through for the evening and just bask in the soft lighting. I had to ask myself What if Christmas had to be celebrated this year without lights? The thought of it nearly made me cry, so I knew I had struck a nerve.
Why was I so emotional about Christmas lights? Could I really have a happy Christmas without them? I started my self-introspection by recalling my earliest memories of Christmas lights. I remember sitting on the couch with my mom, in the darkness of a living room lit only by the garish bulbs hanging on our aluminum tree. Looking back, the colors of those bulbs were not that pretty. What was it then? It didn’t take long for me to realize why I loved the lights so much. The lights told me that my mom loved me. Even though she was an extremely busy working mother, she took time just to sit quietly in the dark with the Christmas lights and me. Bingo! My love for Christmas lights had nothing to do with Christ. It had everything to do with feeling unconditionally loved by my mom.
This realization led me to examine quite a few other things. The Christmas tree? Was it the bearer of lights for me or did I love it because of the gifts I had bought for others stacked neatly under it? Could I do without it? Yes, I decided, as long as I could put the gifts in another attractively displayed pile and keep my twinkle lights in the kitchen. Although I would hate to do it, I could give up my Christmas tree without diminishing my love for Christ.
That led me to the gifts. Could I still feel the spirit of Christmas if I bought no gifts this year? Again, I felt like crying at the thought of it. I wanted to buy gifts! But I knew I needed to look deep down inside at the emotion that erupted. What if I was told “no gifts” this year? Well, my son will have to have what he needs when he needs it, was my first thought. Frequently we hold off buying him things he needs such as a new coat or new snow pants until Christmas. If there were no Christmas gifts, we would just have to buy him what he needed as soon as he needed it.
That thought took me to a place I had never imagined. If I bought my son, what he needed when he needed it, what about his teacher? I normally buy a Christmas gift for his teacher, but if I did no Christmas gifts, what then? Then she too would have what she needed, when she needed it. Many times I have heard about a teacher having a bad day and thought to get her a small token of appreciation. Usually though, I let the thought pass, promising to just remember her at Christmas. Now? I would give her what she needed when she needed it. What about others? What if I always made a practice of being there for another’s needs, whether or not it was Christmas? After all, how many presents do the scriptures say that Christ gave out? I don’t remember any.
I do remember Him giving them what they needed, when they needed it. His was a life of service. Does it make more sense to go around doing good, meeting needs when they are needed, than to wait once a year at Christmas? Once again, I realized that Christmas was more about me, and my feeling good for having given a present at the right time, than about honoring Christ. As I looked at each of my Christmas traditions, I realized how many of them were about making me feel good. I really had believed that I celebrated Christmas more reverently than retailers encourage us to. But was I? No.
Does this mean that I think you shouldn't use Christmas lights? No. But I was lying to myself about their importance. Do I think you’re really only giving presents because you “have to” at Christmas? No. But I was giving them more for wanting my friends and loved ones to feel good than for fulfilling Christ’s expectations.
Did I give up lights and trees and presents this year? No way! But I did come away with a new resolve to make Christmas part of my life all year round.
I will have twinkle lights in my home all year because they remind me of my mother’s love. I will still drive by homes at night to look at all the Christmas lights. I won’t wait until Christmas to make fudge, pretending that I am doing it in celebration of Him. I won’t tell the beautiful story of His birth during December only. I’ll sing a Christmas carol in May if that’s where my heart leads me. I will try to capture those feelings daily instead of waiting until a special holiday. I will still give presents at Christmas, but I promise to begin giving people what they need all year round too, when they need it.