She sat in my daughter’s booster chair as she casually said, “My daddy was in the hospital, but he came home and is getting better.”
My heart sank. The reality was that her daddy was dying from cancer.
It was the week before Christmas, and her father had just been placed on hospice. She was coming to my house to have a play date with my daughter in order to give her mother much needed time and emotional space.
Christmas isn’t typically associated with sadness, but loneliness, unmet expectations, financial constraints, inability to see or connect with family or friends can make Christmas a hard time of year for some. Depression and anxiety hit hard for many during the holidays.
I recently read a beautiful excerpt from my grand uncle, William B. Smart, in a book he wrote called, Messages for a Happier Life. In one of the chapters he talks about the three levels of Christmas. The first level of Christmas is what he terms the Santa Clause level. The presents, the Christmas trees, excited children, shopping malls–where we spend too much and eat too much and focus on the warmth of caring and giving. Then there’s a higher level he calls the Silent Night level. It’s where we sing Christmas carols and hymns, reenact the sacred nativity, and read of the Babe in Bethlehem. It’s the shepherds and the wise men. It enriches and gives meaning to Christmas. The problem, he poses, is that neither of those levels can last. They are great, but the only way to feel the spirit of Christmas all year is to reach the highest level, that of the adult Christ.
The man who keeps Christ in the manger will, in the end, be disappointed and empty.
No, for Christmas to last all year long, for it to grow in beauty and meaning and purpose, for it to have the power to change lives, we must celebrate it at the third level, that of the adult Christ. It is at this level—not as an infant—that our Savior brings his gifts of lasting joy, lasting peace, lasting hope. It was the adult Christ who reached out and touched the untouchable, who loved the unlovable, who so loved us all that even in his agony on the cross, he prayed forgiveness for his enemies.
This is Christ, creator of worlds without number, who wept because so many of us lack affection and hate each other – and then who willingly gave his life for all of us, including those for whom he wept. This is the Christ, the adult Christ, who gave us the perfect example, and asked us to follow him.
Accepting that invitation is the way – the only way – that all mankind can celebrate Christmas all year and all life long.
(“Messages for a Happier Life” [Deseret Book, 1989], pp. 33-34.)
My friend’s daughter played at our house 3 days that week, all day. We made gingerbread men, watched movies, ate pizza, played dolls and trains, and delivered neighbor gifts. She became part of our family while she was with us. My heart changed. It brought me to the 3rd level of Christmas, to the level of the adult Christ in Gethsemane. I prayed. I listened. My heart ached for my friend as she shared how hard it was to watch her husband suffer.
I was no longer worried about the strand of lights on our Christmas tree that went out or the fact that we didn’t have many Christmas lights outside our home at all, and I wasn’t anxious about the presents sitting unwrapped. My concern and focus turned to my children, especially helping this sweet little 4-year-old girl feel included and loved. The sadness I felt for my friend and her family was only a mere drop in the bucket compared to her ocean of grief and pain.
Yet amazingly, my friend lifted those around her. I was in awe and wonder at how she could be worried about delivering brownies to her neighbor when she had every excuse to retreat inward. She demonstrated strength in the midst of shock and grief. Witnessing this terrible struggle, even in a removed way, and watching the acts of love and service performed on their behalf shifted my desire to do what the Savior would do and in my feeble attempt–to become more like him.
We are happy to the extent we get beyond and above ourselves by reaching out to others and up to God. William B. Smart
I found myself making a renewed goal to really hug my kids every day–not just hug them–but hold them. I made a conscious choice to express my love to them more frequently than I had been expressing it. I was slow to give into anger or stress. I looked at those around me differently. I truly felt the sweetness of coming to know the adult Christ on a deeper level–the one who served and taught and loved and always did his Father’s will even in the very moment when it was most difficult.
It came to me in a profound way that in this life no one can have real love without eventually dealing with real loss, and we certainly can’t rejoice over one’s birth and the joy of living unless we are prepared to understand and accommodate and accept with some grace the inevitability—including the untimeliness—of difficulty and trouble and death. These are God’s gifts to us—birth and life and death and salvation, the whole divine experience in all its richness and complexity.
You can’t separate Bethlehem from Gethsemane or the hasty flight into Egypt from the slow journey to the summit of Calvary. It’s of one piece. It is a single plan. Christmas is joyful not because it is a season or decade or lifetime without pain and privation, but precisely because life does hold those moments for us. And that baby…the beloved and Only Begotten Son in the flesh, born ‘away in a manger, [with] no crib for his bed,’ makes all the difference in the world.
Jeffrey R. Holland (excerpt from the essay collection, “Shepherds, Why This Jubilee”)
Jesus Christ does have the power to lift us above any loneliness, heartache, and turmoil that we may experience. He loves us. His most humble birth and triumphant death are simple and glorious invitations to come to Him and allow His love to fill our hearts.
My friend understood an important truth about grief and life and pain–something that seems almost counter intuitive. As we look for ways to lift those around us, we come to know the adult Christ. We instinctively turn to Him because we turn away from ourselves. Giving His love to others is the true miracle of Christmas. May His love and peace fill your heart all year and bring you the joy you so desire. Merry Christmas!
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Matthew 11:29