I like Christmas. Really, I do. But I’m not feeling it. Not yet.
This approach is pretty much my process with life in general. But also with newborn babies, even the One in the manger. I’m one of those women who spent the first trimester of her pregnancies – and, in fact, the better part of the second trimester – hopelessly nauseated. As thrilled as I was for the baby to arrive, it was hard to feel excitement from my vantage point on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. There were some maternity clothes that I could not tolerate wearing the second time around, because I had thrown up in them so often the first time that the mere sight of those clothes made me nauseated and green.
I love being a mother, but I do not love the experience of pregnancy. I don’t think I need to feel guilty about this. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person – or even a bad mother. Transformation is hard. Things that never challenged me before I was pregnant became difficult, excruciating, frustrating. I never had trouble catching a full breath before I was expecting. I never experienced insomnia before I was pregnant. Never suffered from indigestion. Never had sciatica. No weird numbness, bone-crushing exhaustion or obvious brain damage. I reached the point in each of my pregnancies where I thought, “This body simply cannot handle the two of us. One of us has to go, and it’s you, baby.” But even in the midst of it all the physical discomfort, anxiety and impressive weight gain, I started to get excited. A new life is a miracle. It’s breathtaking. It’s full of hope and joy and love. The truly crazy part is that, notwithstanding all my quacking and moaning, I wanted to participate in the process another time.
There’s a reason that the angel’s first words to Mary are “Fear not.” Because the range of fear running from garden-variety anxiety to abject terror is an entirely reasonable human response to the whole situation. If we really knew what transformation would require, would we still agree? If we really knew, we would be foolish not to be afraid. It’s overwhelming. Mary’s “Yes” always amazes me. Granted, it is easier to say yes when you’re 13 and haven’t yet been assaulted by life’s many disappointments. But still. My initial response is almost always “No” (even when I was a young girl, and especially now that I’m not). Which eventually turns to “Well, maybe.” Until it finally becomes and “Ok, fine!”
I don’t think this makes me a bad person – or even a bad Christian. I adore carols and Christmas tunes. Nothing makes me happier than finding the perfect gift. But I don’t love the hoopla and the tinsel and the lists. The whole holiday rigmarole makes me feel tense and overwhelmed and impoverished. I prefer the silent reverence. I love the tender, quietly inspired moments, preferably with a book and a niece in my lap. The whiff of her baby breath still hints of heaven, and as I hold her, I imagine the light that she alone brings into the world. Then I feel the spirit of the season. I love a table full of my own children, and I love drawing additional chairs to the table to include more. Their laughter fills me with joy. I love an evening decorating our tree, carefully unwrapping each of my mother’s hand-crafted needlepointed ornaments. There might be just a splash of whiskey in my glass of eggnog. Another festive family tradition.
I love Christmas. Really, I do. But I am mindful that there are those for whom this holiday season will be achingly lonely. That disappointment, fear and depression combine like a dense fog to chill and dissipate the light. There are families whose losses cast a palpable shadow on traditions that will never quite be the same again. Including my own family. And so I pause.
I do not jump headlong into this season with child-like exuberance. Instead, I keep the Thanksgiving pumpkins and chrysanthemums on the front porch for just a few more days. And then I start with stillness, and I wait for light. I approach hesitantly, hoping, expecting, and yes, trusting that the light is on its way. I ease gently into this season of imagination, wonder and hope.
Wishing you light and strength on your holiday path. And moments of stillness.