December 22, 2014
You know how families have traditions and stories that don’t make much sense to those outside of the family? Well, this is one of those.
Probably 25 years ago now, Ellen made an angel to go on the top of our Christmas tree. The angel is made of cloth with a long flowing gown. Since I was the tallest back in that day, I took it upon myself to put the angel on the tree. She basically “sits” on the top bristles with her dress flowing down the stem to hold her in place. For 25 years now it has been our tradition to decorate the tree as a family. As I put the angel in place I say, “That’s gotta hurt.” (Keep in mind my children were small when we began this “tradition”.)
On Saturday, Ellen and I decorated by ourselves for the first time since we were married 40 years ago. Rebekah is sailing around the Caribbean with Disney Cruise Lines and Alissa is living in Nebraska. David and Benjamin were busy and unable to be here. When I placed the angel in her place, frankly, I wasn’t able to speak the “traditional” words. First time in 25 years. But I can tell you this… it really did hurt this time. Ellen and I wiped away tears as we placed one then another familiar ornament in place.
Don’t misunderstand me. I know that some folks are grieving terribly this time of year in ways that I don’t want to think about. Some brokenhearted for recently lost loved ones, and others whose lives have never recovered from the loss of someone gone for a long time. And others are grieving because of children or parents or other loved ones who are unable to be with them during this most special time of year. I know that my circumstances are not unique. But that doesn’t really help much does it?
Over the years I have visited people in the hospital who were in pain. Often they have said something like, “It’s okay, I know there are others in more pain than I am.” You know what? That doesn’t relieve our pain. It might make us be more sympathetic toward others. It might make us better able to identify with others. It might even make us mourn for others. But it doesn’t remove our pain. We continue to hurt.
The strange thing about all of this is that it isn’t just about the fact that our kids are not all home for Christmas for the first time. I mean, certainly that’s a factor. But it has as much to do with the notion that our lives have changed. Ellen and I are slowly moving into another phase; the one where our kids have their own lives and they need to live them. What this is really about is mourning. It’s about grief over what will never be again. But what was a wonderful part of our lives.
Here’s the good news in all of this. This would not be so difficult if Christmas were not a special time, right? And it is my hope and prayer that to some degree we have been able to keep that in perspective over the years. Christmas has been a celebration of the birth of our Savior. I’m more grateful than I can express that all of my children are cognizant of that and actively living out their faith.
My hope and prayer for those reading this is that you would also have a clear perspective on why this time of year is special. Not because of gifts, of course. And not because of all the things that need to get done. And not even because we get to see loved ones whom we only see infrequently. No, it’s because at a time and place in history, the Son of God chose to invade humanity in the form of a small child. Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God!
P.S. I just went into our living room and adjusted our angel. I spoke the traditional words over her once again. This time by myself.