Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who Do You See? (Part 1 of 3)

For many, Christmas won’t be so pleasant this year! I’ve heard it said ad naseum that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” and if it reflected its true meaning, that would no doubt be true. However, with the commercialization of Christmas such that in the West it’s not even politically correct to say “Merry Christmas” but “Happy Holidays,” I’m not so sure it’s the most wonderful time of the year any longer. For many who say it is, they probably sing a different song come January and the new cycle of credit card bills. Well, maybe for the stores that exceed their annual sales quota in four weeks of Christmas sales, it is.... Or maybe for the ones whose bonus checks ensure that there’ll be more food on the table than they can consume in a week, it is…. But those categories of people are definitely in the minority.

Now hold your horses, before you begin to think I’m the reincarnation of the Grinch trying to steal Christmas. This post is not in any way, shape, or form a Christmas bashing session. In fact, if anything, I’m trying to “return” rather than “steal” Christmas, because it isn’t the Grinch who stole it, but commercialization, political correctness, and cultural trends! Stay with me a moment while I explain.

I have a number of friends who have experienced tragic loss this year. One couple buried their son who died in an automobile accident. The car was being driven by one of his friends (who survived the accident). The kid was only 19. Parents shouldn’t bury their children! This devastating loss has caused the family to some times question their faith. But their story is still being written by a faithful God. Another couple lost a son who died in his sleep at the age of 27. Tragically this same couple has a 22 year-old son whose body has been so riddled by cancer, he weighs all of 90 pounds. Less than a week ago the doctors told him there was nothing more they could do for him. They gave him four to six weeks to live, and sent him home to die surrounded by his family. How does a family cope with potentially losing two sons in one year? Parents shouldn’t bury one child let alone potentially bury two. And in the same year! As you can well imagine, their faith has been tested to its very core. But their story is still being written by a loving God.

I know what it feels like to lose someone near and dear to you. I lost my father in May this year. Unexpectedly. The pain is still often unbearable and sometimes I can hardly catch my breath from crying so hard, yet he died at a decent age. I know how painfully difficult it is to bury a parent. I haven’t a clue how much more so it must be to bury a child. I can however speculate that at the very least it must feel like your world has come to an end. So, how do you tell families like these to “Have a Merry Christmas”? How do they process the idea of a season that’s meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, when for them it isn’t? How can we, in all good conscience, ask them to trivialize their pain and suffering by attempting to replace it with gifts, lighted trees, and eggnog?

And while we’re on the subject of pain and suffering, I should mention that I’ve spent the last few months counseling with five different Christian couples whose marriages are on the rocks. Three of the couples have finally filed for divorce, while one of the remaining two couples is in the process. Did I mention that two of the men are pastors? How do we tell these couples that this is indeed the most wonderful time of the year? How do we convince them that carving a turkey around a shared dinner table surrounded by extended family and other happy couples, all extending empty but well meaning platitudes, isn’t a poor substitute for a broken heart?

I’m confident that the answers to the myriad questions I’ve posed are many and varied, and we’d probably not agree on all of them. But I know one thing for sure that we’d all agree on: Even if the Grinch returned all the stolen presents, it still wouldn’t make Christmas a happier time for the folks whose stories I’ve mentioned above. So what are the answers to the many questions, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to come back tomorrow to find out.