Every Christmastime, I write a letter summarizing the past year. I read through my first letter (from 2016) and the tone was extraordinarily chipper which I find amusing given that post-college was often a lonely and confusing time of my life. Over the years, I suppose I’ve found it pointless to hide if & when life feels hard. To some, it may seem like I’ve become way more of a whiner or dramatic or whatever word you’d like. I have no doubt I can be a dramatic person, so I won’t disagree with you there.
This year, my 2020 Christmas letter began probably the least chipper of all the ones I’ve previously written: “Personally, I’ve found myself experiencing great sadness and great joy all in the same year, same day, and even the same hour. This may be the most challenging assignment of adulthood: learning how to hold grief and gratitude simultaneously.” My friend Elizabeth said it well: this didn’t seem like year for a “Happy Clappy Christmas Card.”
This last month, I’ve been reading a book called This Too Shall Last. It’s a candid and challenging conversation about suffering, and I’ve found it very timely. The author shares some important words that I’ve been thinking a lot about:
“Often the pain that makes us feel most stuck is not our suffering; it is experiencing distress in the presence of people who expect us to get better faster than we can.”
If this Christmas is one filled with more grief than gratitude, I hope you know that God doesn’t require you rush through that.
May this Christmas be one we let people express the pain of this year without drowning them out with our insistent cheery clapping.
May this Christmas be the one we find comfort and challenge in, knowing that Jesus was not one who turned his face away from those in pain or avoided pain altogether.
May this Christmas be the one where, if you feel stuck, you also feel the truth and encouragement that God doesn’t require you get unstuck on your own.
One of the things I love about Jesus is his patience and persistence; his life was one well-aquatinted with sorrow—a life that showed how the way to glory can be full of grit and grief. I’m grateful and hopeful to know these truths in this remarkable Advent season.
To know Jesus and his story is to know hope.
I’ll leave you with some words from an essay my friend Nate recently shared on Mockingbird. I’d recommend you read the whole thing, but here’s a snippet:
“However precarious it may be, to reduce hope to wishful thinking would be a grave error. In the middle of the last century, during another historical period of great expectation, the French playwright Gabriel Marcel wrote that “there can, strictly speaking, be no hope except when the temptation to despair exists. Hope is the act by which this temptation is actively or victoriously overcome.” Hope, real hope, is the opposite of a blind and passive optimism. Hope is the treasure of the soul, won by hard experience, that waits in expectancy for deliverance.
To be hopeful is in some sense to also be sad, sad that we long presently for what is not within our reach. It is for this reason that we ought not to bypass Advent. In order to experience the elation of Christmas Day, we have also to abide in the longing that precedes it.”
This week is Christmas. I sit in my kitchen with a cup of coffee, logging in for another day of remote work. I await the results of a COVID test and hope I can go home in a few days. I don’t think this will be a Happy Clappy Christmas, but it will still be Christmas. So until then, I wait.