Surviving Christmas   2 comments

Every year Christmas is a cultural blitzkrieg of celebration, carrying many along in its triumphal sweep while capsizing in its wake those who cannot keep up with its jubilant spirit.  Be happy or be left out.  In our chipper American culture, that is the flavor of the year, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox so aptly described it:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.

Even those who are forgiven for a downcast spirit on an average day are expected to step up to the occasion when the band starts playing, which it does ceaselessly from Thanksgiving till the last relative shambles out the door and the long, bleak, cold winter blows inside.

I’m no sour-puss.  I like celebrating Christmas if I can bring all of myself to the party–the sad parts as well as the hopeful parts, the tears and smiles, winces and hugs, serious and silly words.  When my uncomfortable emotions are welcomed, my winsome emotions have room to express themselves genuinely rather than as a pretense.  Let me weep freely with you, and the laughter you hear will be deep-hearted as well.  My soul is chilled when I’m pressured to be false to myself, to express inflated or deflated feelings to please others who care more for an acceptable presence than a true presence.  Of course some contexts call for safe, superficial connections, and in that sense every office party is a masked ball, but then everyone enjoys it for what it is–play acting–and does not confuse it for genuine connection.

But even “genuine” can be a canny facade.  Many folks who think they are being real are so cut off from their own heart that they are simply reacting, sharing the surface emotions they feel in the moment that serve to disguise–even to themselves–the deeper underlying emotional currents, the submerged rip-tides that are too threatening to acknowledge.  Under the intense pressure of Christmas conformity, these can burst out suddenly and without warning.  Anger can cover for shame, tears can hide anger, cheerfulness can mask fear.  The underlying emotions which are unacceptable or painful are transmuted into acceptable or comfortable feelings. The intensity of those feelings may wake us to some deep lying issues but will fog up our skills for interpreting them.

The inflated expectations of the holidays is not a safe harbor to dry-dock the soul and begin to scrape away decades of clinging barnacles.  Sometimes the best any of us can do is try to ride out the storm of cross-current conflicts that arise.  But these family gatherings are rich with telltale signs of underlying issues, and once we get enough distance to look back with compassion and insight, we may be filled with fresh personal discovery.  Next year we can bring more of our true selves to the party and welcome the true selves of others as we grow into the grace of understanding and accepting ourselves and others more fully.

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Posted December 18, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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2 responses to “Surviving Christmas

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  1. “But even ‘genuine’ can be a canny facade” really hit me. It challenges to me to courageously be open about where I am at during this season, which is sometimes hard to uncover my true emotions because the pain is often so raw. The pain of isolation and loneliness of being single, the pain of feeling like I am one step behind in the “game” of life, hoping this journey is leading to somewhere of substance.

    My true heart is, as you mentioned is, ‘to allow others to weep freely’ and to be an encouragement to others instead of letting my anger, shame and disappointment negatively affect them, while I am still being honest about who I am and where I am along the journey.

    As always, thanks for the reminder to press in to who “you” are and allow the real self to come forth……

  2. Brett, so sorry for your pain. Loneliness is excruciating. I also empathize with your sense that you are one step behind in life… I kind of gave up trying to find my way “forward” as most people see it because for years, decades really, I kept trying to find the greater meaning for my life and getting nowhere with all that floundering. So my focus is really just becoming healthier in my being and relationships. That has not resolved the sense that my life feels meaningless. “Why am I on earth” doesn’t have any answer in my search… and this is especially difficult when on the great majority of days I would rather not be alive. If my own suffering were to the substantial benefit of others, I could endure with greater strength, but to feel my suffering is meaningless is a heavy cross to bear. I do believe in a loving God, so I have to assume it is for some good end, but when my faith must carry me forward without clear touches of the divine, it sags into stubborn plodding rather than energized hope. Let us at least encourage one another through the dark times. Thanks for reading and sharing, Brett. I remember you fondly.

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