It’s that time of year again. Mariah is making another 3 million dollars off of the 60 million she has already made on a song she wrote in 15 minutes in 1994.
Children are waiting for Santa, not realizing that he is going to have to travel 75 million miles in 31 hours (considering time changes). He will have less than a hundredth of a second to stop at each house, and will have to have a sleigh that flies 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound.
That’s one hell of a road trip.
Another fact about Christmas, as most parents know, kids will get their shiny toys, with all the thought and money put into them, the wrapping of and waiting in expectation for, and in about two weeks, they will want something else. Or, they will end up playing with the box more than the toy. Heck, they may even be complaining they don’t like the toys they got by Christmas afternoon.
You may think this shows us that children are selfish. But that’s not necessarily true. For the most part, it just shows us that children are human.
Because adults do the exact same thing, only it is wrapped in a different package.
Take, for instance, when I noticed in my first week of marriage that our blankets were way more unkempt than when I was single.
“Oh, wow.” I found myself thinking. “Now it’s going to be harder to make the bed.”
Let me repeat that. After about 25 years of praying and crying and dating in vain, heart wrenching break ups, mourning not having children, even writing a book about my singleness; after all of that longing, I now had a loving, faithful, beautiful partner.
And one of my first thoughts was not about my wished for forever man my bed, but about how much I didn’t want thirty three seconds of more bed making.
I noticed this dissatisfaction, but I did more than just notice it.“Why can’t you be grateful for what you have?” I asked myself.
My default has always been to be frustrated at myself when I am honest about my unrest.
That response makes sense, because everywhere everywhere everywhere, we hear how important gratefulness is. We hear it on podcasts. We see it posted on instagram posts. We read about it in books.
We hear beautiful quotes like “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude” by GK Chesterton. Or “the struggle ends where the gratitude begins” by Neale Donald Walsh.
We are asked to accept the life that we have been given instead of wishing for a ghost ship perfect life that is not ours.
And yes, this is excellent advice. Gratefulness for what we have is what we should always, always strive for. Swallowing the life that we have been given like medicine instead of wishing it away is one of the greatest lessons we can ever learn.
And yet….there seems to be something that pushes at us, a gravity for our souls to look for what is wrong instead of what is right.
It feels like we have to battle against our own humanity to find the gratefulness that everyone says we so desperately need.
Like children at Christmastime who have forgotten what was inside their beautiful Christmas boxes once they have been opened.
Sometimes, I am really good at following the advice to be grateful. I revel in my stepdaughter holding me close, Justin kissing me when he gets home, or a sunset painting the sky while I drive home from work.
But in the midst of the gratefulness, I am unmistakably human. I am sometimes fearful of my new role as a stepmom, not knowing if I am wise enough to give the right advice to my teenager or deal with the frustrations that sometimes come with having a little one in the house. I am feeling the pressure to make enough money to help take care of our family. I am missing the close friends I had in seasons past.
Perhaps my irritation at myself over not being grateful is not the best response. Perhaps I can take a step back, accept my human condition, and love myself even as I struggle to be satisfied.
Not just loving myself in spite of my humanity, but because of my humanity.
As is true of so many things in life, there is a paradox at play. I can be profoundly grateful for what I have while at the same time truthful about my profound aching.
In fact, the truest, most beautiful gratefulness is often found inside of that aching.
When I dig with vulnerability into those dark parts of my soul, I will mine a deeper thankfulness that is only found at those depths, living right alongside of the ache.
Perhaps that quote about the struggle ending where the gratitude begins is not quite accurate. Perhaps the struggle and gratitude begin and at the very same place, at the very same time. From the cradle to the grave.
And that’s okay.
The thankfulness and the aching don’t have to live separately from each other. Accept that. Be at peace with it.
You might be surprised at the abundance that comes when you give the beggar within you the alms of your own acceptance.
In this season, there are other legitimate reasons that we might find ourselves unsatisfied.
When I was single, I loved Thanksgiving but really struggled with Christmas. At Thanksgiving, people welcome not only their first circle (their spouses and children) but their second circle (friends and neighbors.)
But not Christmas. Christmas is a first circle holiday.
Even though my brother and his wife always welcomed me at Christmas, even giving me my own stocking (something I will forever be grateful for), I still longed with all of my might for a first circle for all those 25 years.
This was a legitimate longing that I needed to be honest about, not hiding behind hallelujahs.
Perhaps you have other deep seated reasons that you are struggling this Christmas. An empty seat at the table after a loved one has died. No Christmas feast or extravagant gifts for your loved ones because money is tight. A divorce that leaves you remembering how different things were when you didn’t only get your kids on Christmas Eve.
Families that need forgiveness but don’t have lanterns to light their way to that hallowed place. Broken bridges that seem impossible to repair.
It might not be the most loving thing to tell yourself to “stop having these feelings of loss and just be grateful” During this season, allowing yourself to grieve might be the most loving thing to do. Acceptance and gratitude might just bloom from the ground of that grieving.
Accept that paradox and let it teach you.
The story of the incarnation is also a paradox. God becoming a baby. One hundred percent man and one hundred percent God, as I heard in church growing up.
A God so big that he cannot be contained by eternity, choosing to be born as a tiny baby, so that we could hold him close to our heart.
Truly, the most beautiful, mysterious story ever told.
The truth of that story is what can heal our own broken paradoxes. Jesus was perfect, living in a perfect world, yet he chose to step into a world that was imperfect. He took on the humble cloak of humanity, so that he could be near to the ones he loved that were clothed the same way.
He chose a stable, the most unexpected, dirty, human place he could find, to lay his head.
Divinity inside of a manger, a paradox not unlike the beautiful hidden inside of the ache.
It was not by chance that Jesus placed himself as a refugee in that moment. It was deliberate that he didn’t choose a palace, destined to be wealthy and powerful.
He was painting a picture for us. He chose to be human, but more than that, he chose to be common, and even poor. Veiled in flesh.
He chose to endure all of the profound pain and the profound delight that comes with living and breathing in a human body. He wanted the outcast, the homeless, the broken, the ones just like us, to know that we are not alone.
He chose the ache, and he also chose the beauty.
That’s how deep his love is. He enters the stable of our own hearts, a place that is sometimes dirty and unsatisfied. A place where the aching and the thankfulness live side by side.
Much like the divine and human living there, with arms entangled.
Here in the dust of our hearts, right here, this is where his love appears.
He doesn’t love us in spite of our humanness. He loves us because of our humanness.
He doesn’t love is us in spite of our weaknesses and fears. He embraces those parts of us with abandon, and drenches those broken parts in love.
He sees us when we are grateful, and he loves us. He sees us when we are ungrateful, and he loves us still.
So, in this season, do what God has done for you. Accept your humanness. Be aware when your gratefulness comes and let it magnify. Be aware when your ache comes and let God hold you in that sacred space.
Let every heart prepare Him room.