The other night my family and I went out to watch my eldest son perform a song at a Christmas program. Throughout the program the children sang, acted, played instruments and showered us with loads of Christmas cheer. During one of the performances (a very abbreviated version of The Nutcracker) a few of the kids forgot their lines. It was fascinating to watch how everyone handled the crisis. Some of the young actors and actresses froze, unsure of what to do. Others were trying to make signals to the ones who had forgotten. Finally, the right actors remembered their lines, the play moved on and everyone in the room breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It was a simple, inconsequential play in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it felt like a metaphor for life, especially during the holidays. There’s the story I tell myself (rehearse) about how things are supposed to go during Christmas time – a story that’s beautiful, interesting, full of joy and tradition. But inevitably, things like grief, tension between family members, unmet expectations and just plain exhaustion break through at the least opportune moments, throwing things off track. But unlike the actors in the play, it can be hard to find my bearings and move on. Sometimes the tension and pain linger, even when surrounded by joy and cheer.
Grief especially plays an indelible role in both mine and my husband’s families, as both sides have lost family members what feels like too soon. As we encounter yet another holiday season, bittersweet in many ways, I’ve learned to look for a passage of scripture to meditate on, a marker of sorts that will point me in the right direction when I’m feeling weighed down.
This year I’ve been meditating on the Christmas story found in Luke 1 and 2. One of the aspects of the story that has become especially meaningful to me lately is how the various characters handled the different challenges that they faced. I’ve been asking myself some questions from their lives, such as:
- Are there any relationships or situations where, like Zechariah, I’m actually limiting what I believe God can do? If so, let me repent.
- Is this a season of longsuffering, like Elizabeth went through before finding out that she was finally pregnant? What can I do to endure?
- Who can I go to, like Mary went to Elizabeth, who will understand and support during this time? Also, who can I support and encourage?
- When things get difficult, how can I be a good steward of those God has placed in my life, like Joseph?
- Do I have a heart of faith that remains tender to the Lord’s sovereignty and nearness, like Mary?
Reading their stories is a refreshing reminder that although the challenges that we face as we walk with the Lord may or may not be the same as those in the Christmas story, we’re still in good company. And it’s even more exciting and comforting to think about that fact; just as God came through for them (and throughout the whole of scripture), God will still come through for us today.
God didn’t automatically remove the hardship from any of their stories. Yet in His sovereign will, the hardship and messiness that they each encountered was an invitation to learn more about His character and continue to walk in His purposes for their lives. While their responses varied, God was always faithful. He gave direction and provided what was needed, even if it seemed to come in unexpected ways and times.
What about you? Do you find yourself in a season of hardship? Is there something or someone weighing heavy on your heart and mind during this time? May we all make space this Christmas season, to look for the unexpected ways that God will show Himself faithful. And may we never forget that while God’s stories often include hardship, for His children, they also lead to joy.