The gifts are all opened. The breakfast casserole and monkey bread have been devoured, and everyone has gone back to bed. Including my wife.
I am sitting on the couch with my coffee and just popped in “Die Hard”, this year’s “Christmas movie” choice…although I didn’t make it through the opening credits.
Because I’m struggling. Because I’m sad.
I am feeling terribly nostalgic, just as I imagined I would this Christmas. There has been a great amount of tragedy and hardship in 2016, but also a balance of wonderful moments, though not enough to dispel the fact that life is hard. Some years harder than others. Some you wonder if you’ll recover from.
Last night I went to bed asking God to send me a dream—one of my sister coming to me from heaven, sending me a message. But I did not have that dream. And today my heart is heavy, because I miss her more than I can explain. Like an empty envelope. Like an unanswered phone call. Like a God-sized betrayal. I realize not all Christmases will be this way—staring off into space, wondering where she went, where she is, and how to get there.
When someone leaves you, your reference for the good in life changes. When you are finished wishing they were still alive—when you’ve accepted that they are gone—you find yourself grateful for what you got out of them before they left. The special goodbyes. The funny moments. The milestones you got to experience together.
But still, there’s a quiet hush that permeates every conversation. And as people speak of deadlines at work or discounts on office supplies, you nod in agreement while having no concern for the frivolity of life. They speak, and you feel loneliness in the most powerful way—not only as an emotion, but as if you are wearing it. As if loneliness were a cable-knit sweater.
But the truth is, one day you’ll be standing before someone and they’ll be wearing that same cable-knit sweater. Because no one escapes real life.
Pain, it seems, is a part of life. And life comes for us all.
It crosses the threshold of our lives even if we never answer its knock. It doesn’t wait for an invitation; it shows up unannounced. And before we’re able to peek through the peephole, to see who’s at the door, it’s standing in our living room, though we’ve made no preparations for it.
Where do we put this unwelcome guest?
It’s possible that we don’t have a spare bedroom or extra sofa for it to sleep on. But pain isn’t just looking for a place to sleep or room to disappear into. It is our guest. So it goes where we go.
It sits at our kitchen tables. It rides with us to the grocery store. It lies next to us in our beds. (That’s the hard part.)
Mine tells me the story of how sad the world is, over and over again. And then when I least expect it, when I’m desperate for it to stop, it reminds me that I am loved, held.
To be honest, this mixture of sadness and love is too much for me. I want to turn it off, because I struggle to stay in the overwhelm of a life that is good and bad, hard and soft, full and empty, living and dying. But I’m aware that if I leave the pain before it’s time, I am leaving the love too. And this, my friends, I just cannot do. I cannot leave the love.
I need the love, because the love is HER. The love is my sister. And while I’m not exactly sure how…so is the pain. The pain is her too. So I must welcome it. I must let it inside, because it is perhaps the greatest reminder of our crazy love for one another. That we had something really special. That we still do.
I imagine this is the kind of vulnerability God felt as his son was born into a world where he’d be beaten, abused, mocked, and neglected. The love and loss…mixed together. He knows all about it. Yet this story of the brokenness of humanity—of our criminal activity toward God—is proof that God can be trusted. Because he knows all that we have endured.
He endured it too, my friends. We are not alone.
Last night at a Christmas Eve service, a line from a song melted my heart. It said…
“Bethlehem, through your small door came the hope we’d waited for.”
Tears filled my eyes at these words, because I realized that you and I are small doors too. That all of us are just a doorknob turn away from inviting hope into the lives of those who cross our threshold every day.
Our pain is not for nothing. Our hardship has a job. Our lives have a purpose—the good and the bad.
Bethlehem was a door of hope. So is Jesus. And so are you. And when you offer your life as Jesus did—your joy and even your pain—you are just as much The Hope of the World as he is.