“I feel like I’m out of control. I have no way of channeling my emotions,” I said.
“I was hoping your blog would help you do that,” replied my mother.
“I can’t write about this. Not really. I have called myself The Realistic Optimist, but I am anything but optimistic right now. I’m drowning in darkness.”
I know that my mother is wise, but she caught me by surprise when she looked at me and asked this simple question. “Who are you to withhold your words from those who might need to hear them the most?”
She’s right. I was wrong. And for that I’m very sorry.
I am The Realistic Optimist. Sometimes I’m heavy on the optimism. Other times the scale tips deep into the real. I’m always seeking balance, but sometimes I fall short.
The reality of my situation hit me while sitting in Sunday school right before Christmas. The rest of my family had already left for vacation and I was left in an empty house. Our Sunday school class had been covering various individuals in the Christmas story. This final week was spent talking about Herod. The pastor leading our group asked us which of the characters we identified with the most in the story of Christ’s birth. We talk about Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. Even the little drummer boy. But rarely do we consider the role that King Herod plays in the greatest story on earth.
As we talked more and more about Herod, I came to the startling realization that there was no one in the entire Christmas story that I identified with more than King Herod. It was everything I could do to contain my tears in that moment of revelation.
Every year after Thanksgiving, people refer to something called the Christmas Spirit. It usually involves a joy of decorating, singing, and baking. This year I experienced none of it. I did not want to decorate. I avoided Christmas carols at all costs. And as for baking…and here’s the “real” part folks…that just wasn’t happening. I’m knee-deep in eating disorder treatment and festive food is the last thing on my mind.
(That’s right. You read correctly. Eating disorder treatment. Today it may seem like I’m glossing over this radical life event, but I promise to address the issue in the near future. For this story, however, you only need to know the nature of my struggle.)
Back to Herod.
While everyone else in the Christmas story joyously celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Herod saw the event as a threat to his kingship–his power and control–everything he had worked for–his life. The presence of Jesus in this world was a direct challenge to everything that Herod valued.
This year the Christmas spirit haunted me. It burdened my soul. It was not until that day in Sunday school that I realized the truth. That the coming of Jesus threatens the control I’ve tricked myself into believing that I have. My ability to control my food intake and body is an all-consuming illusion. An illusion that brings me nothing but complete and utter misery. An illusion that extinguished the true meaning of the birth of the King. It robbed me of joy, left me in a perpetual state of exhaustion, and slowly drained the warmth from my skin and the sparkle from my eyes. Yet I clung to my illusion and avoided anything that threatened its existence. The thing I feared was the very thing I needed–the only thing that could save me–Jesus.
I’d like to say that this realization changed my heart and allowed me to joyfully celebrate Christmas with my family.
It did not.
Revelation does not always breed immediate change, but it does aerate the heart. Which is exactly what I needed.
People often confuse the Christmas spirit with Advent. They become blended together; a single entity. But Advent is a season of preparation and anticipation. It involves the heart and the soul, which means it might not always be cheerful or involve and upbeat melody. For me, Advent meant observing my role in the story and realizing my devastation at what had become my reality. In it’s own way, the Advent season prepared my heart to realize the magnitude of what was to come: an all-powerful King who destroyed my very need for an illusion of any sort.
I know I’m a little late in sharing this story. Most people have already begun taking down their Christmas lights. We’re going back to work and school. Walmart is already filling their empty shelves with Valentine’s Day candy. But I thought it was a story that deserved to be shared. Because I have a feeling I’m not the only person who found Christmas difficult this year. Perhaps you don’t have a heart like Herod. Maybe illness has shaken your world or a valued relationship has been destroyed. There are many forms of pain that can keep us from experiencing joy. Often our knowledge of this fact can be more devestating than the pain itself. And that’s ok.
It’s ok to admit a hurt. It’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to cry while everyone else appears to be laughing.
Because a King has come and the story has a happy ending. The pain will not last forever. This is not the end.
So cry. Mourn. Scream.
As long as you are breathing, there is room for a revelation. One that will aerate your heart and provide a breeding ground for hope and renewal.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Wait. He will meet you here.