The gifts have been opened. Our bellies are full. The time with family was better than anticipated (albeit a couple of meltdowns from the kids, but that’s to be expected). And now, at 6:30pm, my little one has finally crashed. That was a lot of Christmas for her little body!
As I sit here, in front of the woodstove, contemplating whether to finish cleaning up or write the blog post that has been brewing, well…obviously, the latter won out. This is a spiritual practice of sorts for me: letting the dirty dishes and crumbs remain, while I rest. It feels good and right on this Christmas night. Presently, my heart is filled with peace, but for much of the season that has not been the case.
I don’t know about you, but I have felt weary and heavy this season. I have felt the weight of the resurgence of Covid-19 and its impact on all our relationships; I have felt the ache of division and polarizing politics among even close friends and family; I have felt the heaviness of parenting and the challenges that come in marriage, or any close relationship, really. I carried all this as long and as well as I could before finally giving up a few days ago. It all came to a head when I lay curled up like a pretzel in the back of my small car, wedged between a massive wooden box and the backseat.
Early this week I found a beautiful wooden box/hamper that I thought would be perfect in one of our bedrooms. One of my great joys in life is improving things. I love finding new, aesthetically pleasing ways to decorate and organize my house or landscape with items that are simultaneously beautiful and functional. Another great joy is doing this in a resourceful and economic way. Needless to say, I often find myself on Facebook Marketplace, scanning the many images for deals and I am rarely disappointed.
So Tuesday morning, after dropping my daughter off at school, I found myself in a posh Andover neighborhood. As I drove my little Toyota sedan up the driveway to pick up this box, I was slightly embarrassed and very aware of the fact that I didn’t really “fit” in this neighborhood. All I wanted to do was get my treasure in the car and get out of there. By some small miracle, I was able to lift the heavy, awkward box at just the right angle and get it into the car. Granted, my knees were up to my elbows because I had to push the seat ALL the way up to fit the box, but I did it.
FF a couple of hours. I’m home and now need to get the box out of the car so that there will be enough room for me to re-install the kids’ car seats and get to my noon commitment. I proceed to spend the next hour shoving, pushing, maneuvering, swearing and using every possible strategy I can think of to get this box out of the car… to no avail. Finally, desperate, I break out the rechargeable screwdriver and attempt to take the lid off the box, hoping this will allow for a little more wiggle room. No such luck. In fact, because I was using the screwdriver at such an awkward angle, I managed to strip some of the screws. The real-deal plug-in screwdriver yielded the same unhelpful results. Awesome. And throughout this whole process I kindly (and then not-so-kindly) was telling my kids, “Don’t bother mommy right now. Mommy is very frustrated. Please just stay away from the car.”
After an hour, the options left in my mind were: 1. Call a friend to come and help me, or 2. Take the car to the mechanic and have them remove the door so I could get the box out. Reality had set in: this box was too heavy and too big for me to maneuver. I needed help. And as I finally came to the end of myself, I put my head down in the backseat and cried and prayed a desperate prayer:
God, these days I don’t even know if you’re really up there. But if you are, could you please help me get this box out of the car?
I was so very aware at this point that the box represented far more than a simple hamper; it was the heaviness of Covid and politics and marriage/parenting challenges and all the things that felt too big and too heavy for me to carry. I got myself into this situation; there was no one to blame but me. And quite frankly, at that point I felt too broken and messed up for even God to intervene. But by some Christmas miracle, I managed in the next few minutes to do what I could not accomplish in the previous hour of effort. The box lined up at just the right angle and I was able to get it out.
I was relieved and moved on with the rest of my day. But quite frankly, the heaviness was still there. The physical box was removed, but the emotional weight remained. It still all felt too big and too heavy.
I was so grateful for the provision of a break later that evening. Our college babysitter was back in town and was able to watch the kids for a few hours so I could have my pre-scheduled Spiritual Direction session. I let the tears fall in a safe space and recounted the story of my day in the presence of a dear friend who offers spiritual companionship. In this process, I was able to dig a little deeper and relive that morning’s situation from a different perspective. (Side note: This, friends, is one of the greatest gifts of spiritual companionship – the time and space to pay attention to what is really going on and how God is at work amidst the pain and joys of day-to-day life.)
As I re-entered the scenario, I was aware of how heavy, trapped and hopeless I felt about various situations in my life. I was also aware of the parts of myself that felt overwhelmed, disappointed, stuck and alone. My friend asked a simple question, “Can you perceive Jesus anywhere in this situation? Don’t force it… just see what comes up…”
Two images came to my mind: First, a somewhat comical image of Jesus lifting the lid from inside the hamper/box, peeking out and saying, “I’m right here. You’re not alone!” Second, Jesus on the other side of the box, helping to guide it out of the car successfully. As I further processed this experience, I became aware of the fact that Jesus was, indeed, right in the middle of my mess and He had been there all along. He didn’t leave me alone. Christ in me/The Holy Spirit/my true Imago Dei Self, had not left me alone in a state of despair and overwhelm. Quite the contrary; the box, the very problem itself, was a gift. It was an opportunity to find divine presence in a place where I felt hopeless, helpless, broken, stuck and too far gone. Contrary to my deepest fear, Jesus was and is glad to be with me in the dull, dark broken places. That feels like a Christmas miracle!
So this Christmas, in my weary world, I find myself rejoicing. Not because everything is perfect, fixed, healed or changed, rather simply because divine presence can be found in the middle of the darkness. The inner voice of love is not drowned out by the noise of despair. Wherever you find yourself today: weary, grieving, uncertain of next steps, or filled with gratitude and joy, know this – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
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