Each day this month I will be answering one question from these December Journal Prompts.
Day 11: How does this time of year make you feel and why?
Christmas feels like many different things to many different people. For a lot of people, Christmas is a joy-filled season marked by yummy treats, cozy candlelit evenings, and time spent with family and friends. For others, Christmas is a painful reminder of loss, loneliness, or financial distress. And to some, Christmas is just another day—it is neither something to celebrate or resent.
For me, too, Christmas has meant different things at different seasons of my life. As a small child, it was a time of anticipation. All of the pageants, and parties, and family gatherings led up to that special morning at home with mom and dad when we finally got to open our few Christmas gifts and play with them all day long.
Later on, as a teenager battling with an eating disorder, Christmas became a complicated season of secrecy and fear. Always surrounded by food, always filled with feelings of guilt, always trying to restrict enough to make up for the binge-purge collapses. Parties and family gatherings became unbearable, and Christmas quickly turned into a season of isolation.
And then there was Christmas, 2007—the year I began my final journey toward recovery from binge-purge type anorexia. Here are a few words that I penned on Christmas day that year:
“Today is enormously significant, and right now, I’m overwhelmed with joy. While I didn’t do anything extravagant or overly exciting today, it was the first Christmas in a long time that was not stained by obsession, anxiety, and my general tendency to disconnect. Free from these chains, I was actually able to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas and God’s many gifts and blessings… one of which is my body—a body that God manufactured strong enough to endure years of affliction, and also a body that He has chosen to dwell in, regardless of its apparent flaws.”
Ever since that year, Christmas has never quite been the same for me. It became more. It became bigger. It became a thing of beauty that cannot be contained or displayed in the most picturesque winter scene or the most exquisitely decorated Christmas tree. No feel-good Christmas movie can articulate the profound depth of its meaning, no cup of hot cocoa can reproduce the warmth of its message, and no present purchasable on earth can even begin to compare with the magnificence of the gift it represents.
Christmas is not about me. Christmas is not about presents. It’s not about that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from spending the cozy Christmas nights surrounded by the people you love (if you are even lucky enough to experience that). It’s about a God who gave up every comfort and every luxury imaginable to come to earth and meet each of us where we’re at so that one day we could experience what true joy is.
There was nothing “cozy” about that first Christmas when Jesus was born. As my good friend Lanaya Graham recently shared on her blog, “often Christmas becomes a little too cute. We picture this adorable baby, surrounded by a halo with his new mom kneeling by his side (instead of wilting in a mess of post delivery exhaustion?) with adorable little animals, and we forget why Jesus came—to die. To live a life complete with all the privileges and pain of earthly bodies, and to die. To fully relate to us in the human experience even though He had every right not to.”
I love this. It is so true. When Jesus came, it was messy. He didn’t come to this earth in a seamless, spotless regal procession. He came as a baby, born in dirty, smelly surroundings, during a time long before modern medicine existed. And when He died, it was messy. He didn’t drift off peacefully in His sleep. He was beaten, and whipped, and stabbed, and left hanging on a cross to die of suffocation while his body fluids leaked out and his organs failed Him.
Jesus was perfect. But His life was messy. Why is that significant to me? Because I am messy. My past is messy. My present is messy. My future is going to be messy! And Jesus gets it. He got it enough that He chose to live it. And now, He chooses to live inside of me, filling me with His spirit, despite my mess.
So today, as I reflect on the question “how does this time of year make you feel?”, I can only respond one way.
First of all, I am grateful for how the Christmas season represents the physical healing that Jesus has brought about in my life here on earth. But even more than that, I am grateful for the eternal healing that is still coming—the gift that motivated Jesus to come to this earth in the first place. I am grateful that He chose to get messy—not only so that He could identify with me in my mess, but so that He could one day completely liberate me from it.
And I hope that no matter what comes in the years ahead—whether the Christmases be happy or sad, full of joy or stained by loss—that I will always be able to answer this question in the same way. I hope that I will always remember to be grateful.
Now it’s your turn. I told you a bit about what Christmas means to me, and now I would love to hear what it means to you! How does this time of year make you feel?