The holiday season this year has not been merry for me. This past week has been particularly trying, exposing for all the world to see my poor parenting under stress. Yesterday I dropped off my two youngest boys with a friend while I rushed to keep an appointment. Both boys were sockless in late December, the baby still in pjs, his face orange and messy because he ate mac and cheese—yes, fake fluorescent-orange powder, boxed mac and cheese—for breakfast. This morning’s breakfast was Christmas cookies . I reason that they can’t be any more sugary than donuts or Pop Tarts or Lucky Charms. Right?
After I dropped the boys off yesterday, I got in my car and cried. This happens a lot lately. Our family is suffering a serious loss this winter. The weight of it, combined with the everyday burdens of working and mothering (which I already do not bear as well as I should), feels like it will crush me.
When I picked the boys up from my friend, I apologized for the baby’s cheesy cheeks. She told me, God bless her, that he may have had Kraft for breakfast, but that his belly and his heart were full. I confessed to her that I didn’t know how to celebrate this year. For the first time I can ever remember, I wish only for the holidays to be over and done with, to be able to navigate this particular hardship without the added pressure of putting on a smile, even for my own kids.
Later that night, I sat in a quiet, candle-lit church sanctuary for a Blue Christmas service. “The idea of Blue Christmas,” writes Ruth Graham, “is to acknowledge the darkness, and let it be dark…Some churches refer to the event as the ‘Longest Night,’ because many services take place on December 21, the winter solstice…The structure varies widely, but common motifs include candles, music in minor keys, periods of silence, and time to privately share specific sadnesses and fears.”
The dim church, the desperate passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, the haunting lilt of “O Come Emmanuel”—these bring me more true comfort than any manufactured Christmas glee. Next year, I hope, Christmas will be gleeful and merry again. But thank God there is space for mourning on those years when it isn’t. I light a candle. I stand up. I name my grief out loud. I sit back down between two friends and, mercifully, cry my heart out.
After the service, I walk outside. It is the longest, darkest night of the year. I look up and in the blackness of the sky I see a cold, blue pinpoint of light. A star. A guide to orient me, to tell me where I am and keep me on course even in the dark when all other touchstones have disappeared. Though distant and small from where I stand, in reality that pinpoint blazes and dazzles through light years of space to reach me.
I believe, though I do not feel, that there is truly cause for joy—joy that is infinitely deep and solemn, joy that weeps as often as it laughs, joy that lives in darkness but sees great light.
There was once another light that hurtled through eternity to reach this earth and set it on fire.
Oh come Emmanuel. Please come. God with us, be with me. Be with me in darkness as I walk toward the light.