This may seem like an odd story for Advent, the 4-week season leading to Christmas, but please stick with me.
The week of Thanksgiving I was working on one of my brother’s Christmas tree lots in South Florida, and a middle-aged woman named Isabella arrived to look for a tree. She soon told my nephew and me that she does not celebrate Christmas because she is Jewish, but she wanted to buy a tree simply because “they are beautiful.”
Isabella then relayed a story that captured my attention. She had been telling her 13-year-old daughter that they would not be buying a tree for the holidays because their family is Jewish. Her daughter replied, “Do you think I’m going to forget who I am just because of a tree?” Isabella replied, “You’re right. Let’s get a tree!”
Isabella recognized her daughter’s wisdom, and it’s wisdom that could serve us well during this busy holiday season. December is a time of mixed emotions. It can be joyful, celebratory, and heart-warming as we attend various Christmas events. But it can also be exhausting, lonely, and depressing.
Sure, there are tips (see below) for staying healthy and happy over the holidays, but the foundation for such life-giving experiences is, I believe, remembering who we are.
We sometimes forget our true identity. For example, we get duped into thinking we are, most importantly, consumers—that we will be happy if we buy the right stuff. Or we feel that our identity is based on our appearance, finances, job, friends, or partner. Or we try to achieve some mythical, magical experience of the holidays that is unrealistic or impossible. Predictably our experience fails to match our expectations, and we end up depressed.
Or we feel hurt by our families because they don’t fully accept who we are as gay or transgender. In fact, I have heard many sad stories from gay people who experience tension or complete rejection by their families during the holidays. Such experiences can leave us feeling disappointed and hurt.
Could it be that we suffer in these ways, in part at least, because we have forgotten who we are?
And who are we? What is the core of our identity that we need to remember? Most fundamentally, we are beloved children of God. In fact, God loves us so much that God was born as the baby (whose birth we celebrate at Christmas). God became human in Christ! God loves us so much that God became one of us.
If we know that most importantly we are beloved children of the Creator of the universe and that God is intimately present with us, then everything we do flows out of that identity. We can act and rest with a calm assurance of being loved before we do, buy, or possess anything.
So we can let go of trying to achieve some unrealistic holiday experience because we can just rest in the realization that God loves us. We don’t have to “shop till we drop.” We don’t have to wear ourselves out with Christmas events frantically. Sure, let’s do some of these things—but only in a healthy, balanced way.
What are some practical tips that flow out of remembering who we are? Because God loves us, we can love ourselves and those around us. Here are a few possible ways:
- Set realistic expectations so that you don’t end up disappointed. It’s silly to think that Christmas is always (or ever) going to be an emotional high with wondrous family dynamics.
- Focus on being gracious, loving, and generous to others because it does bring us joy when we focus on others rather than ourselves.
- Say yes to gatherings that are life-giving and say no to those that are life-draining.
- Eat plenty of healthful foods, and eat sweets and drink alcohol in moderation (or not at all).
- Join a gym, exercise at home, or take up a winter sport.
- When you face stressful situations during the holidays, stop and say to yourself, “Remember who you are—a beloved child of God, who became one of us in Christ.”
- Set up an Advent wreath with a Christ candle in the middle and four candles around the perimeter. Each week of Advent, focus on a theme of that week’s candle: hope, peace, joy, or love. Each evening light the candle(s) of the week and read a Scripture passage with the theme of the week. (I just go the BibleGateway.com, type in the word of the week, and pick meaningful passages with the subject.)
- Focus on Christ! Read Scriptures about Christ, attend a Christ-centered concert, pray, give to others as Christ provided to us.
I wish you God’s blessing during Advent this year! And remember who you are!
GIFT GR Founder and Chaplain, Jim Lucas, provides pastoral care and counseling, leads support programs, and organizes life enrichment events for LGBT+ people and allies. He frequently speaks in college classes and promotes the full inclusion of LGBT+ people. Jim is a graduate of both Calvin College (BA) and Calvin Seminary (MDiv). He completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and has been a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains since 2008. Jim also serves as a chaplain for Spectrum Health.