The Spirit of Christmas

During my first semester of college, I felt as if something was pulling at every corner of my brain. My classes probed me endlessly, introducing new ideas and thoughts that left me speechless.

My faith was jostled and I was left wanting sure footing. I had so many questions. With every new piece of information floating in, I begged to know the reasons behind what I believed. For the first time, I struggled aggressively, combating doubt toward God and Christianity. I jotted down dozens of spiritual questions that burned in me and kept them on a turquoise cardstock. Then I brought this list to trusted friends for their direction. They answered my questions vaguely, often with a smile tugging at their lips. They knew my questions were common among doubters even though the list felt fresh and new to me.

It was Christmas break and I was back home for a few weeks. I found myself wrestling with God. I fought His will, I rebelled inwardly, tossing and turning between faith and doubt. I spent my days waitressing and my nights journaling in my room, notebooks spread on my handmade pink quilt and lamp light bouncing off my fingertips as I wrote. I felt like I had lived my whole life with God and I didn’t really know what it felt like to be without Him. So I made a quiet pact with myself, daring to step away from my faith in one small way. On December 19th, I started an experiment.

I stopped praying.

Because I became a Christian before I even started kindergarten, my faith had always included praying. Every day. Mom and Dad kneeling by my bed at night. Dad thanking God for our food at the dinner table. My whispered requests to calm my fears in the middle of a wicked thunderstorm.

But I was 18. Independent. And bold enough to test God. To test myself, really. It was a week before Christmas and I had stubbornly stopped talking to God. Whenever I felt the impulse to pray, to thank God or ask for help, I just stopped. I turned on the radio or left the room to get my mind off it. I was determined to “live without God.” But only for a few days, just to see what it would be like.

When I was nearing the final days of my obstinacy and started to miss the sacred relationship that I had to put on the shelf… Christmas Eve came.

I bundled up in my winter coat, donned a festive scarf and straightened my hair with a flat iron. My family and I traveled to my brother’s church where he served as a youth pastor in Rockford, Michigan. The air was crisp and white crispy snow was piled up to the edges of the sidewalk. Dad dropped us off at the front door. We shuffled in, stamping our feet, removing our mittens and relishing the heat pumping through the small, dark, building.

The Christmas lights twinkled inside the auditorium as we slowly meandered in. We were given wax candles with circle paper shields in the middle to hold onto during the service. I held my candle tightly just like I held my secret deep inside. Nobody knew the turmoil my young heart was dealing with. I was stoic. Every evening I journaled about my experience and each day I got closer to relinquishing. But even though it was Christmas Eve and my heart teetered on the brink, I just wasn’t ready yet. I couldn’t give in until I was absolutely sure I would never have to do this again. As we settled in, the service lingered on with its usual Christmasy charm but I was still guarded, pretending to be impenetrable.

Little did I know.

The piano softly played and the last part of the evening commenced, perhaps the most beautiful. The passing of the flame and the corporate song, “Silent Night”.

I sat at the edge of the row, the one closest to the aisle. A young girl approached to my right, holding a flaming candle carefully in her hands. Her blonde hair was pulled back and her eyes glimmered. She slowly lit my vertical candle and we watched the wicks kiss and then spark brightly. As I pulled it back, our eyes met. She whispered a soft, delicate, “Merry Christmas” and then smiled like an angel. Her sweetness melted me and I froze, barely able to turn to my brother to light his candle. We listened to the hymn as tears met at the corners of my eyes, staying there for a moment before quietly soaking back in my lids.

I felt like I was on the outside of something beautiful looking in until this girl, not much younger than me, invited me in with her essence. She had reached into the deep of my soul, my fearful and doubt-filled faith that I had hidden from everyone. She was telling me that there is no discrimination. There is no exclusion. All are welcome.

This is the spirit of Christmas.

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