We had a super fun morning yesterday—my husband took the day off and we went to visit Santa Claus at the mall. This Santa was wonderful—he engaged our babies and was patient with them, earning their trust before reaching for them for the picture. They were happy to take lots of pictures until we got the perfect shot, and then Santa continued to talk to our 2-year old, drawing him out and making him feel special.
I walked away with our pictures so happy. Our 15 minutes with Santa and his helpers was a gift. It was fun. It put me in the Christmas spirit to spend $40 to put my children in the lap of a strange man wearing a costume and offering them candy and toys. I smiled hugely to the mama and her little girl getting in line as we left. In my mind, that mama would walk away just as pleased as I was.
As we walked through the mall, my joy overflowed. I was polite and charming and kind to everyone we encountered. I just knew that everyone was feeling as generous and happy and excited as I was. Christmas is upon us!
But of course, that’s not true. If I had taken a moment to notice the faces around us, I am sure I would have seen more than what I wanted to see. I am sure I would have seen exhaustion, anger, loneliness, bitterness, fear, dread. The list goes on.
Confronted with this truth, my first challenge is to open my eyes and notice the person who is hurting. This is a big deal to me: what if it makes me feel sad? What if I feel an obligation to reach out to them? What if in reaching out to them, my own happiness diminishes? What do I have to sacrifice in order to fulfill this obligation? Can I love someone else without sacrificing too much? Is there a way to keep my happy feelings and maintain a guilt-free conscience?
When my brain starts working, it reveals my ugly heart. And that robs me of my joy. I am reminded that happy photo sessions with Santa doesn’t bring lasting joy. Seeing my children excited over their Advent calendar chocolate doesn’t express Emmanuel. And even reading our daily Jesus Storybook Bible passage doesn’t magically give me hope or erase my anxieties. These things are all fine and dandy, but my second challenge is to make sure they don’t distract me from the true meaning of Christmas.
Now you all think I sound like Linus.
The truth is, the coming of Christ doesn’t matter if it doesn’t create a heart change in me. When I think of how God has rescued me from the pits of despair time and time again, how he saved me from self-abuse, how his passionate love for me changed the very core of my identity, I get all giddy inside. More than giddy, I get grateful. And THAT is what my heart truly longs to share, not a brief smile while I walk past someone at the mall shopping.
I need this reminder, this perspective shift.
Walking in our neighborhood, it doesn’t take long to see why Emmanuel came. We are a broken people, a needy people, a hurting people. As I delight in my babies and rejoice in our coming King this season, what does it mean for me to notice the pain of others’? How do I engage that? How do I love well, in ways that make sense?
Lord, take off my blinders. Help me to see the hurting people around me. Give me courage to reach for their hands, and teach me to love well. Strip me of my self absorption and allow the hope you’ve given me to seep into the hearts of others.