Christmas Presence: The Gift of Relief
by Emily Sutherland
This season of celebrating is, for many of us, a plate-spinning act – the ultimate test of our capacity for scheduling, budgeting, decorating, baking and gift giving. For years, I’ve been right there in the middle of it all - baking until my body ached, decking every square inch of the halls, shopping and gift-wrapping marathons, along with all the gatherings.
So. Many. Gatherings.
In the back of my mind was the quiet hope that my white elephant gift would be the one everyone wanted to take home. I wanted my Christmas skills to fill my friends and family with comfort and joy.
This year, however, is different. The past eleven months have been marked by
anything but comfort. My family has experienced heartbreaking loss – one estrangement and one death - that makes this Christmas a very different experience from the celebrations of previous years.
My first thought was to delve into making this Christmas over-the-top – the best in family history - to “make up” for the sadness we feel over the absence of family members we deeply loved. As the season wore on, however, I found myself in need of a different approach this year.
If you’ve experienced a loss of any kind, you know how the holidays suddenly become uncharted territory. It’s hard to know exactly what “celebrating” looks like, because none of the usual activities make sadness or grief disappear. In fact, all the hype and expectations juxtaposed against the sadness can heighten feelings of pain, loneliness and exhaustion.
Realizing that we can’t change what is true about our new reality, some of my family members had some important conversations in early December… We let each other off the hook to have “Christmas as usual.”
We decided to give each other the gift of relief. Relief from having to pretend that gifts, or busy days, or unnecessary to-do items would make the holidays feel more “normal.” At first I was worried that our first Christmas without our loved ones might feel like a bummer if we did less instead of more. But then, came a flood of gratitude and deep internal rest.
Nothing we could buy for each other could possibly compare to the freedom we feel from having to go through the motions of buying stuff for each other that we really don’t need. Our focus will be to create memories with each other and with our kids, rather than ticking off a large list of tasks and expectations.
This shift – from presents to presence - is already making this Christmas more sacred and beautiful than I could have imagined. We remember the gifts we have in one another and the things we have gleaned from this journey through loss. We also find ourselves overwhelmed with gratitude for the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
There is profound relief in letting go of anything that doesn’t deepen your bonds to those you love and to the Savior who left all the comforts of His Father’s house to show up for us in the trenches of life.
When life is unkind…
When loss changes your life…
When you’re tired of all the commercial madness…
You need only to create space. Give yourself and others the gift of relief. What you’ll find is that His Presence has a way of surprising you with more beauty than money can buy.