Do you remember the first time someone special was absent from your Christmas circle? I sure do. Although 1986 was our first Christmas without my dad and we dearly missed him, the imminent arrival of our third baby didn’t allow me to focus on much else. With a due date of January 2, I secretly hoped for a New Year’s baby and any windfall that might come with the distinction. Instead, our little guy made us wait until January 7. His arrival brought tremendous healing to my grief over losing Dad.
Our little family stayed at five for two decades. Gradually, we grew to eight as our kids found partners, and eventually to thirteen as grandchildren came along. The thought that our family might shrink never occurred to me. Even when one relationship ended and we faced that awkwardness at Christmas 2021, in my naivety or maybe optimism, I truly believed we’d witness reconciliation before Christmas 2022 rolled around. How I prayed for it!
Instead, we were floored by yet another relationship ending. Our family now numbers eleven instead of thirteen, and we deeply miss the missing.
Isn’t it odd? We sing about joy to the world and peace and goodwill to all mankind. But in Luke 1:51 Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” He goes on to explain how families will be divided against each other. Somehow, we all entertain these idyllic ideas of what our family should look like. Yet we’re helpless when it comes to making it look that way.
So what do you do when prayers for reconciliation are not answered the way you hoped, when your family looks smaller than it once did, when your heart aches and your eyes leak? I’m choosing, trying, and recommending three things.
1. Remain thankful. Though this Christmas felt unusually quiet, I can feel grateful for so much. Our grandsons still have two parents who love them and are involved in their lives. Not everyone can say that. Plus, I can embrace the extra stillness and alone time to rest from a busy year.
2. Look forward. We’re still a family, and if we allow our hurting hearts to draw us closer to one another instead of driving us apart, if we continue to laugh and have fun, and if we turn to God with every hard and happy thing he allows, we can eventually be a stronger unit than before.
3. Grow inside. By allowing the pain to make me more compassionate, I gain a greater understanding of what other parents go through when their families become fractured.
Of course, continuing to pray provides the umbrella over everything.
Those first holidays with someone missing make the message of Christmas doubly poignant. Jesus came into our messy world to provide a way to reconcile us to God, regardless of the choices we make. The decisions we regret. The people we disappoint. The times we feel betrayed. He came for it all. He loves us through it all. He made a way for us to thrive through it all. And to enter into a new year with an increased level of gratitude, hope, and compassion. May that prove true for you in 2023.
Happy New Year!