December 24. Late morning. I am in the kitchen, making a pot of soup, savouring its scents and colours. Lovely Christmas music pours from the radio. I’m hoping this domestic activity will centre me in the wake of the stormy currents that accompany the season. How do we ponder all these things, like Mary did, when we are assaulted by such a crush of busyness?
My partner wanders into the kitchen and kindly points out that there is no need for me to be cooking, that there are plenty of leftovers in the fridge. I thank him politely. I refrain from screaming, “Leftovers! On Christmas Eve?” My restraint is a Christmas miracle.
Soon I will leave the house to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. I do not believe in last-minute Christmas shopping, yet my principles have been compromised again. Torn between living with integrity and joining in the massive gift-giving of the season, I feel the stress meter rising.
After shopping I will put the final details on the Christmas Eve service, or that’s my intention. The service has twisted and turned far from its original inception, with participants signing up and then backing out. My desire for order and predictability has been severely tested. The fact that I haven’t given vent to any of my co-planners is another wee miracle.
The trials continue. Later in the day, I mop up water from the washing machine, after a backed-up drain flooded the basement floor. Then I called a plumber who arrived promptly to solve my problem. Another miracle, I think, that this kind man could be found for a reasonable rate on Christmas Eve.
Coming up the stairs from dealing with the little flood, I take a phone call from a man soliciting funds for a non-profit agency. He begins by asking me how I’m doing, and I allow stress to colour my answer. “Tired,” I say, “and really busy.”
“Yeah, aren’t we all?” he glibly replies, and then proceeds into his pitch.
“No,” I interrupt him, with heat. “I really, really cannot take this call right now,” and I hang up, feeling more than a little like Scrooge.
Sometime before the day ends, I will wrap Christmas presents. In my ideal world, the presents would have been wrapped, ready to tuck under the tree, to brighten December’s dark days with cheery anticipation. I am not living in my ideal world. If I look too closely, I might think I’m a Christmas failure.
The day’s greatest challenge—or the biggest reason to give over to prayerful meditation—was a phone call with my mother before I went to the kitchen to make soup. My mother recently returned to her home after an eight-week stint in nursing care, following a fall that left her with broken bones and limited abilities in both arms. Broken bones healed and casts removed, she, too, is cooking, preparing for family guests arriving later in the day. “I’m exhausted,” she tells me, “and I haven’t even done anything.” This after reporting on her previous 24 hours of grocery shopping, cookie baking, cleaning, and more.
She sounds weary. I weep silently on the other end of the phone, saddened by her struggle, and the sober realities of suffering, aging and loss. We bravely bid each other Merry Christmas and return to our respective kitchens.
There is much to weep about this season. It’s likely Mary also wept as she held her baby, pondered the previous nine months and wondered about the future. Sometimes all we can do is to clear a little space to make soup, or its equivalent, and to savour the mysteries of tender aches and graces. Doing so may enable us to receive God’s best gift.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.