Every year I tell myself the same thing: I’m not going to get caught up in the hectic schedule of visiting every single person in my extended family, or buying presents for a long list of people and all the other things that come with the Christmas holiday season. And every single year the exact opposite happens. I end up so stressed and spread thin that I get sick. Jesus may be the reason for the season, but when I have to drive nine hours through snow when I still have five presents to buy and packages to ship and services to attend, I’m not thinking about His joyous birth. I’m usually cursing bad drivers and wishing I had three clones of myself to get all the Christmas stuff done.
Then the shooting at Sandy Hook happened.
The tragedy made me stop and take stock. I hugged my daughter tight as I watched details of the shooting spill across the news. The innocent children that were lost, the adults who died trying to protect them; I have no words to adequately describe the scope of that horror. Unlike many of my fellow Americans, however, I was reluctant to turn to the Church for answers. If anyone offered me the logic that the children were now clasped to God’s bosom as some sort of solace, I thought I’d scream. I’m a mother. I want my child here in this world where I can do what I can to protect her and watch her grow up healthy and happy. I was reminded of that scene in Steel Magnolias when Sally Field’s character breaks down after her daughter’s funeral and yells about being angry with God and how she can’t understand why her daughter had to die. I think that’s how I would react too.
Despite my ambivalence, I ended up at my mama’s church the Sunday before Christmas. Lo and behold, the pastor’s sermon was about the very thing I was struggling with—finding the spirit of God during the Christmas season. She talked about Sandy Hook too. She said (and this is clumsy paraphrasing on my part) that despite the stresses of the season that find us and the tragedy of the shooting, God is always present. We need to listen with our hearts and seek the connection. She never once said it was easy, and she didn’t advise us to concentrate on the rewards of heaven. She talked about the here and now. How God was present to give the teachers strength to protect those children, and how He was even there for Adam Lanza even though the shooter wouldn’t listen.
The pastor’s message made me think more about the action of finding God. It requires taking action even though that may not be a physical one. Like meditating or praying—these things require space in our life, like making space for God in the hustle and bustle of celebrating or in the face of sorrow. This year I did something differently at Christmas. I took time to appreciate the family I visited instead of viewing it as an obligation and worrying over the conflicts that exist between us. I watched my daughter play, admiring her spirit and intelligence. I marveled at the goodness in people and told my three partners how much they meant to me. I found God every time I said, “I love you.”