“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?”
Last year, my friend Aimee and I led a Blue Christmas service for the first time at Stone Church. We did it mid-week and we wanted to create a space to acknowledge that the holiday season isn’t always one of happy feelings for everyone. It comes with a mixture of emotions-particularly if you lost someone special during the year- or even years ago. There’s unemployment that pops up for people at the end of the year…there’s cancer or loneliness or heartbreak. The holiday season can just come loaded with a lot of crap. So we wanted to provide space for people to come and acknowledge that for themselves. Sit with it. Cry. Pray.
We almost skipped it this year. Aimee was now in her next call doing doctoral work, and Ken and I thought maybe we could just let it pass this year. However, almost at the last minute, we changed our minds and decided to do it. Maybe it was more like I really wanted to do it again this year and I was willing to put it all together to make it happen. So, on Sunday afternoon, after our regular worship service, we had a Blue Christmas service in the Fireside Room. There were about 20 of us there all together. It was a time of ritual, prayer, and naming (if we wanted) the burden we carried and letting it go. Everyone participated.
When it came my turn to place my “stone” and to name it into the salt water (representing tears), my sadness and grief in this season suddenly hit me. I had been putting together everything for the service for everyone else and in reality, I probably put it all together for myself as well.
Christmas time and the holidays are so much about our traditions. And yes, our traditions change, but as a creature of habit and one who loves ritual, this is still a time that is difficult for me as a single pastor without family nearby.
I remember vividly my first Christmas Day as an ordained minister after the chaos of Advent and Christmas Eve services sitting alone in my apartment. And never had I felt so alone. It was my first Christmas without being with my family. All the friends I had made had gone home (translated: gone away) for Christmas. And for the first time, I hated being single. I cried and cried.
Four Christmases have passed by since then. This one will be my fifth. One year, my parents graciously came to me here in California. Last year, I did dinner and movie with Abby and Nathan who had moved into the Bay Area and were around for the holidays. This year, I am seeing someone, and he and I will spend Christmas Day together-eating Chinese food and watching a movie. I have a cute little Christmas tree that I bought a couple of years ago and now it’s accumulating more little ornaments that are fun for me to put up. Every year, no matter which church I’ve been at, I’ve thrown a Youth Group Christmas Party with a white elephant gift exchange, and it’s always hilarious.
Yes, I do still grieve that I can’t be with my family… and I’m still waiting for the day when I will have my own. But I am creating new traditions and rituals that I am beginning to recognize as my own. And I await in hope knowing that at this time next year, I will have a new little niece to spoil with gifts and perhaps a new ritual all our own.
So, while missing and acknowledging the sadness I feel of being apart from my family in this season, I await in hope. Or like my blog title, I abide in hope. Thankful for the life that is mine now, leading and guiding a wonderful congregation in this season. Thankful for Tristan and his care and ability to be here with me this Christmas Day. Thankful for the friends and family who show constant love and support near and far. Thankful for the life that is mine.
So I wait in hope for the light that is coming, has come, and will come again.