We had a rough night last weekend. My daughter was unusually morose after church. Most Friday nights, she is bursting with manic energy after the games and teaching in our children's ministry. Being the last weekend service before Christmas, this sullen emotion was out of character for my typically chipper Zu.
When I asked her what was wrong, my heart sunk. "No one cares about me" her answer. "Nobody loves me."
"Can't possibly be true because I love you very much. I'm sorry that you're feeling like this." I did my best to recognize her emotions as valid yet help her understand our feelings are not always honest.
As we talked, she continued her brooding. "God probably doesn't love me either."
"Oh, sweetheart, it must have been a hard night. It's not fun feeling like this. But I do not believe there is anything you could do to take away God's love for you."
As we talked, she revealed more of the reason behind her sadness. She wants so desperately to have a good Christmas and a happy New Year, but she fears she will get neither. This made her sad so she didn't participate in Kids' Quest, instead she sulked. She then felt like God couldn't love her because of her behavior; this exacerbated her despair. She even told me she felt like her heart was breaking.
When we got home, we started our bedtime routine. With her in her pj's and a tomato in hand (her bedtime snack), I tucked her in then sat on the side of her bed and spent some time doing all I could to soothe her fears.
"I hope you know how much I care about you." I said. She nodded. "Did you know that God cares most for those who are hurting?"
Her expression seemed to display confusion, as if she were saying 'that can't be true.'
"I believe that God's love is best demonstrated when we are sad and hurting. In fact, one of my most favorite verses from Psalms says 'The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.' The way you're feeling right now isn't proof that God dislikes you; it is a sign that He is close to you."
Then I continued.
"You know what? I'm really excited about Christmas. Like really super looking forward to it."
"You are?" She looked at me with eyes swelling on the verge of hope.
"I am. And I am sure that this Christmas is going to be great. You know what else?"
"I'm hoping we have a happy New Year too."
"Are we going to watch the ball drop?"
And that was all she needed to hear. She finally smiled and wrapped her arms around me. I gave her a kiss and told her the same thing I say every night: "Goodnight sweet girl."
By morning, Zu was acting more like herself. Playful. Joyous. Looking forward to our Saturday adventure. And not wanting to take a bath. Normal.
Her stocking stuffers and presents were purchased two weeks ago and hidden in a closet. Tonight, I will be up late wrapping and setting up her Christmas surprises. However, I am convinced that none of those presents will compare to the gift of assurance I gave her this last Friday night.
We dream. We hope. We wish. And yet, sometimes life deals extraordinary circumstances. We face loses in life and jobs and marriages. Tis the season for peppermint and gumdrops but it is also the season of strained finances and annoying relatives. Sometimes happiness and joy are debatable. It can be incredibly difficult to embrace the spirit of the season when the spirit within you is burdened, stressed, and heartbroken. This is Christmas. Bah-humbug.
But sadness is nothing new. Sorrow and misery have existed as long and humanity has graced this planet. Grief was a thing long before the birth of Christ. Yet as long as people have had the ability to experience depression, God has had a plan to heal our emotional wounds. In our hopelessness, God is telling us "I am here. I am close to you. I will demonstrate my love through your brokenness and your life will be made new."
This experience was described in another Psalm: "You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent."
Two thousand years ago, God gave us the gift of His Son, this act was his signature to a love letter that He had been writing since the dawn of time. In Jesus, He showed us that wherever we find broken hearts and wounded spirits, He would be there to heal all our achy parts. A baby boy, a gift, God with us.
At Christmas, we express our longing and hope for something worth hoping for. Many of us do that in a list. Me? I would love it if someone gave me an Xbox One with a copy of Star Wars Battlefront. I could really use a new car. Or even an all expense paid weekend in Seattle. I'd be content with concert tickets or an hour long massage. Those gifts would be awesome, but realistically I have all ready been given the greatest gift imaginable, the assurance that everything is going to be OK.
I have mourned and God has turned my mourning into dancing. I could not ask for more.
My wish for you is to have the happiest of Christmases. But let's not fake it. If this is more of a somber holiday, admit it. Fell free to say "Life sucks right now." Do it. Because I believe in a God who is big enough to listen to your complaints and loves you anyways. And I believe in a God that can transform your deepest hurts into something beautiful.