Seeking Moments of Gratitude
“I guess we can see what they have at Walmart?” I tried to hide my disappointment, but my voice cracked, and the tears started flowing down my face. We had just given up on purchasing a Christmas tree from our first stop – even the smallest Charlie Brown trees were outside of what we could afford. I knew that our financial situation was tight, but I wasn’t prepared for this. Between travel expenses and gifts for loved ones, a tree was simply outside of our means for the month, and I was devastated.
I absolutely love Christmas. There is something about the joy and the hope of the season that warms my heart. Baking cookies to share with loved ones, searching for the perfect gift, and listening to my favorite music are highlights for me, but the absolute best part is decorating my home for the season. As a newlywed, this is something I’ve looked forward to and romanticized as the season approached. I imagined my husband and I choosing the perfect tree, covering it with lights and decorations, and showing it off to our friends as we hosted celebrations of the Nativity. I dream about the traditions that we will build into our family: snuggling together with mugs of hot chocolate to watch our favorite movies, setting up our Nativity set awaiting the arrival of baby Jesus, baking cookies to share with our neighbors.
With our first Christmas approaching we began with the first tradition: choosing and purchasing a new ornament to place on our tree each year. After deliberation we finally settled on our first ornament: a pineapple to represent our family value of hospitality. All we needed was a tree! My excitement built as the days passed and it drew closer to the long-awaited date night when we would purchase a tree and decorate together. My disappointment grew as we wandered around looking at each tree, searching for a tree, our first tree, and I realized that it wasn’t happening.
The disappointment was totally and utterly crushing. I was upset that we couldn’t get a tree, and I was ashamed that my disappointment was so huge. I have everything I need. Why am I so sad? A tree isn’t what Christmas is about. Pull it together. Other people have much greater needs.
But you know what? God doesn’t want us to shy away from our negative emotions. He didn’t become Emmanuel, God with us, so we could only share joyful moments with Him. He wants to walk with us in our sorrow and our joy, our victories and our disappointments, however big or small, so that he can speak to us through each moment.
I wanted my disappointment to be small, but it felt so big. I needed to invite the Holy Spirit into this disappointment, to sit and walk through it with me. I needed to ask the Lord why I was so disappointed and ask him to comfort me and give me insight. Here’s what He showed me:
1. Gratitude is key to our joy. Everyday God blesses us with innumerous blessings. Sometimes we get so caught up in what He isn’t giving us that we miss out on the things that He is doing. Although we couldn’t get a tree, we have been so blessed to pay our rent, fill our cars with gas and our fridge with food. We have heat in our home and regularly go on small dates. We have more than we need. More important than physical needs, He provides us daily with our spiritual needs. He pours out grace for difficult situations, strength to endure long days, and mercy in our shortcomings. He has provided people in our lives who care for us through prayer encouragement and laughter. During this season of so many gifts, lets focus on the gifts He provides for us in all our needs.
2. The joy of the things I love about Christmas are joyful because of His coming. Jesus is the reason for the season is not just a cliché. It is the unshakable truth. Each of these expressions exist because they are symbols of the absolutely life-changing truth of the gospel:
“ At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying.”
It’s not wrong that we seek the joy and warmth that the elements of this season contain but let us maintain our focus on why we decorate and sing beautiful songs and make delicious food. We are celebrating our freedom in Christ! We are celebrating the light that shines into the darkness that cannot be overcome! We are celebrating the rest, fulfillment, and life we have through God! And that, my friends, is worthy of a joyful celebration.
3. God wants to be with us in all of our disappointments, even those that feel foolish. One of my favorite things about Christmas is reflecting on the name Emmanuel. God with us. I need to sit with the truth the God is always with me more frequently. Immediately following the fanfare of Christ’s birth scripture tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) We, too, need to ponder the wonder and majesty of what it means that Christ is our Emmanuel. When we allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts, we can turn to him in our disappointments and let Him comfort us in our hurts. Maybe this season is difficult to you this year. Please, please believe me when I say this: that heartache you feel is why we need our Emmanuel. Invite Him into the hurts and anger, allow his mercy to wash over your grief, and be comforted by a God who loves you beyond anything you can imagine.
We may not have a traditional Christmas tree in our apartment, but we have joy of the Nativity in our hearts. In 25 years, I’m willing to bet that we will look back fondly at our first Christmas as the Merrills. We couldn’t afford a tree, but that led us to create some new traditions. And above all else it was a reminder of what the tree is all about anyways.
Lord, open our hearts and our minds to the ways that you are moving in our lives right now as we prepare for Christmas. Allow us to seek moments with you in our gratitude, in our disappointments, and in our joy. May your Holy Spirit guide us and speak to us as we treasure all these things and ponder them in our hearts. Amen.
Sandy lives with her husband, Jerel, in Laurel, MD. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in speech-language pathology at Loyola University of Maryland and hopes to work with children in special education someday. She loves all things cozy and dreams of the day that she will get a dog.