If we take a moment to reflect, many of us have a vision of an ideal ‘perfect Christmas’ that would be different to the one we actually experience. Our own picture of Christmas bliss might bounce between having all of those we love around us (or none of them at all)!
But for many people working in care and community work, Christmas can be a time when the challenges and struggles of the people they are supporting become more evident. Traditionally the time of year where loneliness and isolation are at their most acute, the Christmas season can feel full of conflicting priorities and pressures between our aspirations for a ‘perfect Christmas’ season and the daily realities of our care and community work.
As we are impacted by these pressures, we can easily fall in to coping resolutions to ‘be more organised’; ‘be more spiritual’; ‘rest more’; ‘give more’; or ‘see people we don’t see’ – particularly our neighbours we think might be isolated. Or we feel like it’s an either / or situation. We can have a perfect Christmas. Or not.
But perhaps there is a different way. Instead of trying to have a ‘coping mentality’ – the challenge upon us is to find a way to let go of perfection and find a healthy way to be in the chaos.
Being ‘Christmas present’ is not about having a state of utter calm and perfection – but an invitation and possibility to offer hope in the midst of challenge. The very act of the incarnation is God stepping into and embracing the chaos we’ve spoken of, so we’re in good company. One could even argue Jesus’ birth inaugurated Christmas in the spirit of making do; it was never going to be perfect.
Here are a couple of spiritual responses that might help this.
The first of these is a contemplative practice which offers a way of bringing our more difficult emotions some room. Popularised by Fr Thomas Keating, The Welcoming Prayer is a process which offers a sequence of reflections which allows us to focus on the emotions we are feeling, sit with them in all their difficulty, and then release them.
The Welcoming Prayer is not a panacea for stress, but instead an approach to move away from suppressing the more challenging responses we experience and bringing them into the light. Like any new practice, it takes… practice.
Find a day, or a half day to lay the Christmas season before God. Spend some time naming the many tensions you will face in this time, and also the gifts and blessings that will come with it. Name and pray for those in your community you’re concerned for. Reflect on the small things that might energise you, or might help you feel restful that you can pop into your Christmas toolkit. If you’re struggling for time, even an hour doing this might be helpful, early in advent. There may also be a gift in inviting a friend to join you in this process.
So, this Christmas, let’s embrace the unavoidable. For all the moments of joy and grace, the flash points of pressure and unspoken expectation, of the precious gifts and the unmet need. Let’s be as present as we can, with open hands, with God With Us, Immanuel in our midst.
Corin Pilling is Assistant Director of Communications for Livability and involved in the leadership of a church near Kings Cross.