It's the most wonderful time of the year, right? That message rings out every Christmas season from a number of directions. There's a sense we should pretty much be smiling from Thanksgiving all the way through Christmas day.
But in reality, Christmas isn't the same experience for everyone, not even the same experience for the same person year to year. Some may be having their best Christmas ever right now, while others...not so much. To be frank, my wife and I are having a weird year. Not a bad year, just different. In some ways, not as good as in years past. Some things are the same. The decorations and Christmas tree, the Christmas music, the egg nog. Cindi and I watching our favorite Christmas movies together.
But there was a time when both our families lived in the same town, back when our kids were little. Christmas back then was almost maddening (in a good way). Both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day had to be carefully managed to keep all the calendar demands from crashing. And besides the extended family traditions, we had our little ones to share it with.
But now...most of my wife's family lives in Texas. Many on my side of the family either live out of state or out of town. Even our daughter lives in Texas. For the first time she wasn't here to decorate our tree and she won't be able to make it home for Christmas either. My son is engaged so we're splitting our time with him and his fiance's family.
On the upside, I still have Cindi, and we are the best of friends. There's been a ton of exciting things going on with my books. But still I find myself tempted to grumble, even to feel a little depressed as I think back to how full our holiday moments used to be. Recently, I spent some time looking at old pictures of Christmases past. Cindi and I started chatting about some of the wonderful things we remembered, stirred by the pictures.
In a matter of moments, I was happy. It lasted a good long while. But then I found myself remembering the present situation and started thinking about how it's not the same anymore (will it ever be again, etc.), and the sadness began to return. But before I slipped too far, I thought of this verse: "Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits" (Psalm 103:2).
I thought of Phil. 4:8 where Paul, stuck in a Roman prison (way worse than my lot) says this: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Paul is not depressed, the whole letter to the Philippians carries a tone of pronounced joy. And it dawned on me...that these past Christmases, and all the wonderful memories that go with them, may be in the past but they really did happen. God gave us those moments to cherish.
Like Christmas presents from Him.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with thinking back and deriving all sorts of joy and blessing as we recount His benefits from Christmases past. It's actually something God encourages us to do. It's more than the "power of positive thinking." It's thinking about things God has really done, moments in time God has given us that really deserve more than just a passing glance.
What I found in my heart as I yielded to this new way of thinking was mostly gratitude for all the times we've had. And it wasn't hard for me to move from there to start praying about the present. I want to begin looking forward to whatever new things God has for us in these new and different days ahead.
And as often as I please, I'm going to start taking out God's Christmas gifts from the past, spend some time thinking about them, and let the joy of the Lord stir in my heart once again.