By Jane Thornton –
Noise swirls around me. Paper rips. My niece shrieks in triumph. She got the present she knew she’d get; the slight doubt my brother managed to plant has been slain. A crack of laughter erupts from my son at the antics of his cousin. My other brother heaves an exaggerated sigh of contentment as he swallows his first morning taste of Mexican Cheese Fudge. My daughter gurgles over the baby. Muted carols fill any chance moment of silence.
In the midst of the chaos, I sit in an oasis of stillness.
The whole scene is off-kilter. Tears brim, threatening to expose me. My breath claws at my chest. I stare at the ceiling light, forcing the tears back where they belong. Daddy is not here, but that’s not the main issue. We’ve managed three holidays without him.
My mother slants me a sweet smile of understanding, but her paper-crumpling speeds and takes on a slightly frantic jerkiness. Guilt swamps me. I know she can’t stand having her grown baby unhappy—and she’ll take on her own guilt over my feelings.
Our first Christmas as a blended family. Some traditions discarded, new traditions started. I know resenting any of it reeks of pettiness. I know my step-siblings are going through the same struggle in reverse. I can rest in the deep security of my mother’s love that overrides any jealousy. I know we celebrate Jesus’ birth—which broke all kinds of traditions.
But it still hurts. Unreasonably. Full of shallowness. Drenched in selfishness. My heart aches.
Seven years after this scene, the differentness has become easier. I love Johnny, my stepfather. He treasures my mother. He’s funny; he’s wise; he’s generous. I knew all that then, and I know it more thoroughly now.
Still, we all wrestle with accepting the ways of our new families. Somehow I have to learn that my way is not the only way. I have to believe that my way may not be the best way for everyone else. (I’m not convinced of this at all, so it’s scary to think what God may have to do to persuade me!)
Not to be sacrilegious, but . . . Sometimes I think the way God lets the world run has gone off-kilter, too.
Actually, I rationalize secular problems with the presence of evil and sin and people who don’t know better. But what about the church? If we all know and love Jesus, and we are all trying to please Him, why does it so often seem out of whack?
I know part of the answer is our humanity. But so many scriptures promise His ability to move us beyond the capacity of our flesh. So, my answer is mostly, “I don’t know.” I do know “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. . . But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27 NIV).
Recently, a friend shared her struggles with Christians acting un-Christlike. After years of ministry, disillusionment with the church is driving her to withdraw. I have been pondering what gives me assurance. I cling to the deep faith that I see that is making a difference and pray to understand the rest. And I sing the hymn that echoes Paul’s words to Timothy: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day (2 Timothy 1:12b KJV).
Comment Prompt: How do you reconcile the way things ought to be with the way things are?