“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”*
When I was a small child, Christmas was everything loving and tasty and exciting. It was walking to church on Christmas Eve, hand-in-hand with Mum and Dad, in the gently falling snowflakes. It was caroling outdoors on the steps of Zion before the Reverend Frid ushered us all indoors for the family service. It was waking up Christmas morning to excitedly open my musical boot (no stocking for me), it was unwrapping beautifully beribboned parcels, and feasting on Dad’s mince pies, shortbread, fruit cake and plum pudding. I was blessed with an abundance that I failed to recognize until much, much later in life. ‘Though unrealistic, such is the Christmas I wish everyone could enjoy, every year.
In quiet conversations, and if we are humbly observant, by a word or a facial expression or a sigh it becomes apparent that many people – amongst our families, friends, co-workers and communities – are dreading Christmas with its inherent sadness, anxiety and apprehension.
In the draft stages, I was reluctant to finish, much less post this essay. The subject matter is dark and raw, a stark contrast to what most folk want to read during this merry and bright season. But the cold, hard truth is that, for too many people, this is not the most wonderful time of the year.**
For them, this is a stressful, depressing and tragic season. The hopelessness they feel is overwhelming. There are, of course, many who are homeless, in shelters, in prisons and in hospitals, and we should not forget those poor souls. But many of those about whom I am writing are leading seemingly successful, happy lives, complete with familial and friendly relationships so their plight goes largely unnoticed by most of us.
It is a situation that many try to conceal from the world around them but, if we are mindful and attendant, we see the pain and desperation leaking or maybe even gushing forth. It is an anguish that saturates nearly every moment of their lives. It is powerful enough to swallow some folks whole. Enough to induce thoughts of suicide. Attempts, even.
Which is why it is especially important that we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, and even beyond. Why we need to pay attention to what is going on in the lives of those within our orbits; it might be a neighbour, friend, or relative; it might be a playmate of our children or grand children; it might be clergy or a fellow parishioner; or it might be a business associate or teammate who is in pain, who believes there is no happy ending in sight.
With a seemingly nonchalant shrug, they may say to you, ”Who cares?” or “I don’t care.” and instantly you know that they do care. Deeply.
Please don’t ever think that you can’t make a difference in the life of someone who is suffering. You absolutely can! You simply need to find a way to connect – by a kind word or an embrace or by sharing your time. We are all too often worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, and thus say or do nothing at all. Let’s not be those people this Christmas.
With visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads*** it is all too easy to forget how devastating the holidays are for some people – in my world and in yours. Our community and social services are overloaded at best, broken at worst. Shame, embarrassment and hopelessness make it difficult for some to reach out, to ask for help. Please, please do not be so busy you are unable to notice, unable to lend a hand or offer a kind word. To offer hope.
Hope might be as simple as offering comfort and connection.
Hope might be knowing the phone will be picked up.
Hope might be having a safe door to bang on in the middle of the night, knowing it will be opened.
Hope might be hearing that you’re worth loving.
Hope might be a place at your Christmas table.
Hope might be a million and one different things, but please, please help hope arrive in the lives of the invisible tortured souls around you, in ways big or small. Please share your warmth.
‘Til next time, y’all…
*Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
**Carol written by Edward Pola and George Wyle, first sung/recorded by Andy Williams.
***From “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. [C.C. Moore]