I’ve noticed that this year many people don’t seem to be feeling the “Christmas spirit” and I’ve noticed that many more just seem downright exhausted. There are countless articles and posts out there about how we should be slowing down for the holidays and make them less stressful, and I completely agree. However, I’m getting the sense that we aren’t all just exhausted from the holidays, we’re exhausted from the whole year.
I’m not ashamed or surprised to find that I’m feeling a little burnt out from the year. Our pacing was pretty intense and even when you hit all the major milestones or landmarks of huge chunks of work being over, then you have to play catch up on all the areas of life you let slide during the intense bursts of work. Time to rest and relax will never come unless you make it a priority. The to-do lists will always be there. Slowing down for the holidays won’t work if you are killing yourself the other 11 months of the year.
We have definitely made a conscious choice to make rest and quiet time together a priority during this season. There are tradeoffs that many articles don’t seem to want to mention because they don’t sound fun. Saying no will disappoint people. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. We aren’t going to see all the people we want this month or attend every show and party. We aren’t going to have time to watch all our holidays favorites this year, especially because we limit the amount of TV our son gets to watch and the time after he goes to bed is one of the few times my husband and I get to have an uninterrupted conversation (or… catch up on South Park… which usually leads to great conversation anyway)
But I think the weariness goes beyond over-involvement and stress and lack of sleep… this is the first year that I have truly felt the weight of the WORLD being weary. Gun violence, terrorism, corruption… maybe I’m just more aware of it now that I’m a parent and out of the first year haze, but most of my friends seem to agree that it’s been a rough year for Earth and its inhabitants. All the hate and bad news and tragedy is exhausting. We are weary. There’s a lot of anger and fear being spread from almost every side of the world. I find myself saying the serenity prayer a lot because most days the things I can and should be working to change are a mystery to me.
But the beautiful part of faith is that the story doesn’t end with weariness, even if the weariness is still with us. A thrill of hope… rejoice. Love wins every time we choose not to be afraid, every time we choose to repay hate and words spoken in anger with patience and understanding. And people always seem a little more inclined to do this during the Christmas season. I think about Mary- someone that as a Catholic I have always looked to as a role model, but with whom I find a deeper relationship now that I’ve had a child. I think perhaps we overlook her weariness in the nativity story. What could be more exhausting than riding on a donkey at 9 months pregnant and then giving birth in a stable? I gave birth in a well provided hospital which we drove to in under and hour and I was exhausted. But you know what? I have never rejoiced more than the moment I held my son for the first time. Rejoicing doesn’t mean you are no longer weary. It means you have chosen to rejoice in the midst of that weariness. It reminds me of the hope and celebrations that have always happened during what seemed like the darkest times. Babies born in concentration camps. People married and celebrating their love even during times or with people they were not supposed to (i.e. the reason behind St. Valentine). Rejoice. Shine your light. Be bright.
Unlike several of my friends and acquaintances, I have felt the Christmas spirit strongly this season. I have felt it differently, though. There’s a solemnity to the joy I’m feeling that I can’t quite describe, but it feels appropriate for life right now and doesn’t make the incandescence of the joy I feel dim at all. I know it won’t always be this way, but I’ve had a season of hitting skip on songs like “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (OK, I’ve never really liked that song because it always made me really sad that the other reindeer were so mean to Rudolph. I actually cried about it in my preschool Christmas pageant which is one of my dad’s favorite stories to tell… Empathy. What can I say? God gave me an extra dose.) and instead I’ve started falling in love with hymns I never noticed much before. I’ve found deep resonance with songs of longing and waiting. Songs like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Or later verse of songs that almost always get skipped aside from midnight mass. Seriously, the later verses of christmas and Advent hymns are profoundly beautiful. You should check them out. And in that spirit, I want to close this blog post with some of the last verses of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. May we all take a moment to hear the angels sing this season:
Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!