Every Christmas day of my growing-up years was spent at my grandparents’ house in San Juan Bautista, California. Imagine thirty or so relatives laughing, eating, joking, and hugging in a little two-bedroom, wood-frame home. The kids rambled from the living room, with its stately, boxy television, to the dining area, to the always-busy kitchen, presided over by my grandmother, out the enclosed back porch, across the driveway, through the barn, and into the back field where my grandfather was keeping watch over the smoked pork, with my dad and uncles keeping him company. And then back again from the back field, through the barn, across the driveway, onto the back porch, through the still-busy kitchen, passing the dining area, and into the living room.
Back home, my mother would roll her eyes, and say, “It was a mass of humanity!” But to a child, it was glorious. And as I grew older and “graduated” to the kitchen with my sister and cousin, it was still wonderful.
Both my husband and I grew up with this kind of Christmas. We miss it, and the elder family members who loved us with such open arms. It’s a richness we carry inside the whole year ’round.
But at holiday time now, it’s an ache. Our family is geographically spread out. That big dining table is too big for our apartment and, even if they were still with us, our older members would have trouble making it up the stairs to the second floor.
What heartache do you hold this year?
What do you long for right now?
It’s alright if we feel sad missing the past—or are worried about the future (short-term or long-term). The trouble is if we stay there.
In his wise little book, The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections, author William C. Martin writes that there are two unexpected questions that need to be answered in order to come closer to God.
The first question is “What time is it?”
The second question is “Where are you?”
The ONLY correct answer to the first is, “Now.”
The ONLY correct answer to the second is, “Here!”
It sounds so simple, but all too often—and especially during busy, and sometimes lonely, times during the holidays—I find myself halfway into the future with worry and anticipation, or most of the way into the past with longing or regret. And I miss the richness of the life God has given me in this moment.
I might even miss the gifts of the Christ Child if I keep it up.
So, I’m trying to stay present these days, moment by moment, to the life that God has given, and is giving me, here and now.
I’m learning to hold the future with prayer rather than worry, and it is interesting to see what the Spirit brings to mind. I’m learning to let myself feel the sadness, for example, of letting go of a beloved church program that no longer fits the needs of its participants—and then I move on. And I’m learning to let myself do the activities that “call” to me even when my duty-bound side wants to keep working—last night it was swimming at the local pool.
Life feels richer, more grounded, and hopeful this way. And it colors everything else. Being more present in this moment helps me to spend less time grieving the past, and instead to be thankful.
It even helps me feel closer to my grandparents, who always wanted the best for all of us.
It feels like good preparation for Christmas, too.
Years ago, a friend gave me a Family Circus cartoon. In it, the older sister is explaining to her little brother, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”
Have a blessed Season.
The Reverend Dr. Diana Nishita Cheifetz is a spiritual director, serving lay leaders and clergy in the San Francisco Bay area, the U.S.A., and internationally. Her website is www.spiritualdirectionforpastors.com.