Turning Burdens Into Blessings
I remember very lonely Christmases, when I was too old for a child’s Christmas and too young to have a family of my own. Then in my early twenties I happened upon The Wounded Healer by Father Henri Nouwen, which inspired me to consider what was missing in my life as the very source from which I could be a blessing to others. I talked to a friend who was also without family, and we decided to spend Christmas providing meals to shut-ins who lived in our downtown parish.
We prepared food all day on Christmas Eve and went to Midnight Mass. On Christmas morning we delivered those meals. Neither of us had a car, so we walked through deep snow—keeping the meals warm in an insulated bag—and we were welcomed into the simple dwellings of those lonelier than we were.
They were happy to have the meal, even happier to have the company. Hours later, finished and famished, we went to my friend’s apartment to eat our own Christmas dinner and watch old Christmas movies. This was our tradition for several years. Along the way, other friends joined us, including one who owned a car!
That was more than thirty years ago. I’ve since married, raised children, and been blessed with grandchildren. My friend, who stayed single, is our family’s Aunt Bessie. Her beautifully wrapped gifts and cranberry-orange relish are part of our Christmas tradition. We talk about the days when we slogged through the snow with home-cooked meals for those who had even less than we did. We remember it as a good time, but it also makes us thankful for the family around us today.
For some, rejoicing at Christmastime comes easy—it’s as simple as lighting the rose candle on the Advent wreath. For others, this is a difficult time of year: if we are lonely or anxious or depressed or ill; if money is tight; if there is tension among those with whom we celebrate; if we long for past Christmases when we were children or when our children were little; if we miss a dear loved one who has passed on from this life.
Christmas seems to magnify our emotional state. If we are grieving or anxious, the burden we carry day to day seems unbearable when all around us is tinsel and lights and greetings of “Happy Holidays!” Then we come to church and hear Saint Paul exhorting us to “Rejoice always.”
Be assured, Saint Paul is not insisting we just cheer up. The rejoicing he is talking about is a deep-down thing, and the context is the proclamation from the prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me…he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted” (61:1).
This Christ whose birth we celebrate is our Emmanuel, our God-with-us. He knows our pain. Even if we are hurting, we can do better than just endure this season. We can enter into these holy days with that particular awareness suffering brings. The readings, the music, the prayers—all take on a deeper meaning. With your eyes opened, you may notice others who are hurting, and you can pray for them, even reach out to them. You are not alone. You can make your burdens into blessings.
What about those of us who are not suffering? The danger for us is that we can so easily miss it all. We can make our blessings into burdens: blessings like writing Christmas cards, preparing a meal, baking cookies, going to a party, giving a gift, decorating our homes, reading to our children, visiting family, going to Mass.
We each have a choice. We can make our blessings into burdens or our burdens into blessings. Let’s pray for one another—that we each choose blessings.