“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Then again, sometimes it’s not.
Ten years ago — a week before Christmas — I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
There are few things more confronting than hearing the words “You’ve got cancer.” I recall my throat tightening as I pressed the phone to my ear. “Are you sure?” I asked the doctor hesitantly. I strained to hear her voice amidst the children’s chatter and the jingling of bells on our Christmas tree. “The biopsy results have confirmed it.” The doctor continued talking, but I was no longer listening. Tears filled my eyes and started rolling down my cheeks.
Later that same day, a close friend shared the sad news that his father had died. It was not unexpected, but it still came as a bit of a shock. Could this day get any worse? I thought. It was with a heavy heart that I went to bed that evening.
Christmas is meant to be one of the happiest times of the year. Time to take a break from work and the usual routine, celebrate with family and friends, feast on good food and enjoy all the festivities of the season.
But what happens when things aren’t all tinsel and good cheer? For the sake of the children I tried to put on a happy face, but inside I was being eaten up by anxiety, thinking about the surgery that awaited me in the new year.
Living in a broken world, we are continually facing challenges — as soon as we get through one problem, something else crops up. And while we might try to put these things to the back of our minds at other times of the year, somehow they have a way of bubbling up to the surface at Christmas.
So how is Christmas 2018 shaping up for you? Maybe you are grieving the death of a loved one. Perhaps you are struggling with your health and are facing fear and uncertainty about what the future holds. Maybe you have experienced a relationship breakdown. Perhaps you are facing the prospect of being alone. Sadly, Christmas is one of the loneliest times of the year for many people, while also being one of the busiest for crisis support organizations like Lifeline. Each year they receive thousands of calls for help between Christmas and New Year.
So as a church, are we doing enough in this space? It seems that we are adept at putting on Christmas concerts, carols nights, and nativity plays — and there is nothing wrong with these if they draw attention to Jesus. But is there more we could be doing to make a difference in the lives of those who are hurting? Could the time and money be better spent on practical activities that show we care, that we have seen the challenges people are experiencing and we are there to help?
Sometimes all it takes is a small act of kindness to make the world of difference. This happened to me. At the time of my cancer diagnosis, I was working two jobs. When I tearfully shared my situation with one of my bosses, he responded in such an incredibly genuine, compassionate way, truly reflecting the character of Jesus. He asked whether he could pray for me — it was such a supportive, heartfelt prayer. His words of comfort brought me a sense of peace in that season of sadness. It reassured me to know that God was aware of my pain and He was with me. It was a simple act but one that touched my heart, gave me hope, and reflected the true spirit of Christmas.
This commentary was originally published in the December 2018 issue of Adventist Record.