We are anticipating the arrival of our first grandchild this December. I am excited, but the “grandmother-in-waiting” is consumed. We have begun to go through boxes in the attic of important things from our children’s early years. Baby things carefully stored for this time, a time that seemed so remote back then, seem such a short time now. Handmade blankets and favorite stuffed animals, all are filled with memories that cause us to sit quietly and reflect on the journey of family. Most are memories of joy, happiness and fulfillment, but there have also been times of great pain. Memories are where we store the importance of the past. Not everything can quickly be recalled, but those that are usually mean something special.
This Christmas season there will be many memories. Christmas seems to be a time that our minds record an unusual number of incidents, both of joy and pain; surprises that caused laughter and some that brought tears. We expect so much from the season. We hope for a ceasing of conflict, both in remote parts of the world and at family tables. We pray for joy for those in desperate situations and our loved ones who continue to struggle with life. We seek blessing for the discouraged on the streets, but also within our circle of family and friends.
Reflecting on past Christmases and former days brings a variety of feelings. It was no different in Bethlehem almost 2,000 years ago.
But Mary “… treasured all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51b
This phrase is found at the end of the account in the Gospel of Luke where the childhood years of Christ are summarized. I wonder what Mary, the mother of Jesus, stored in her memory.
* The drama surrounding the birth with angels, wisemen and a manger
* The escape with Joseph and the baby to Egypt
* The teachings Jesus did in his young adult years
* The miracle of the turning water to wine at the wedding feast
* The adoring crowds
* The angry crowds
* The cross and the loving appeal to the Apostle John to care for Mary
* The resurrection and the upper room appearance
So many treasures of the mind; how did she survive such a range of events and keep them stored in any meaningful order? We focus on the manger. The drama of the birth would help her interpret what came later. Such is the nature of treasured memories.
Memories can encourage, paralyze or inform.
Many memories of the past bring feelings of joy. Worn tree ornaments remind of earlier Christmases. Stories of our grandparents tie us to a strong past. We often find renewed energy and increased affection during holiday times.
For many, there are also hurtful memories. These are often the result of difficult situations with the people that are the most loved. Often what should be a time of happiness is tainted with dysfunctional relationships that are compounded by how out of place they seem in a time that is to be harmonious. The season may be just painful enough to push toward a plan of help by a professional counselor or a trusted pastor.
Sometimes the hurt is caused by those who are no longer with us. Finding ways to remember and honor them and still seek joy takes creativity. Ideas, such as giving a gift to a Christian cause in their honor, may be appropriate.
We can learn from the past.
- We can see what helps us move forward and what keeps us back. It may take some rearranging of traditions to circumvent troubling and recurring negatives. This may include shorter visits at painful gatherings making preparations prior to events, such as a healthy eating plan.
- Creating new positive traditions can bring added meaning for the season, as well as restructuring personal relationships. This may include attending a Christmas Eve service as a family, or helping serve a meal at a homeless shelter. It could include inviting a lonely adult to Christmas lunch.
- We can be informed by our own personal past, but even more importantly, we can benefit from the past of authentically spiritual people that God puts in our lives. These may be individuals who themselves have had great difficulty, but through it all they found the joy of faith. A faith that sustains and helps to order memories in such a way that God uses them for good.
After the holidays, evaluate your memories. Commit to use the days to come to grow in grace for you own personal peace and as a blessing to others. Use the positive “memory builders” of the First Place commitments to be vital part of what you treasure in your heart.
Merry Christmas from Granddad Bill!
Dr. Bill Heston
Bill Heston works on the staff of First Presbyterian Church of Houston