Gifts and presence

First slide

It was the day after Thanksgiving, still early in the morning. The question caught me off guard.

“How’s your joy?”

Out of the blue, and not at all the usual morning conversation, I asked for the question to be repeated.

“How’s your joy?”

Tears spilled, unwelcome, in silence, down my cheeks. It seems a little ridiculous now, and I’m sure fatigue was a factor, but two other things were happening in that moment. I was struggling with the waves of emotion this season brings, and I was astonished that someone was taking inventory of my joy. Someone cared about my joy.

Advent and Christmas are not always joy-filled, happy seasons. For many people, they come with heavy emotional baggage, tightly wound with twine of guilt and doubt and fear. ‘Tis the season of perfectionism and performing for love. ‘Tis the season of reconciling all the memories of falling short, of looking for love and not finding it, of dashed dreams. People bring a whole lot sadness into the season of joy.

Despite the ubiquitous commercials hawking diamonds and luxury cars wrapped in enormous red ribbons, this is the season set aside for reflecting on how God met the broken and the imperfect and the sorrowful, and became Hope Incarnate. Joy Divine. It is the season of gifts, to be sure, but there is no need to buy a bow that is more expensive than Christmas dinner. The real gift of the season is the Giver. The gift is God. He is the one who looks upon the broken and the broken-hearted and tenderly binds the real wounds — the ones that spill into tears the morning after Thanksgiving.

It’s such a simple question: how’s your joy?

We try so hard. We want to be competent and nurturing and creative and self-donating. We want to be all the things we know we were created to be. But we also want to be noticed and appreciated and cherished. More than any other time of the year, this is when women knock themselves out trying — trying to be all the things to all the people, and trying to capture the elusive “Christmas magic” and make it our own.

It’s not magic.

It’s grace.

Grace is already ours to have, and with the grace, comes the joy. We think so much about presents this time of year. We have our lists and our budgets and our heartfelt desires to buy the perfect thing, to give the perfect package. Deep down, we really long to be given the perfect package as well. The truth is that there is no bow for the gift He gives, and His gifts are the only perfect ones.

What we really want, sometimes without knowing it, is to be wholly loved by God. The reality is, we already have that gift, but often, we don’t recognize it. He gives us Himself and with that sacrificial gift, He saves us for Himself. Tenderly, He lifts our chins and wipes the tears from our cheeks. He sees our pain — sees the scars of sad Christmases past, sees the broken pieces of shattered human relationships, and sees the tired shuffle of people striving under their own power. He sees it all and it’s in the broken sorrow that He makes His presence known.

This is the season of presence, not presents (though I don’t suggest you leave those out altogether). It is the season of sitting in God’s presence and letting Him present Himself to us. It’s the season of filling ourselves with Him — inhaling His grace. Then, we can be truly present to one another, blowing the breath of peace over our people, whispering genuine joy into the December craziness.

Though never perfect, we are the best gift to one another when we are like Christ. There is joy in presence. Be still with God, then bring that still, steady hope to your corner of the world. And somewhere along the way, in the busy of your days, ask someone, “How’s your joy?”

Slow down and hear the response. Be present and share the gift of Christ.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@elizabethfoss