When I was a kid, NOTHING compared to the anticipation of Christmas. My parents did an amazing job making Christmas special. They made sure we gathered with extended family, gifts were given with lavish generosity, food was yummy and served without regard of calories or fat content. Mostly, though, my mother LOVED Christmas, and her enthusiasm was contagious.
However, there was always a Christmas let down – did that ever happen to you? No matter how perfect, once the gifts were unwrapped a little sorrow moved in and stuck around for a couple hours. There is, I think, a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction.
A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy. There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit. True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared. There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit. Infinite sharing is the law of God’s inner life. He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves. Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, p. 3.
One of my best Christmases EVER as an adult was accidental. I don’t quite know what got into my children, but one Sunday they each ended up inviting several families over to our house for Christmas without consulting one another. First one child, and then another, said, “Mom, I may have just invited so-and-so for Christmas.”
“What do you mean? Did you or didn’t you invite them?” I asked, both amused and intrigued by this sudden flurry of party planning by my children. At first blush, it looked like a motley crew. Card tables were added as extensions on the dining room table, a high chair was borrowed, and various dietary restrictions were accommodated. These distractions were not enough to quiet my anxiety. I wondered how the rest of our DNA family would feel about a “shared” Christmas with virtual strangers (from their perspective). I fretted over the elimination of casseroles that were family traditions in order to make space for foods that our guests were willing to eat. I worried if the day would feel awkward.
We learned that we were not nearly as attached to our traditions as we were to the people. Flexibility may not be a strong suit in our family, but we discovered that even McBeans can flex when motivated by love. There is no end to the sharing of love says Merton, and that was our experience.
As you plan for this year’s holiday events, can you do so from a position of creative flexibility? Perhaps consider your core values as you make choices and try to detach a bit from ways of thinking, feeling and doing that are automatic and unconscious. You may be, as we were, surprised by joy.