It is the week of Christmas and I find myself filled with joy and anticipation; yet I have also found myself in a lot of conversations where people are stressed because of how this one day seems to magnify all that is unsettled. Frayed families, unraveling friendships, broken hearts, unfulfilled expectations, absence of loved ones – each reveal the pain that this season can also uncover…there is a tension inside of me to make space for both. What does it mean to hold both, to not fall so deeply into one that we cannot conceive or hold the other?

If I glance back to the first Christmas, 2,000 years ago, I have to admit the part of Mary that is rarely portrayed is showing the stress factors that her “yes” brought into her life. We turn instead to focus on the mixture of joy and excitement that obviously had to be there, after all she was carrying baby Jesus. But something within me tells me that she, like everyone else in the world, had a choice to make every step of the way to carry both joy and sorrow, stress and freedom. These choices don’t come magically, they are often day by day, moment by moment, yet they each build one upon the other.

So this morning I woke to a sense that THIS Christmas is one that I will choose to notice both the joy and the stress within me and within others. I will introduce these two strangers to each other and acknowledge that I see them both, but that they are going to have to hang out together at times. In fact this reminded me of a prayer that I turn to often by John O’Donohue in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us:

“May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

Sometimes you just need to make a snow angel

That invites me to new frontiers,

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.”

I pray that as you experience Christmas you will notice what it is that arises within you and dare to be present to who you are and how God has designed you. Stress left alone will overwhelm us, but if engage with our Creator, we just may find that all the stress continues to point us towards something more.

Merry Christmas to all.