Pain and Possibility: Christmas without the Kids by: Ivy Ruths
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty god, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7
Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’ Luke 18:27
Christmas morning. Twinkling lights. Padded footsteps. Eyes wide with excitement. With our children, the magic of Christmas swirls around us reminding us how and why we believe in the seemingly impossible.
Children believe in a large gentleman clothed in red making his way around the entire globe in one evening delivering perfect, wished for gifts. Christians believe in and celebrate the gift of a baby, born in a manger to a young virgin mother, who came to save the entire world.
Like many of you, in the next couple of weeks I will wake up without my four-year-old for the first time on Christmas morning. I have been dreading this painful day for over a year. As my friends and family rejoice over presents, sip on hot cocoa, and post photos of their children in matching pajamas on social media, I will be waking up to a sparkly tree and presents that will remain wrapped for a couple of days. I imagine I will find some joy in visualizing the look on my daughter's face when she discovers that she really is on the nice list and that Santa ate all of the cookies that she left out. This Christmas will not be like any other I've ever experienced, one where the cracks in my heart will be fully exposed and perhaps even deepened. I dread that there is nothing I can do to run from this pain. I’ve learned, however, that pain chases you, and it is only when we turn around and face it, welcome it even, that we are capable of moving forward through it.
For me, Christmas day without my daughter is more than just feeling like the odd-mama out. It’s a reminder that day in and day out, I am living a life that I didn’t plan on living, that my daughter will split her entire childhood between two homes, and that I will not be a part of her life every day. It is true that there is a lot of pain that comes with being a single mother — lots of things hurt in lots of different ways. But it is also true that, as single mothers, the possibility to shape our children as we lead by example is a glorious gift. Pain results in humbleness, perseverance, and strength - all of which I yearn to model for my child. Most of all, I whole heartedly believe that with pain comes possibility.
I am positive that this Christmas I will feel God's presence like never before. I know this for certain because the only way that I am going to get through the days is by relying on God's Word, believing in God's promises, and prayerfully and hopefully looking forward to the joyous reunion with my daughter that always follows a long separation. This Christmas season, as impossible as it seems to me, I believe in God's will being done despite my pain. I am hopeful regardless of what I feel and choose to place my heartache in what I know. This, I know. God always shows up.
The wrapping paper, the catchy jingles, the sparkly tree: it is all so very beautiful. But, these worldly indications of Christmas do not come close to telling the whole story. Christmas is a miracle! Christmas is the celebration of what seems absolutely impossible. Christmas is a covenant between us and God that we are not alone. It is a promise that the old is gone and the new is shiny and bright, full of grace and mercy and forgiveness. And possibility.
Having never been without my child on Christmas, it sometimes feels like it will be unbearable. I look upon the next few weeks and think there is no possible way I will survive this. Yet, there are thousands of other mothers (and fathers) who somehow do this every year. It must be true “that this too shall pass.” What I have come to understand is that Christmas day this year will not look like it has before, but with God with me this difference will not necessarily make a “bad” Christmas. Where there were shrieks as stockings were emptied, there will be tear-filled prayers instead. Because of the quiet that will accompany my pain, I will hear more clearly than ever before when the Lord whispers to me, “This is how I showed my love among you: I sent my one and only Son into the world that you might live through him.” (1 John 4:9). All day long, I will choose to hold near to me all of the truths that have been professed over me: that the Lord will restore what has been taken, that his plans are far better than any I can imagine, that He will take care of my children, and that I “shall not perish - but have ever lasting life” (John 3:16).
I am certainly not an expert on surviving the holidays as a single mom without her children. My own anxieties about what this day will be like this year have pushed me into almost constant prayer. To prepare ahead of time, I have put together a game plan based on what I know I'll need, leaving room for what I don't yet know to expect. Below, I am sharing my game plan to urge all of you who will experience Christmas differently this year to know that there are other parents feeling the same heart pangs. We are not alone. We are not defeated. We can be sure and we can be hopeful that what feels impossible is absolutely possible with our God.
1. Plan Ahead: I love traditions and one way I've eased the pain of being without my daughter on holidays and special dates is by planning ahead. At the beginning of the month, I look at the calendar and plan out the weekends that we will be together. We call them "Together Days". I want to make sure that we can get our most special traditions in - Santa photos, tree decorating, hot chocolate, a Christmas movie night, and ginger bread house making. Planning ahead helps to make me feel like I'm not missing out on the things that are important to us as a family. I know that there are some things I will have to be flexible with (for example, there won't be time for us to go to Zoo Lights this year before Christmas... but, the lights stay up until the new year so maybe we will have time to go after the 25th instead). Plan to celebrate Christmas a different day. Many people do this. Go all out. Christmas is MAGIC — it can certainly happen more than once and on a different day. It is possible to still create and live in the magic of the season with a little preparation.
2. Make Plans: I fall apart if I isolate. Sometimes the best thing for me is to be alone at my kitchen table with my Bible soaking up my tears. But on other days, staying home alone can also lead me to ruminate and leave me depressed. Sharing a child leaves you with a lot of empty hours and for me it has been important to use this time to nourish the many other relationships that are important to me. Make plans to go to a barre class with a friend, go out to dinner with coworkers, spend one-on-one time with your own parents, shop for Christmas presents in the store (there is no doubt that this is easier without your children in tow!), and try something you haven't had time for yet this calendar year (aerial yoga? self-defense classes? pottery making? The possibilities really are endless). Don’t limit yourself and embrace the opportunity before you to welcome joy despite your circumstances. It is possible to feel both pain and happiness or gratitude or joy at the same time.
3. Find the Good: This is one of the most important lessons that I am teaching my daughter. What better way to lead by example than by challenging myself to look for the good, even when it hurts? My daughter gets two Christmases - how awesome is that for her? I get to spend the morning basking in the true and honest meaning of Christmas without the consumer aspect - most likely a huge blessing in disguise. At the end of the day, I will feel and see God’s goodness. It is possible that Christmas day will still be full of wonder, if we allow ourselves to see it.
4. Cry if you have to: Just because I can see some good, and just because there are different possibilities this year, does not mean that this will not be one of the most painful experiences I have had to date. I am giving myself permission to feel what I feel without judgement. It is okay to be sad: not being with the ones you love on Christmas morning is sad. But, it is possible that you will bear your sadness and be better for it.
5. Ask for help: The people we love may not know exactly what we are experiencing, but they are eager to help us through our most painful moments. Do not feel as if you are alone. Go to church, call a friend, go home. Ask to visit a friend for dinner. Ask for prayers. Ask for shoulders to lean on and ears to listen. It is possible that when you ask, you will receive even more than expected.
6. Do for others: Nothing gives me perspective like turning away from myself and serving others. Christmas morning is hard for a lot of people. Someone you know may have lost a spouse, a parent, or a child this year. Nursing homes and retirement communities are full of our elders whose families are unable to visit. Homeless shelters need volunteers to serve Christmas meals. Is there anything you can do to ease someone else’s heartache, and in the process, show the world what the love of our Savior looks like? It is possible that your circumstance of being without your child this Christmas day can result in making a beautiful Christmas for someone else.
7. Pray: Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! Psalm 116:2. This December 25th will be challenging and overwhelming for me. Again, not impossible, but I would be lying if I said that I don’t expect to feel moments of desperation. When I don’t know what to do or say or even ask for, I just call out “Jesus” and I have yet to be let down. In fact, more often than not, I am flabbergasted at God’s response: a perfectly timed text or phone call from a friend, the right verse at the right time, a surprise event or visitor. Pray, and wait, and watch and see what the Lord will do for you. It is more than possible that He is listening.
8. Be Hopeful, Be Faithful, Be Filled with Thanksgiving: Challenge yourself to believe in the magic of Christmas and how the impossible became possible 2,000 years ago. Remind yourself of the covenant between a merciful and wonderful God and his people. The impossible became possible.
Count it all joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:24-25
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you who belong in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Merry Christmas, Mamas!
There is pain, but the possibilities are endless.