Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.
By Jenny McDevitt
In elementary school, I had a brief but intense career as a Christmas criminal.
My third grade class was scheduled for a field trip to see The Nutcracker at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. It was mere days before Christmas break, we didn’t have to wear our school uniforms, and there would be hot chocolate afterward. I was nearly delirious with eight-year-old holiday anticipation. My friends and I were in agreement: this would be the Best Day Ever.
There was only one problem: I forgot to get my permission slip signed ahead of time. On the day it was due, I looked down in horror at the blank line where my mother’s signature should have been. I grabbed my pen, glanced around furtively, and signed her name with a flourish. Just like that, I gave myself permission to travel with my classmates.
Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. We can’t always do it for ourselves. So this Christmas season, we, who work in pastoral care, are giving you a gift: we’re giving you permission.
We’re giving you permission to be sad.
Holidays can be tough times. Christmas carols insist that this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many people, that just isn’t true. After all, a season that emphasizes friends and family can sharpen the ache we feel over a loved one who isn’t at the table for Christmas dinner. A season full of angels singing and bells ringing can intensify the silent struggles of our hearts. So hear this: if you aren’t in a celebratory place, that is okay. Whether your grief is brand new or years old, give yourself space to honor your feelings. The Light of the World is coming. Jesus isn’t offended by your sadness. After all, he comes to redeem a broken world.
We’re also giving you permission to be happy.
This sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? Who needs permission to be happy? You might be surprised. “I feel like it’s not fair for me to be happy,” she said. “When I find myself laughing or enjoying something, I catch myself. How can I be happy when [my husband] isn’t here? It feels like being happy would mean I don’t miss him anymore.” This isn’t an unusual comment. So often, those who are grieving feel as though any spark of joy dishonors their loss or their concern for others’ pain. Know that this is not true. It’s okay to find happiness. It doesn’t lessen your love, your loss, or your concern. It is a reminder of the gospel truth we claim: there is a Light that no amount of darkness can overcome.
We’re giving you permission to be however you are this Christmas season. Christmas is coming. Whether we are happy or sad, delighted or angry, grateful or frustrated, ready or not. Christmas is coming, and Jesus will meet us where we are. That’s what incarnation is all about. And that’s very good news.