~From my heart to yours~
My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you!
Struggling to Worship
(Excerpts based on content found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)
“I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem!” ~ Luke 2:10–11 TLB
My struggle to learn how to worship Christ at Christmas was/is intense. As I’ve mentioned, Jerry’s is just as difficult. As I changed over a period of years, embracing the longing to celebrate the Jesus in this season, Jerry didn’t understand my desires. It was very hard for me—and him. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, years passed in this way, my pain exacerbated by my longing to give my children celebration, worship, and tradition.
Close to ten years ago God gave a friend of mine a picture that I clung to. As she prayed, she saw my husband, full of joy, standing at the front door with a Christmas tree. As I mentioned earlier, Jerry and I had specific teaching about the evil of the Christmas tree. Over the years I no longer gave credence to this school of thought, but it was harder for Jerry. We’d opened our lives to little samples of the celebration of Christ’s birth, but to have a tree was out of the question.
When my friend shared her vision, I said something awesome like, “That’ll happen when my husband turns over in his grave.” Then a different friend got the same vision a few weeks later. On shaky legs of faith I held onto God’s promise through years of pain, believing someday we would celebrate without hindrance. I don’t remember how many years passed, probably seven or more, but each Christmastime I wondered, “Could this be the year?”
Those years came and went with no Christmas at the Moldenhauer house.
I was offered my first traditional book contract. It was for a Christmas story. “What do you think, honey?” I asked.
“That’s your thing, not mine.”
Thanks to this gift from God’s hand, I wrote “You’re a Charmer, Mr. Grinch,”* in freedom, exploring and enjoying the traditions, celebration, and worship I longed to live.
Then the children grew and began moving out to find their own lives. Oh the tears I cried! How I had longed to create Christmas tradition and memories before they were gone! How I’d longed to express my creativity by weaving worship and celebration of Jesus into the Christmas season! How I craved the freedom to create beauty, atmosphere, and excitement.
But the opportunity passed me by.
Thrust into the throes of empty nest with only the youngest son still living at home, I found it difficult to embrace the nativity when December arrived. In recent years I had enjoyed private worship with advent candles and devotionals, just Jesus and me. For many years, with Jerry’s permission if not quite his blessing, the kids and I hung twinkle lights and put out a nativity, but that year I struggled to open my advent devotional and left my beloved twinkle lights in the closet.
A trusted friend admonished. “Don’t let your joy be stolen!”
But I had no heart for it. Struggling to find the desire to celebrate or even eke out a little worship, I pulled out the advent candles and the advent devotional** and asked God to meet me there. He was worthy of worship and celebration even if I felt devoid of it.
There is more to this story—I’ll tell you all about it another day—but I don’t want to rush past the grace of those years of unanswered longing. When we choose to celebrate the Lord, even from a place emptiness, He meets us there. Sometimes the clouds of pain clear away enough to easily find joyful worship; sometimes the burden continues to crush. But it isn’t the ease of life or the happy times we worship. We celebrate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of worship even when our hearts are sad. He is good even when life feels bad.
I can’t believe I almost didn’t pull out the twinkle lights that Christmas! But the Lord called to me through my son Sam. As I prayed for grace to embrace the nativity, my youngest, then seventeen, asked if we could hang the cross in the upper window. It was one of the few things we’d done, like clockwork, most of the years of his life. His choice to celebrate fueled my own. We cranked Christmas music (despite the fact that he was tired of it; after all, he listened to it all day at work), and he helped me hang our cross and put out the nativity. As I asked the Lord for the ability to celebrate Him, my heart opened to worship.
Maybe this season you carry your own burden. To celebrate Christmas feels impossible. May I encourage you to pour out your pain before a loving Jesus who understands? Part of the message of the nativity is that Jesus left the splendor of heaven and walked among us experiencing the pain of our world. He is Emmanuel, the One who is God with us. Scripture says He is also now the High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness and the loving King who reigns on high. We can declare Him good, no matter our emotions, and He is faithful to meet us where we are. Comforting. Showering us with His goodness, opening our eyes and hearts to unexpected mercies.
Precious Jesus, You are worthy of worship regardless of the state of my emotions or the disappointments of my life. Take my pain. My unmet longings. My confusion. Replace these things with Your love. Your grace. Your hope. Your clarity. I do believe You are with me always. I have the consolation that You are Emmanuel, God with me. I know You never, ever forsake me. You never ever give up on Your good plan for me. Even when I can’t see a way out of my disappointments, You are working for my good. Thank You for humbling Yourself and coming to this earth so we can share intimacy. Open my heart to worship. To celebrate.
*Included in the inspirational romance collection Postmark: Christmas, produced by Barbour Publishing.
**The Advent devotional I read that year was Journey to the Manger with St. Patrick & Friends: A Six-Week Celtic Advent Devotional by Jean Hess