It seems to me that our unbridled consumer culture flourishes because so many basic human needs are not met. We need love and acceptance, laughter and work, someone to listen, and someone who wants the best for us.
We were so far ahead this year. For the first time in 10 years or more, the lights and decorations were up on Thanksgiving weekend and all our holiday preparations seemed to be under control. Then life happened. We passed through a round of colds in succession, and through a few weekends with too much crammed into them. Then Andrew worked very late to complete some tasks at his job, kids had semester final exams, we had an unexpected trip to the ER for a dislocated ankle, and the cold returned with a vengeance in the form of at least one sinus infection, and a case of bronchitis. Suddenly, everything we were ahead on fell behind or through a crack or off the radar entirely. I give up!
But Christmas for our family of adult and almost-adult kids isn't about all the "stuff" anymore. I say that, hoping that it never really was about all that stuff anyway. It's just that there are more paths to a less stressful holiday when Santa Claus is a happy memory and not a parental obligation. Of course there'll be presents, a Christmas dinner, Midnight Mass, carol singing, and a few of our out-of-town children will be visiting home. But some of us will be tired, stressed, injured, sick, or otherwise not quite up to holiday cheer.
And that is the gift I think God is giving our family this Christmas. In this Year of Mercy, God is making sure that we have plenty of opportunities to show mercy to one another. We can be patient and forgiving, consoling and welcoming, responsive to each other's needs and sensitive to our various limitations. Each of us can give and receive the mercy all of us need -- without even leaving the house. If we're open to it, I think this year might be very special.
There's a saying that applies to how people have, sadly, experienced the holidays: "Expectations are premeditated resentments." When we expect something from someone, we are only preparing ourselves to be disappointed. It's easy to get angry when we don't get what we expect, or think we somehow deserve. The strange thing is that when we actually do receive exactly what we ask for, it doesn't make us any happier. Somehow, it's still disappointing.
The truth is that most of us want what we want, (or think we do), because we don't really understand what we need. Sometimes it's simply a matter of taking all we have for granted. But when legitimate needs go unmet for too long, our sense of what legitimate needs are can be distorted. In other words, when we don't get what we really need, we start trying to make up for it with an endless list of demands and wants. Those are the kinds of expectations that turn into resentments.
It seems to me that our unbridled consumer culture flourishes because so many basic human needs are not met. We need love and acceptance, laughter and work, someone to listen, and someone who wants the best for us. We need someone who is utterly convinced that we're somebody. As a parent, I know how often I have failed to be that someone. As a Christian, I know that the someone we all need was born in a stable, because there wasn't any room for him anywhere else.
Two thousand years ago, the Mercy of God was laid in a manger. He cried out in the night with hunger. He shivered in the cold. He needed shelter and comfort and love just like you and I do. The beautiful thing about mercy is that it isn't really about sharing what we have with others. It is more about meeting the needs of others because we know those needs ourselves. May your Christmas be both merry and merciful.
JAYMIE STUART WOLFE IS A WIFE AND MOTHER OF EIGHT CHILDREN, AND A DISCIPLE OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. SHE IS THE AUTHOR OF "ADOPTION: ROOM FOR ONE MORE?", A SPEAKER, MUSICIAN AND SERVES AS A CHILDREN'S EDITOR AT PAULINE BOOKS AND MEDIA. FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER @YOUFEEDTHEM.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.