“Bah humbug,” he declared. No, not Scrooge. A real person to whom I had offered the greeting, “Merry Christmas.” He went on to tell me why he disliked all holidays, but especially Christmas. He wasn’t trying to be mean, but the subtext of his pain began to bleed through his words. At first it took me aback, but then I determined to listen; not argue or attempt to persuade, but simply listen.
And listen I did. Although he did not intend to convey his perspective as pain, I sensed it nonetheless. The intensity of his reaction was a clear indicator, even if he did offer me a Christmas treat from a tray at the end of our conversation, no small irony given his distaste for all things pertaining to Christmas.
The subtext of expressed pain is visceral. Potent. It’s like a caged wild animal seeking escape. Or a person beaten into submission by years of neglect or abuse, whether self-administered through bad choices, or suffered at the hands of others in power.
Yet it isn’t a given that pain necessitates a negative subtext. Bonhoeffer expressed thanksgiving under imprisonment by the Nazis. Calvin suffered grave illness, yet still passionately and joyfully preached the gospel despite his bedridden state. The Apostle Paul suffered myriad afflictions in his body, and via shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments, etc., yet always gave thanks for God’s infinite goodness. My mom was orphaned at 12 and endured her share of hardships in life, yet always praised Jesus.
We have a choice this Christmas and throughout the year concerning our interior lives, the subtexts of whatever difficulties we may face. Will we lash out at the world in self-pity? Or will we give thanks, whatever pain we may suffer in our bodies or in our spirits? What choice will you make?
The subtext you nurture will reveal itself as your legacy both in life and long after as people remember you and reflect on your influence upon them.
For my part, by God’s grace and with his help, I choose joy and thankfulness. Life is too short to indulge self-pity. Life is too precious to neglect thankfulness.
Merry Christmas. And a thankful new year.