Our son and wife were just here for a Christmas visit. Our daughter-in-law is a fabulous cook, and she brought several delicious meals, making food prep much easier given my husband’s medical situation.
The rest of the time we did what I’m most comfortable doing when company comes. We grazed and ate left-overs, along with enjoying my one big splurge, Swiss Fondu, a family tradition.
One evening I brought out a box of family pictures. “ Do you remember how your grandmother went all out for Christmas?” I asked. “Her fabulous Christmas decorations and meals?” Then, things suddenly turned serious when our son asked why I have never made a big deal over birthdays and Christmas like she did. At first, I got defensive, then tears filled my eyes. “Because I’ve always been afraid that what I give or do will be a disappointment. Holidays bring up my feelings of inadequacy.”
“That’s the wound of rejection, Mom,” our son tenderly said, then asked, “Do you know where that wound comes from?” By now, tears were blurring my vision. “Special occasions fill me with the terror that what I do will not be good enough. Every time I want to do something special I measure myself against my mother’s gift of elegance and entertaining. In comparison my feeble attempts feel puny and unacceptable. It has just became easier to avoid the terrible anxiety that surrounds holidays and special occasions for me. As an older adult I came to know more of my mother’s story. And, yes, I came to understand why she was the way she was, but the kid in me still wanted her to validate me, to tell me she loved me, to accept me as I was. You know, I can’t remember a time when she seemed pleased with anything I ever gave her.”
Looking back on our conversation I am reminded of just how profoundly our experiences and reactions are shaped by the words we use to describe them to ourselves. After reading a book on love languages several years ago, I came to recognize that my husband’s love language is doing things for his loved ones, while mine is words. While I wanted him to tell me I was pretty and he loved me, he was consistently proclaiming his love by making sure we always had what we needed and by squirreling money away for our retirement.
It is impossible to go through life without accumulating wounds and traumas. Yet, it’s what we do with those wounds that is all important. Do we bury them or find ways to expose them to the light?
Do we deny them out of shame, or do we recognize it’s the words we use to describe them to ourselves that actually creates the wound or trauma. Mindfulness, I’ve heard it said, is related to how cognizant we are of how we describe what is, what we see, what we feel in the moment. As a small child I saw my mother’s inability to say “thank you and I love you” as rejection not just of my gift, but my person – when she was simply responding through the lens of her own feelings of unworthiness.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day, the day we celebrate the coming of The Light of The World which shines through our human darkness, a Light our human pride and brokenness can never extinguish.
Thank you, God, we are created is such a way that we have within us the ability to experience enlightenment; that ia to see God’s unending promise that Life will always be out in front of us, beckoning us forward even in times of suffering and death. In the end, Christmas is not about trees and carols and presents and big meals but acknowledging that special part of us that can heal and redeem the reality of our wounds and traumas through the eyes of love and forgiveness.
Or as Fra Giovanni wrote to his friend: “And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem, and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”