(Credit: Phil Renaud, Flickr Creative Commons)
You know those update letters people send out with their Christmas cards letting you know how great their year was?
I thought about sending one this year.
But it would have been…a little different.
Well, it would have gone something like this….
How was our 2016? Well, Zack got cancer and spent most of the summer going through chemo, then most of the fall going through radiation. You should see his driver license photo. He looks straight up like a serial killer. For reals. Um, our dog died right before we moved. Actually, we had to put her down because she was getting really sick and we couldn’t keep up with her medical bills which, it turns out, is way worse than waking up one morning to find your beloved pet passed away peacefully in her sleep. Our daughter has speech development issues. So, that makes life frustratingly interesting everyday as we try to decipher what she’s trying to say and she struggles to tell us until she gets mad, gives up, and has an understandable temper tantrum. Good times. Everybody in the family seemed to be sick at one point or another pretty much all the time. So that’s been a riot. Oh yeah, and Zack’s currently unemployed with a mountain of school loans due and he got shingles ’cause why not it’s been that kind of year. And as you know, anyone who was remotely famous who brought joy and happiness into our lives died and that lunatic Trump was elected president. Sooo…Merry Christmas? I guess?
Now, to be clear, my life in not spinning out of control in a downward spiral of deep, dark depression. I just have a dark sense of humor.
I do hope you find amusement in my self-deprecation, but I’m also and sincerely a big fan of honesty and transparency.
There’s way too much pressure on all of us to keep up appearances and pretend like everything is great when it’s not. We need the space to vent and rant and cry and just be honest with each other but everything from social media to Christmas cards to just saying hello at church seems to be standing in our way. Worse yet, as Christians there’s this unspoken – and sometimes spoken – pressure to “count it all joy” and act like we’re giddy with excitement at all times even if our lives our falling apart. But denying the reality of bad times in our lives is both intellectually dishonest and emotionally unhealthy. And pressuring others to do so in the name of Jesus, to pretend as if all is well even when God couldn’t seem further is way is spiritually abusive.
In the age of keeping up appearances 24/7 on social media, we desperately need the space to honestly mourn the things worth mourning, celebrate the things worth celebrating, and remember it’s more important to tell the truth about how we’re doing than it is to keep up up appearances and ensure that people we may barely even know don’t feel awkward around us.
Now, some people will argue that life is simply what we make of it, that our happiness is simply a matter of perspective. To be fair, there is some truth to that.
As much as I would have enjoyed sending out a dark Christmas letter for the sake of comedy, I could just as easily have listed all the wonderful things that have happened this year. I’m in remission. I’ve got two healthy, wonderful children. My wife graduated residency and joined a practice she loves. We moved back home to Nashville, have a much more comfortable house to live in than the tiny condo we called home in Connecticut, and we’re back around family for the first time in years which is wonderful (and not just because of the free childcare). Life has been challenging this year, more so than in a long, long time – maybe ever – but it’s also been wonderful in oh so many ways.
So, yes, to some extent, life is what you make of it, but that idea mostly nonsense propagated by the privileged, the comfortable, and the well-healed.
It’s easy for me to write a dark comedy Christmas letter because in the next breath I can turn around and tell you about all the great things that also happened this year.
But for a family living in Aleppo this year, it’s not nearly that easy.
Nor is it easy for someone whose cancer diagnosis came along with the word “terminal” or for the families whose innocent loved ones were gunned down or the single mother doing everything she can just keep food on the table and a roof over her child’s head or the immigrant or Muslim or LGBT person worried about what a Trump administration means for them and their future in this country.
For many people, 2016 was in a very real and not relative or celebrity-related way the worst year ever.
That’s not to say they didn’t have good times sprinkled in from time to time, I’m sure they did. There are moments of light in even the darkest times of our lives. But especially after a year like 2016, we need to be people of compassion and understanding, people with enough self-awareness to realize that just because our lives are good enough to make of them what we will, the same isn’t necessarily true for our neighbors, our friends, or even people in our own families.
So, wherever you find yourself this New Year’s Eve, if someone tells you 2016 was the worst year ever remember they may be doing more than just complaining about the election or remarking about how many celebrities we lost.
They may be looking for an understanding ear to listen or maybe even a shoulder to cry on.
They may be reaching out for a touch from heaven.
And you may be their angel unaware.