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The night was silent, but my heart did not feel peaceful at all. The tree at church was hung with gold and silver ornaments, garnished with velvet red ribbon, and the choir was singing such a beautiful song the night before Christmas. But my heart was heavy. I was thirty years old, single, feeling very lonely.
I didn't want to drive back home that night to my family of origin. Dysfunctional family relationships had plagued me and every year, the holidays make everyone and everything worse. Dreams once young and unbroken had faded into disappointment. Everything looked like it was going well on the outside, but deep in my heart, I lost the spark I once breathed as oxygen.
But, I did not dare tell a soul.
I felt numb, moving through the motions of Christmas because it was Jesus' birthday, and I didn't want to ruin Christmas for him or anyone else. Someone might tell me I shouldn't worry, that I should be thankful. They would misunderstand my struggling heart with a lack of gratefulness.
And when you're in emotional pain, in need of comfort and kinship, words that deny your wounds can break your heart.
I tried to drive home in the rain, but I pulled over to the side of the road, blinded by choking tears that couldn't be swallowed down. I cried so bitterly, hunched over the steering wheel with a weariness so deep, the sheets of rain could not drown out my despair. I felt ashamed crying there on Christmas Eve -- when it was the birth of the King of Kings, my Lord and Savior. I'm so lonely. I sputtered.
I didn't know God heard these words as my prayer, but as I looked out my front windshield, the ambient streetlights seemed to sparkle each raindrop on the window pane like stars in the dark night sky.
A star. A very bright star.
The First Silent Night
In that very quiet moment, with my eyes puffy and nose stuffy, I thought about the first silent night Jesus was born. God began to remind me why Christmas doesn't have to be perfect, by bringing me close to those who were there that first silent night.
Here are 3 Reasons Why Christmas Doesn't Have to Be Perfect
1. My life can be imperfect, because God's promise of hope is perfect.
God's Promise of Hope Doesn't Depend on Me. The shepherds, they were poor. Weren't they lonely? When they were looking at the dark sky the night Jesus was born, did they think that night would be any different than the countless others? It wasn't a perfect night. It was an ordinary night. One minute it was dark, yet the next minute, a light so small became a blinding sky filled with hundreds of angels singing, just for them.
Shepherds were marginalized by society, stereotyped with social stigma as uneducated. Yet, the news of hope came to them -- exclusively. The same is true for my life. I may not see a way out, but the darkness is only temporary because God will not forget me. God can show up at anytime and he will. But, I must be like the shepherds, ready to take action and leave where I'm at and go where he tells me to go.
Are you wondering how things can ever change for you? Do you feel left out of the picture-perfect images of Christmas?
Look at the images of the real, first Christmas and who God chose to come very close to His newborn Son that first night. You are not forgotten. God sees where you are and he draws near to the very parts of your story you might think are imperfect or ordinary -- and he loves you. You are never too far from hope because you are in God's arms, even as he carries you through the dark.
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"even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." Psalm 139:12
"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you." Isaiah 46:4
2. I may be holding imperfect, broken dreams but God holds me in His perfect plans.
Mary was pregnant under the most imperfect situations. I wondered if Mary had broken dreams like me, about her wedding, about her birth announcement, and her birth plan, involving family and friends. Instead, those dreams faded to a different reality. Mary was without support, as her contractions tore through her, as she gasped in a dark barn to give birth. How did Mary feel spending her first years as a new mother all alone in a foreign country, as a refugee, exiled from her country? Yet, God fulfilled His perfect plan for his son by stepping into darkness and sending Jesus, using plans that no mom and dad would ever chose for their child.
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Are you holding broken dreams and don't know how God could ever rebuild them?Are you feeling displaced -- maybe in finances, loss of a job, or in an unexpected loss where you are at Christmas?
Listen to God whispering these words to you. God has chosen to make you his home. You are his home.
"I chose you... I haven’t forgotten you.
I am the Lord your God.
I am holding your hand,
so don’t be afraid." Isaiah 41:8, 13
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten." Joel 2:25
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3. Even if I feel imperfect, God's perfect love makes me His home.
I thought about the wise men and how they followed the star God put in the sky -- that seemed to move further away the closer they followed it. The Scriptures say the star "went ahead of them, until it stopped over the place where the child was." Matt. 2:9
The wise men did not know how long the journey would take and they did not know where it would stop. They could only follow. They could not travel by day; they could only travel by night. In the same way, there are stretches in our spiritual journey that can only be traveled in the dark -- that will bring an intimacy with God that only comes when silence gets hard to handle and the night too long. We face our greatest fears and our deepest longing: does God really love me -- as is?
God's perfect love will lead us, one moment at a time, to where we need to go.
The quiet story of God's greatest moment of love tells us it includes sojourners traveling in the dark without a map, only by faith that a king lies at the end of the journey. And even after they saw the baby Jesus, we are told the wise men had to return home a different way.
Are you feeling disoriented by who you've become through life's many twists and turns Do you feel like the journey is too long and imperfect? Listen to God's whispers of love for you. Think about that long, dark journey the wise men made and even though they arrived after Jesus became a toddler. They weren't too late. God's timing is perfect.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified... for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deut. 31:6
"I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself." Jer.31:3
It may feel painful when Christmas isn't perfect. That's okay. Because the Christmas story -- the real story of hope, peace, joy and love -- tells us that it doesn't have to be. God chose to make us his home. As is. Christmas doesn't have to be perfect because God's love for us is perfect.
"This is real love--not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son." 1 John 4:10
Bonnie Gray is author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul To Rest, garnering starred review praise from Publisher's Weekly, named as one of PW's top 6 notable new religion authors. Bonnie is a featured contributor at (in)courage and her writing is nationally syndicated, spotlighted by Relevant Magazine, Catalyst Leadership, Today's Christian Woman, and Christianity Today. A UCLA graduate, Bonnie has been a missionary, ministry entrepreneur and Silicon Valley high-tech professional. Bonnie serves up shots of faith for the daily grind on her blog Faith Barista.com. Bonnie lives in Northern California with her husband Eric and their two sons.