What is it about chronic illness that makes the holidays feel, let’s just say, less than holy? From the time I was a child, it seems like every year I would get sick over Christmas break. I would miss parties and family get-togethers and candlelight services at church. Now that I’m an adult I still dread the holidays from a physical standpoint. I wonder if I’m going to get sick again this year and how bad it’s going to be. I wonder what things I’m going to have to miss and who’s going to be disappointed in me. (Yes, you read that right, I said“disappointed in me” not “disappointed that I couldn’t be there” which makes all the difference.)
If I feel this way, I’m sure many of you do as well, so let’s address it; let’s talk about the oversized, not so adorable elephant in the room. There are things that happen over the holidays that can cause incredibly strong emotions in those of us who are chronically ill. Sometimes there is an outburst, other times we just stuff the feelings deeper because it’s too difficult to express them. We come to the point in life where we need to prioritize and take calculated risks. Chronic illnesses don’t behave properly with the stress of the holidays and extra gatherings to attend. For many of us, every time we leave our home we are taking a risk. We risk crossing paths with that person who has the flu or a nasty cold that is an inconvenience to them but could do serious damage to our less than healthy body. Every time we think about going out we have to ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?”
That’s where the friction occurs. It occurs when we make choices that others don’t understand. It occurs when we try to help others understand and they don’t. It occurs when we refuse to live in a bubble, yet want to protect ourselves as much as possible from those with sick germs. How do I explain to someone that I get a shot once a week that has cancer as a side effect? How do I explain that this same medication suppresses my immune system, allowing me to become sick easily, but without it I wouldn’t function at all? How do I explain that I can’t go somewhere with someone because what they are asking me to do isn’t worth the risk of illness and fatigue that will come later? How do I do this in a way that doesn’t make me sound “needy” or make them feel like I’m attacking them or criticizing them or just don’t want to be with them?
You mix all of this into the Christmas and New Year season that is full of food, parties, church and family and the result is undeniable friction. Some of us are blessed with understanding family and friends, and for that we should be truly grateful. Others, however, are not. Even the most understanding family and friends have times they don’t understand or don’t want to accept our reality. It’s easier to pretend it isn’t there or that we’re making it sound worse than it is. When this friction happens it turns the joy of Christmas into a less than holy event. A season that should bring us together in unity and love and worship of our Maker and the gift of His precious Son sent to rescue us and redeem us can instead tear us apart and leave us, and others, feeling hurt and misunderstood.
So how do we respond? What do we do? Do we stay in our self-made prisons and disappoint everyone? Do we refuse to live in a bubble (or upset a friend or relative) and go to every event while harboring bitterness and resentment in our hearts? Do we smile on the outside and stuff our tears deeper inside where there is no risk of them spilling out? Do we ignore the hurt feelings and the misunderstandings that occurred this Christmas season, thinking that it’s not worth making a fuss about? Do we let that little wedge of disunity into our relationships thinking that we can overlook it, that it doesn’t really matter, that we’ll get over it…
I say no! The Apostle Paul says no! “In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.” (Ephesians 4:1-3, MSG)
Paul was in a physical prison. Sometimes we feel as if we are in a prison as well – but we’re not. So I want to encourage all of us (myself included) to get out there and run on the road that God has called us to travel. We need to stop sitting on our hands and strolling off on some path to nowhere. We need to stop not doing anything and start doing the things that we are able to do. We need to stop worrying about the things we aren’t able to do and the things that we don’t have any control over. The Devil does a good job of getting us distracted from the road God has for us. He gets us arguing with each other and mad at ourselves for things that we can’t help. He encourages the blame game as we blame others for their insensitivity and ourselves for being so complicated and difficult. We can’t let the Devil win. We can’t give him the satisfaction of letting misunderstandings and squabbles and hurt feelings tear apart the unity that is the body of Christ.
We need to remember to love each other and, most importantly for our discussion here today, we need to be “alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.” If you have broken fences (misunderstandings, hurt feelings, lack of peace and love in a relationship) take note and seek to mend them quickly. We can’t let our pride, anger, frustration, or apathy keep us from seeking peace and reconciliation. We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us; He will. God’s desire is for us to be reconciled with Him and with each other. It’s why He sent His Son to this earth; it’s why we celebrate Christmas.
“All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and Him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with Himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what He is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ Himself now: Become friends with God; He’s already a friend with you.” -2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (MSG)