Saturday, December 23, 2017

My worst Christmas ever and how God redeemed it

2004 was a weirdly hope-filled, growing, expanding year for me in the most part, but there were still elements of hangover from the previous year. Overall, the year was a solid eight-out-of-ten. It was the year I heard God call me out of secular-life-for-me into ministry-for-Him. It was also a year where I grew so much as a father into the new life my family was thrust into.
But the days of December 24th – 26th I encountered a new rock bottom.
Now you have to understand that, at this stage of my life, rock bottom experiences were neither unusual nor uncommon. Grief had defined and punctuated much of the previous fifteen months — even despite the joy and hope that I received from church and my relationship with Christ.
December 24th, 2004 was a long day — you know one of those days when you’re incredibly expectant that God is going to move. The day felt like two or three days, and the Christmas service at church was to end that day. This day my expectations proved to be grounded in a ridiculously false hope. I was crushed. I ended the day in the upstairs portion of the church beside myself in grief, awash in tears, watching below as people gradually left after the service; I was angry with myself, with certain others, and not least with God. Because I was in church leadership, and I had access to the building, and I kept quiet enough, I waited until everyone had gone and then I left the building — when it was pitch black. I felt humiliated — a fool.
That Christmas Eve night I did not sleep well. I was haunted by a particular theology that divorced Christian men and women often wrestle with.
Christmas morning is something I’ll never forget. My girls and I opened our presents together on a foreshore section of our nearby beach. However joyous they were did not help my mind, which was contorted in many machinations made up by the enemy of attack. I felt like a loser and my mind resembled a mush of hopeless and unhelpful loops organised against me.
Enter the worst hours of all. My daughters returned to their mother, I spent a couple of hours roaming as if dazed under the blazing Australian sun, walking alone, on and near a beach that was completely bereft of human presence.
Until two Jehovah’s Witnesses met me along the path.
It is the queerest thing that God has so often done over my walk with Him — He uses the most unlikely of people to help. The two JW’s asked if I was okay… I said, not! They pastorally cared for me the best they could, quickly discerning that my conundrum lay in the theology of remarriage. They showed me Scriptures that I had long pored through — they gave me some stated hope that I could marry again. But this was only the beginning of the enigma I faced. In truth, this aspect of was only a part of the overall paradox that was my overall lived experience at the time.
I drove home and spent the afternoon alone. Outside for a while, then I slept for a long time.
Alone on Christmas day, I am unsure if there is any conscious experience that could be worse.
I had decided within one day that I was leaving the church that had so embraced me — such was the extent of the humiliation I felt. Yet it was totally my own doing. I was spiritually exhausted.
One of the elders in the church, a mentor of mine, called at the end of the day. Within a short time, he had convinced me not to leave the church, and the following morning my redemption was complete when my pastor breathed fresh life into my eventual false hope — but not being ready to let go of that forlorn hope, I am convinced, even today, it was right for him to do this. In smiling and saying one simple thing, I heard acceptance and hope, both what my soul craved.
Within the space of 48 hours I experienced the ecstasy of an exhilarating expectation, despair when those faint hopes were dashed, and God’s redemption at the kindness and care of my brothers in Christ.
It could be our worst Christmas, but there is always hope of God’s redeeming us. And if it is the worst Christmas, hold out hope for good Christmases for they are sure to return.
Make a home in your heart for hope to grow for when despair strikes its ruthless blow. When hope is home, hope is ready.

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