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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Power of Suffering

The Hardships of Christmas

For many people who celebrate Christmas, it is not always the joyous time depicted in movies and advertising.  Many struggle through the holidays instead, for a variety of reasons.  Some face the holiday with grief as they approach their first Christmas without a loved one who passed away this year.  Perhaps a family member has been taken to prison, or a child removed from a home, and that absence creates intense emotion at this time of year.  Others see in the Christmas all the things they are no able to provide, or all the family who is ashamed of them or wants nothing to do with them.  Perhaps worst of all is the suffering of those who will go to sleep Christmas Eve hungry, on the verge of starvation, sleeping not in a bed but wherever they can find to rest their heads because they have no home, some of whom are suffering as innocents from the ravages of war.

There are a lot of reasons people struggle at Christmas, and one of them is due to the aftermath of divorce.   Traditions are suddenly undone or shattered as schedules have to be disrupted and adapted for children trying to celebrate Christmas with each of their parents, whom they love.  Even faith can be tested as one who had hoped God would spare them the agony of divorce, instead find themselves alone and forsaken by their spouses.   

All the pain, heartache, disappointment…suffering…just doesn’t seem to fit as appropriate t he celebration of Jesus’s birth.  Or does it?

A thoughtful reflection on the Nativity Story leads one not only to a Baby in a manger adored by shepherds and magi.  

It also contains a young couple weary from a long and inconvenient journey, forced to accept shabby housing in lieu of space in an inn.  

The story includes a king filled with jealousy and hatred, who responded only in anger when he feels threatened by a newborn king.  

Nativity includes the wailing of the parents in Bethlehem, whose children are slaughtered by soldiers commanded to destroy any chance of a usurper of the throne by their jealous and maniacal king.  

As if the young couple had not struggled enough, they were forced to flee as refugee immigrants to the land of Egypt, lest their child be caught up in the wholesale slaughter of children in Bethlehem.  

Christmas is not only about angels singing, it is also bound up with the story of human suffering.  

Sadly, this same story continues to our day in many places around our world, who are under the rule of tyrants and assassins.  As well as the countries whose rulers are nicely dressed and comfortably housed intent on enriching their own treasuries and indifferent to the struggles of those who live there.  

In fact, the central theme of the Nativity Story is specifically the suffering of the world, the suffering humans and creation have experienced in the slavery brought on by sinful attitudes, attitudes and hearts.  So maybe if Christmas is difficult for you this year, perhaps you are actually closer to the heart of Christmas than you realize.

If that is you, though I don’t normally recommend books I have not yet read, I would offer suggestion of a book I just received from a friend as a Christmas gift. It is a book he and I have discussed several times, and from which he has shared some meaningful insights:  Glorious Ruin—How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian.  Or consider the classic (which I HAVE read) The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.  

In a world that seeks to escape suffering whenever possible, it is important to remember that some of the inescapable sufferings bring the most meaningful learnings.  I would remind you, in whatever kind of celebration you have for Christmas, that suffering was at the core of the original Christmas:  it was only through the hardships of travel that the Messiah fulfilled prophecy in his Bethlehem birth, and it was only through the intense pain and travail of labor, that the Messiah entered the world to bring salvation to all who would believe.  

Don’t give up just because you are facing suffering or hardship, for you might miss something powerful just beyond the next bend.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Surviving the Post Divorce Single Parent Holiday


Holiday season is here again.  Funny how so many cluster around the same time of year...Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa….am I missing anything?    I have missed getting a few blogs up, for lots of reasons, but one of the main ones has been all the comings and goings related to the holidays.  Of all the times of year, I think this holiday season is the time when the impact of divorce is most keenly felt.

It is rather ironic that individuals in troubled marriages sometimes think that if they only get a divorce, it will solve all their problems, but afterwards discover that divorce often causes more problems than it solves. 

Mind if I illustrate, for those who haven’t been there and might not believe me?

Let’s use Christmas to illustrate.  Let’s assume there are children involved, with grandparents still living.  Let’s also assume that one of the parents is remarried.  Some families celebrate on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas Day, and some do special things in both times…which is my way of doing things.  Children are generally raised with one tradition or the other.  I have always kind of mixed my preferences.  I like to go to Christmas Eve services and do some fun things on Christmas Eve, but prefer to have a holiday dinner on Christmas Day.  

Then, when a divorce comes, the schedule changes.  Which house will the kids be at for Christmas, which for Christmas Eve?  Or will it all be at one place and the other parent need to celebrate on the weekend instead?  How does that impact the schedule for new children the couple might have…do those children have to miss special holiday traditions for the sake of a divorce induced schedule?  If all that works this year, what about next year…do you take turns?  Do you end up focusing on one time or the other?  Do you forego ever seeing your children on Christmas if you accept that Christmas Eve is the only time you have with them?  

Then, factor in the grandparents, supposing the divorced parent is one of several children.  Grandparents sometimes suffer much in a divorce:  not only do they see their beloved child suffering due to the heartaches of divorce, but they also experience a loss of opportunities to spend time with their grandchildren.  If their is to be a united family holiday then all the members, the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins must now orient the holiday celebrations around a shared custody schedule, which may change from year to year, and accept that the traditions of the past may not be possible.  

And then there are the gifts.  Is it possible to coordinate those, too?  

If every one knows little Johnny needs a new bike, who buys it?  The parent whose house he is at the most, or the other parent?  Does he take it back and forth, or have one at each place?  If you bought a really nice one, are you able to handle that he takes it to the other parent’s home when he returns, and you may never get to see him enjoy it?  Worse yet, what if you buy one, and the other parent decides to one up you by purchasing a fancier one, just to make Johnny think he is more loved there?  (It DOES happen!)  In addition, sometimes a parent will phrase things in such a way it turns the child against the other parent, which impacts relationships with grandparents as well.  It is just a messy situation all the way around.  

In addition, you may find Christmas difficult, because you are still paying on attorney fees, or because you are now attempting to manage a household on half the income, since your partner has left.  As you decorate for the holidays, you may run across ornaments or other decorations that bring tears to your eyes as you are flooded with memories that once were sweet but now taste bitter.  It may be that places you visit for the holidays create the same kind of mixed emotions.

Christmas is but one holiday.  Every interaction becomes complicated. 

One difficulty many single parents face is the fact that the divorced parents hold a different set of values and parenting styles.  As a result, there is not the unity of discipline that is so essential for good parenting.  The children of divorce are well aware of this.  

How many single parents hear, “I don’t have to make my bed at dad’s house!  Mom lets me stay up later than 9:00.  I don’t have to put up with not being allowed to play video games, I’m going to my dad’s house!”  

Or the most troubling words a parent might hear, “I want to move over to the other house.”

These are a few of the “solutions” that come with a divorce.  They are the kinds of stresses many divorced individuals have to deal with on a daily basis.  So, especially in this time of year, a few words of encouragement and support might be just the thing to lift the load for a struggling friend. 

If you are one who is in the midst of these struggles, realize that you are not alone…many of us understand what you are going through and how difficult it is.  Even in the midst of these heartaches, it is a good thing to recall the name celebrated of Jesus at this time of year:  Immanuel---God is with us!