The following guest post is part of a series called When Christmas is Hard, which explores unique challenges and heartaches of the holiday season.
Growing up in a family in ministry had its rewards, and its challenges. My Dad directed the choir and my Mom played organ, so they worked every Sunday, and always on Christmas.
They worked for several churches over the years including the Catholic church, which paid well but also required the most time, with multiple times for mass every weekend. A challenging time commitment indeed for the family of the worship leaders.
I remember singing for church services with my family from a young age and have been singing my whole life. I find great joy in singing and performing but struggled to balance my feelings, especially at Christmas.
While I loved Christmas eve services and singing by candlelight, I longed for the opportunity to simply be together on Christmas without all the fuss. My parents worked regular jobs as well so there were hardly ever days off in my family.
I understood this was a source of income for my parents so I couldn’t complain about the time investment. But oh, to not have to go anywhere on Christmas morning…this was a dream for most of my childhood.Oh, to not have to go anywhere on Christmas morning…this was a dream for most of my childhood. Click To Tweet
At the same time, I loved Jesus, even as a little girl, and something within me has always longed to serve in the church through worship. Now, as an adult having served in church ministry myself, I know it can be both rewarding and taxing, fulfilling and draining.
There is a delicate line between a calling and an over-commitment. Many of those in ministry get burned out or have to learn to find balance.
When I reached my teen years, I was old enough to stay home with my brothers and not attend all the services. When my parents worked for the Catholic church, my brothers and I would go to church down the street where some friends went.
Only attending one service on Christmas Eve definitely lifted a burden. Except, it didn’t lift the one that really mattered.
My parents started a tradition of making seafood chowder on Christmas Eve, a quick meal they could leave on the stove. They would come home between services and we would eat our chowder together.
My Dad would tell the story of the early church represented by the Ichthus fish and remind us of the importance of being disciples and having good attitudes about “sacrifice”. We got to open our presents to each other.
My mom always baked lots of yummy treats and we did have fun together. Then my parents would head off to midnight mass and we knew that when Santa came to our house, he brought stocking gifts that we were allowed to open whenever we woke up.
Santa never brought “big gifts” to our house, and that was ok because our gifts to each other felt more genuine anyway. My parents were in and out on Christmas morning, coming home between services. I always hoped for more meaningful time together, but things remained that way until I got married.
A difficult decision
My husband’s parents lived 500 miles away and when we got married we made a decision (since we are teachers and have two weeks off) that we would visit his parents at Christmas and in the summer.
When we had our first son, my parents did not like this decision. We tried to compromise with celebrating Christmas with them closer to New Year’s weekend, but they never seemed to accept that.
They carried a lot of resentment over us not being in town on Christmas day even though I explained I wanted to be in one place for Christmas. It was best for our family and the other grandparents aren’t local and have to miss birthdays and concerts, etc.
Unfortunately, this continued to be an issue even beyond the death of my Father-in-law and remains an issue every year. This year my family is not in communication with my extended family and will be celebrating Christmas at home.
Setting healthy boundaries
I am sad about the disconnection, although I’m proud of myself for setting healthy boundaries so I can heal.I am sad that certain things have become an issue worth disconnecting over, although this is mostly me setting healthy boundaries so I can heal. Click To Tweet
My childhood memories of Christmas feel a lot like glimmers of light in the darkness, because I knew Jesus was there with me through some dark times. With the decision to be away from my extended family this year, I am sad, and also at PEACE. I still cling to Jesus, who was born to be “God with us”, not just at Christmas, but EVERY day.
He is the one helping me heal. He is the one who makes all things new. He is the one in whom I place my hope. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
Christmas is still hard, but I also know when I cling to Jesus and “turn on the light”, it is going to be OK, as I take it one moment at a time.
For more of Shelley’s writing, visit her at: The Amateur Acorn.