Relationships are among the most challenging and rewarding experiences of our lives on planet earth. And relationships can be particularly challenging especially during the holidays. Family relationships can be the hardest.
In today’s world, families are often composed of stepchildren, stepparents, step in-laws, half brothers and sisters, couples living together, gay couples, and out-of-wedlock children. One would think we would be used to the many variations of family these days, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. For those with religious ties, some of the family variations can be difficult to navigate. How do I accept people who are divorced, gay, or living together when my religious beliefs dictate otherwise? Toss in stepchildren, half-siblings, out-of-wedlock children, and the dynamic can be even more troubling. After all, it isn’t the children’s fault. What about families affected by in-fighting, grudges, refusals to speak to certain family members or even be in the same room with them much less share a time of togetherness around the dinner table? Any of these is a far cry from the Rockwell holiday picture many envision, isn’t it?
Whether familiar with Rockwell or not, most have a vision of the perfect holiday dancing in their heads. Families gathered ‘round the Christmas tree, enjoying a meal together, children happily playing on the floor, but sadly for most this isn’t the reality. When the reality falls short of the ideal we may feel like we have failed, depression may set in, and the approaching holidays leave us feeling anxious, overwhelmed and dreading planned festivities.
The Rockwell Christmas doesn’t exist. Even Rockwell didn’t live a Rockwellian life. For those who don’t know, Norman Rockwell was an American author, painter, and illustrator who is best known for his covers of the Saturday Evening Post magazine depicting family life in America; well, the illusion anyway. Rosie the Riveter, the iconic woman from the days of World War II was also created by Rockwell. But Norman did not live the life he created on canvas. Rockwell was married three times, suffered depression, and sought psychiatric treatment from the analyst Erik Erikson who is noted as telling Rockwell he painted his happiness but did not live it. Not unlike many of us except the preferred canvas in today’s world is Facebook.
Why do we compare holidays to an ideal few, if any, experience? The reason we celebrate Christmas at all is because of the first Christmas, the birth of the long-awaited Savior into a less-than-ideal family situation. The characters in the Biblical story of Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) birth were messy at best. A young woman defending her virginity in spite of the fact she was pregnant and her fiance who had a difficult time believing his betrothed was a pregnant virgin journeyed through the night back to their community of origin to be counted as part of a government-mandated census while the young woman was in labor only to find there was no room at the inn. The takeaway is in spite of the hardship, the young couple made it work. And, unto us a child was born; unto us, a Son was given (Isaiah 9:6)…..