December is here with all the stress of the approaching holiday. All through the year I think of December and reassure myself there's plenty of time to deal with all the extra work and concerns it brings. But now it is too late in the season to deny the reality of Christmas. Not that I really want to deny it - I love Christmas. There is a warmth and coziness in this season that no other time of year brings. Part of it is the warm-fuzzy of the holiday, part is the cold weather keeping us indoors and in each other's company, part is the long tradition of deep, nurturing love that my mother put into Christmas when I was a child - we might have lacked money, but there was no shortage of joy during the holidays. I have continued that tradition as an adult. I don't rely on the gifts for our Christmas happiness (though I do give and receive some presents) but on the meaning of Christmas itself with its bright flame of pure love, modeled in God becoming flesh in Jesus' birth and beginning to walk the path that would bring humanity to the realization that God is not far away, but is imminent: Emmanuel. God-with-us.
But even with all those wonderful, joy-inducing things, I guess I should confess that I have had a deep dread of the holiday since my divorce. There are so many memories wrapped up in Christmas as a family: putting up the tree with my ex-husband, buying a keepsake ornament each year (these are the ornaments it hurts me to hang up now), the tradition of listening to Christmas music as we decorated, the obligatory silly photo of the dog with a Santa hat on...these are memories that make me smile with tears in my eyes. But those memories aren't an accurate portrayal. The reality is that my ex thoroughly disliked Christmas. His job required him to decorate a huge space and put up half a dozen trees; by the time we got around to decorating the house he was exhausted and the very sight of an ornament made him angry. His participation in our family preparations was forced and it put both of us on edge. And of course there is the fact that he's an unbeliever and so Christmas felt like a slap in the face to him. We would find ourselves at odds over the secularism of the holiday and its religious connotations, and after a while those disagreements bled over into our everyday lives until the tension became unbearable. No one saw that, though. They only saw the decorated house, the happy kids, the smiling parents, the Christmas cookies and the gifts and the glowing lights.
I have been thinking about that a lot this year. On the surface everything about our lives together seemed ideal, but underneath - where currents run deepest and strongest - everything was wrong. I have spent a lot of time berating myself for ending my 18-year marriage and causing so much pain and readjustment for my former husband, myself, and for our two daughters. But for the past six months I have also begun to acknowledge what I could not see before - that the foundation of our union was weak, that we made a lifetime commitment when we were both too young to really understand the concept, that deep friendship is not enough to build your conjugal relationship on, and that there are some things I just can't fix.
Oh...I wonder if anyone knows how much it cost me to write those last six words? Or ultimately, how freeing it is to finally acknowledge? It is hard to say "I couldn't fix my marriage" because it means I'm not perfect. It means that if I ever enter into another commitment of that type, I may not be able to fix or make it work either. But it is also freeing to admit because then the responsibility for my marriage's demise is an equal burden between me and my former husband, and not one that I need to carry on my own. Or maybe...maybe my thinking there is wrong. What if there is no burden to share? What if I look at it in a whole new way? Then...
Our ending is just something that happened as the natural extension of two very different people finally maturing enough to express what they really wanted from a relationship, and discovering together that they couldn't find it with each other after all. Having the strength to admit that - to cut our losses and move on - was an act of courage rather than cowardice. Our relationship now is based on mutual kindness and forgiveness, and it is a thing of grace, peace, and redemptive power that our marriage should have achieved but could not.
I think this changes everything. It relieves the guilt and regret I've been carrying for so long. It acknowledges the personal power of choice that we both exercised - me when I left, and him when he decided not to come back into the relationship when we re-examined that possibility. It honors the inner authority and truth that I ignored for so long - that truth which told me there had to be more to love than just tolerance and silence and disengagement. And it quiets the external referencing that has kept me wondering whether I did "the right thing".
It is a grace-filled answer to many questions, and it brings with it reconciliation, redemption, and peace.