By Jack Smith
Some say the holidays are hard because we expect too much. We hope for Norman Rockwell and end up with Clark Griswold.
We cook too much. We clean too much. We shop too much. We spend too much. We drink too much, eat too much and expect too much.
Those things are probably true. But my guess is what makes the holidays hard for some of us is we carry too much weight into the season of giving. And it's exhausting.
We carry our burdens and resentments, our hurts and disappointments that have accumulated in our hearts and minds. We carry our failures and our bitterness, our pain and our anxiety about what the future may hold.
With the end of the year approaching, it feels like dragging an anvil across a finish line we can't really even see.
Only dragging our hurts to the New Year doesn't make any of those problems go away. It can even make us feel worse when Auld Lang Syne has been sung, the confetti has fallen and the last drink of the year has been consumed. Because none of those traditions solve our problems.
Holidays are hard for those who've lost loved ones, too. Loss is not easy on a Tuesday in February, either, but when those who were a part of our holiday portraits are suddenly wiped off the canvas, those holiday traditions we cherish are never quite the same. They even hurt for a while.
Holidays are hard for those who've lost a job, gotten a divorce or been diagnosed with an illness. I suspect the holidays are hard for them because peace is elusive even though they know the Prince of Peace is on His way. We know that should make us feel better. When it doesn't, it only makes us feel worse.
Holidays are hard for recovering alcoholics because once deer season ends, cocktail season begins. We fool ourselves into thinking a glass of wine or three always made it all easier, even though it really never did.
Holidays are hard for alcoholics because nearly everything about the holidays revolves around alcohol. Those early in sobriety even feel a sense of self pity, wondering why we can't have a drink like everybody else.
Holidays are also hard for those of us who are utterly incapable of being the recipients of kindness, gifts or grace without feeling guilt or the need to give back in equal measure that which we receive.
John Wesley, father of Methodism, had something to say about this. "Nothing is harder for capable people at Christmas than to simply come and receive."
This year, I'm hoping to change where I am going. As a friend told me about a sermon he heard Sunday, isn't that what the Magi did?
It's one of the more profound parts of the Christmas story. Manger scenes remind us they made it to the babe, but we often forget they had to change directions when they left to go home. They went home a different way, but they were forever changed.
I'm hoping to go home a different way, to leave 2013 behind me as a changed man. That would be the greatest gift of all.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.