Brokenness was not on the top of my Christmas list. The ornaments defining our family tree lay shattered. The ragged edges of devastation replaced the joyful, annual pandemonium of Christmas’ past.
My first Christmas alone wasn’t the first time sadness and depression capsized my heart. My dad’s death flat-lined the joy of the Christmas spirit. However, the unwelcome intrusion of the break-up of my family was the worst—or so I thought—until my son, Sgt. First Class Kristoffer Domeij, was killed in Afghanistan a couple of months before Christmas.
Heartbreak roared raw.
Befriend your brokenness. Mourning rendered my usual Christmas festivities empty, mechanical. I never wanted to celebrate the holiday ever again, much less embrace the holiday stress that was as much a tradition as the Christmas tree. Too overwhelmed, I endured one day at a time, sometimes times only an hour at a time. I lacked the emotional margin to embrace holiday havoc as a substitute to avoid the pain. In the Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen wrote: “. . . face it [brokenness] squarely and befriend it. This may seem quite unnatural. Our first, most spontaneous response to pain and suffering is to avoid it, keep it at arm’s length; to ignore, circumvent or deny it. The first step to healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it.” I acknowledged I needed to lean into the pain and process my mourning.
Cut the Crazy Out of Christmas. Just reading my holiday ‘it-must-be-perfect’ Christmas To-Do list—decorating, baking, hanging lights, gift giving, entertaining, religious observances—skyrocketed my stress. My brokenness forced me to accept my limits. My Christmas To-Do List could no longer handle the frazzled, frenzy of multi-tasking. I trimmed my expectations to one simple goal: to create a memory for my sons. And when my beloved firstborn was killed? To just breathe.
As a single mother, my limited emotional and financial resources drained my physical energy, compelling me to make peace with my “it-must-be-perfect” list. In my holidaze, I embraced im‘perfection’. I scoured everything off the “it-must-be-perfect-list.” I bought my sons what I could afford, not what I wished I could buy them. I put up a Christmas tree, but didn’t decorate the way I wished I could. I cooked a delicious, basic Christmas dinner, leaving out the smorgasbord of goodies I wished I could cook. All I wanted for Christmas? To be only broken enough to be the stable for my children—not the inn.
Finding Joy in Pain: Pain pillaged my first Christmases with my sons without their father. The financial hardship and emptiness of those lonely Christmases engulfed me in depression. I felt as helpless as that babe in a manger thrust into a cold, inhospitable world. Haunted by the spirit of Christmases past, I mourned the loss of our family’s meaningful rituals. What single parent has not experienced Mary’s feelings? Astonished, perplexed, afraid, anxious, and incredulous.
And the God of disguise and surprise came to reside right where I lived. The words of the real God, the warm God engaged my heart frozen by mourning right where I was—needy, helpless, despondent, weak, and angry. Emmanuel—God with us—wrapped me in His love and the true spirit of Christmas. On that first Christmas morning, the angels identified my feelings and infused me with hope: “They were terror-stricken, but the angel said, “Do not be afraid; I have good news for you: there is great joy coming . . .” Luke 2:10 (NEB).
I gave the free gifts only a broken heart can afford: To those whose choices and the unwanted circumstances that devastated me—forgiveness. To my children—my presence and all my love. To myself—grace. To the Christ child—embracing my brokenness and His. Brokenness was not the end of my story, but the place I must pass through to find home and the joy of His Christmas peace. When my firstborn was killed, the life and death of that babe born long ago gave my shattered heart hope for our joyful reunion in our eternal home in heaven.
Embrace a Fresh Understanding of the Christ Child: Why was the Christ child born? Just as warriors are wounded, broken, die, and sacrifice so we can live in peace, Christ’s purpose was also born to be wounded, broken, die, and sacrifice His life, so we can find inner peace and joy in this world and the next. Merry Broken Christmas.
Isaiah 53, MSG: Why Jesus was born…
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.
He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.
Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.
Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.