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Walking Our Faith: Peace, love and merry Christmas

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Walking Our Faith
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

Henri Nouwen wrote in his book “In the Name of Jesus”: “What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”

Saint Paul once spoke of a thorn in his side that he asked God to heal, and instead God asked Paul to bear the pain and continue to serve God through the pain. There have been many scholarly discussions over what a thorn in the side could have been, whether it was figurative or literal, whether it was a sign of depression or actual injury.

Yet, it doesn’t take a scholar to understand that in each of our lives, God gives us a burden, a scar, which for anyone else might be easy to overcome but for us becomes a reoccurring theme in our lives, a refining fire, an issue that comes up over and over until we somehow work through it to become the better person that God created us to be. At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.

The thing about Christmas is the bright lights can shine a spotlight on exactly the thing we most want to avoid during the season of joy. If we are single (I am), Christmas can highlight our lack of companionship. If we are struggling financially, the endless emails about holiday sales can make us believe our Christmas would be better if only we had more money. If we have money but no love, well, let the shopping spree commence.

Perhaps Nouwen was talking about power in the same way. When power is used by leaders or family members or coworkers to control rather than serve, it reflects weakness rather than strength.

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Jesus was not the Messiah that was expected by the people of his time. When they dreamed of Messiah, it was a man who would lead them to freedom and prosperity, a military ruler like David, a king with the wisdom of Solomon.

Instead, the Messiah was born to a young couple of modest means. He entered this world on a cold dark night, in the most vulnerable way possible: as an infant, totally dependent upon those of meager means to provide food, shelter and love.

Yet, it was more than enough. This poor child grew up not with aspirations to rule, but to heal, serve and most of all to love. Were his humble beginnings a sign that God can use the humblest circumstances to change the world? Did Jesus’ impoverished surroundings give him compassion to see the goodness inherent in everyone? To teach us that God’s love knows no bounds, costs nothing, can fill even the loneliest hearts?

I’ve been reading a book by Philip Yancey called “Soul Survivor.” He writes a chapter about each of the writers or historical figures who have formed his own faith. I eagerly first read the chapters about Annie Dillard and Nouwen, two of my favorite writers.

Yancey writes about how Nouwen’s personal struggles with intimacy and relationships within the confines of being a celibate priest filled his writing with longing and a yearning for communion with others. Perhaps this was his thorn in the side, the one that God chose not to release him.

This might have been the refining fire that brought Nouwen closer to God, and the intimacy that he shared in his writing might have helped countless others feel that they were not alone with their own feelings of isolation. My heart hurts for Nouwen, for the difficult choices he made, for the love he longed to share. I am grateful that he found consolation in a deeper relationship with God.

God’s provision is not always easy to see or understand in the moment. We might struggle with thorns that seem beyond our ability to bear. Yet, it is only when we surrender that we find relief and the strength we need to go forward.

From my own life, I can promise you that from the distance of years, this refinement was always the best gift. The infant’s birth we celebrate on Christmas day embodies that contradiction and that promise. When we are willing to allow ourselves to become vulnerable, to open our personal thorns to God, we make room for our hearts to be filled with God’s immeasurable love for us. It is when we are brought our knees that we notice the infant in the manger and discover that God’s love raises us to become our best selves.

There will be Christmas services all over Summit County from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. I hope you will find a place to join others and be filled with joy and love.

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com.

If you go

What: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, congregational signing of familiar Christmas carols
When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22
Where: Dillon Community Church, 371 E. La Bonte St.


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