The holidays provide a precious opportunity for family members to come together and enjoy each other. But family time can also feel like a challenge to our peace. Extra cleaning and food preparation, different schedules to coordinate, disparate temperaments of individuals and the historical dynamics of how the group relates can raise the question of whether gathering as a family can really celebrate the coming of Christ. Can it honor the birth of Christ Jesus and his message of peace, or must it produce ramped up busyness, false expectations, and increased tension?
Over the years, I have learned one thing repeatedly about how to have peace-filled family time, and interestingly enough it is what I think of as the very message of Christmas: that God is the origin of us all, our Father-Mother; that all of His-Her thoughts are communicated directly to us; and that all of us have our relation to one another in God as the offspring of the same divine Parent. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper and Christian Science, so eloquently states this message: “I celebrate Christmas with my soul, my spiritual sense, and so commemorate the entrance into human understanding of the Christ conceived of Spirit, of God and not of a woman – as the birth of Truth, the dawn of divine Love breaking upon the gloom of matter and evil with the glory of infinite being“ (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 262).
The flip side of this message is that if we consider ourselves to be the source of life or good for others, the source of well-being and happiness, there will be some degree of tension, fear, inadequacy, disappointment, and inharmony as we try to fulfill that mistaken role. None of us was made to be the source or origin, because just as there can be only one God, there can be only one origin, one source of life and good. We can reflect good and express divinely good qualities with one another, but we cannot be the source of them.
I had a particularly pointed lesson along these lines one Christmas. Our family of five did not feel particularly close when our children spread into three different levels of schooling. We had decided that it might help to devote a day during the holidays to being just with each other – no extra friends or extended family members – just the five of us. In preparation for this day, I planned and made provisions for what I thought might help us come together quickly, laying a fire in the fireplace, getting a new puzzle to put together, baking cookies, planning a meal, and getting out a list of possible movies that we might enjoy seeing. The day started out pretty well as everyone enjoyed staying in their pajamas, eating a good meal, and doing the puzzle around the fire. But when it came time to picking a movie, there was dissension about what, where, and when. I stepped in to facilitate a consensus, and we did finally rush to get to a movie that none of us felt excited about seeing. By this time, I was struggling with a crushing headache. I realized the flaw in my well-laid plan for family joy was that I had based it on my being the point person – that I was the person responsible for drawing this family together, to help everyone get along, and make everyone happy.
I stepped aside from the ticket line to pray for a few moments. What came to me was a very forceful thought – an idea that seemed to come from God: “You are not an intermediary, a medium from Me to My children. I am caring for each one of you directly and relating all of you harmoniously, and you can feel only the peace and joy of My care.” Humbled, I felt a huge burden of false responsibility lift off my shoulders. The tension and pain drained away in moments, and I was able to go back to the line with my family. As it turned out, we all enjoyed the movie very much, and the rest of the evening was even more enjoyable as we played a game together and ate some of those cookies around the fire.
Later that night, before I went to bed, I wanted to pause and drink in the lesson I had learned that day. I realized that this was not a one-off situation, but I had been picking up a script of motherhood for years that, while well intentioned, had falsely made me try to be the buffer for family relations. I thought deeply about the spiritual fact that God is the direct source of good for all of His offspring. The Bible tells us, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever” (Romans 11:36).
As we understand that we have no other source but God, divine good, and put that understanding into practice – refusing to believe that we are the source of good – our family times can not only be peaceful at Christmastime, but can be an illustration of the Christmas message: that God is our sole creator, forever with us, governing us, and expressing in each of us God’s harmony and peace. God is the origin of harmony for all of Her ideas – the unchanging Immanuel, God with us.