Are you caught up in the commercial hype of Christmas with its tinsel and glitter? Are you rushing around frantically with last-minute shopping, crossing off things from your ‘to do’ list, and becoming stressed? Has Christmas turned into the Coca Cola manufactured image of a white bearded man wearing a red suit – one that parents use to extract temporary ‘goodness’ from their children by telling them that Santa will only come if they are very, very good? Have too many of us forgotten what Christmas is really about?
Tony Robbins gave a talk at T.E.D.a few years ago in which he described the time his family had no money to buy food for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Although he was only eleven-years-old, Tony Robbins still remembers his awe and surprise when they discovered a hamper of food left on their doorstep.
However his father saw this act of charity as proof that he could not provide for his family and soon after, abandoned them. But Robins said to himself, “Someone I don’t know is looking out for us. Strangers care, therefore I am going to care about strangers.” By the time he turned seventeen, this event still had such emotional resonance for him that he saved up enough money to buy food hampers for two families in need at Christmas and left them on their doorsteps. Each year after that he saved more money and left more food hampers upon people’s doorsteps until finally he formed companies and a foundation to continue this work. In 2007 he delivered food hampers to 2 million people in 35 countries.
Traditionally, Christmas is a time for giving. If we run these two words together we get “forgiving” which was the message and gift Jesus gave to humankind when he showed us there was another way we could live our lives. Instead of living in fear where we seek an “eye for an eye” from those who have wronged us, we can walk the path of love that sets us free from the poison and bitterness of seeking revenge for the ways others have harmed us.
Caroline Myss points out in her book, Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason, that “forgiveness is not the act of releasing the aggressor, though it is usually interpreted this way. Nor is it a way of telling others that what they have done is ‘okay’ with you and ‘all is forgiven now.’” Ultimately, she writes, “forgiveness is a battle between the righteousness of your ego and your capacity to transcend whatever situation you’ve experienced that has shattered these myths that maintain suffering is deserving of recognition, reward, or righteous vengeance.”
I learned this one Christmas day, when a neighbour saw me walking back to my apartment and rushed over to me and said, “You are not spending Christmas alone are you?” When I said that I was and that I was okay with that, she insisted that I should not be alone and invited me to have dinner with her and her family. My stomach instantly went into a knot of fear and I hesitated with my reply. When she gave me a curious look I said that I was shy, but that I would face my fear and accept her kind invitation.
Inside my apartment I shook, cried, and wrung my hands together in anxiety. Fear of not fitting in was my predominant emotion, but it was a long-forgotten childhood fear that I never really belonged with any family because I did not like the ‘war’ and tension within my own home.
There was just enough time for me to go for a walk along the beach before Christmas dinner, and I went up to a seat on a hill and meditated about the rejection I felt when my mother abandoned me at thirteen (just before Christmas) and I never saw her again. To my surprise, when I opened my eyes and looked down along the beach, I saw myself walking with my mother, arms linked, she, barefoot…a wispy memory of the woman who had so badly, it seemed to me, wanted to be free. She was seventy, but an old seventy, and walked with a stick. I wondered if she had aged so much because she wasn’t able to release the burdens from her past. It seemed that her heart was heavy with grief. I watched us walk the length of the beach as tears of compassion flowed for her. I wondered if I could achieve the freedom that thwarted her and light the path to set our family free…of grief, of fear…of the loneliness that comes from abandonment.
I walked home and showered. The family welcomed me in for dinner and, to my surprise, I felt relatively relaxed and at ease in their company. Their grandmother was ninety-six and we talked about the beautiful island she had come from and they showed me photos. Later, as I was leaving, my neighbour’s daughter told me she was glad I had joined them for Christmas as it added something different to the day.
After I returned home, I realised that their gift to me was the opportunity to confront the pain of abandonment and rejection in my life and transcend it – not only by accepting their invitation, but by walking arm-in-arm with my mother along the beach, and understanding more fully her own childhood pain of abandonment. And within this was a gift of forgiveness.
So while you are wrapping Christmas presents this year, ponder this: Is there any resentment, bitterness, anger, or even hatred well concealed in your heart?
Perhaps the greatest gift we can give one another this Christmas is not something material, but the gift of forgiveness for past hurts. By placing our feet in the shoes of those we cannot forgive, we might even come to understand that they may have done us harm because harm was done to them, and they passed on the way they were harmed because they also struggle to find forgiveness in their hearts. You may have ruminated for years over this and the way others have harmed, shamed or humiliated you. But this Christmas stop to think about the harm you may have passed on to others. If you can say, “I choose to forgive rather than to create more harm,” you not only set yourself free from a feeling of powerlessness to change a situation, but also your self-pity and the role of ‘victim’.
May the spirit of Christmas fill your hearts with happiness this year while you celebrate a special time with family and friends.