Home for Christmas, more than warm sentiment
The mere thought of spending extended time with my parents at Christmas surfaces mixed emotions in me. In many ways, I do look forward to being with them, but sometimes I feel nervous about relating to and spending time with the two who are most familiar with me.
Of all the people in the world, you’d think I would be eager to be close to my parents because I have the longest history with them. Nevertheless, sometimes the anxiety seems inevitable. After being with them for an extended time, I can grow weary and tired of relating to them. It feels more like an effort and can, at times, be monotonous. It can drain me.
Even before being in their presence, my memories can dredge up awkward feelings, causing me to relive past hurts, long buried. Memories long imbedded. In a matter of days, I can even find myself trapped in old patterns of relational dysfunction. Repeating the same arguments from way back when. Those old grooves are all too easy to fall back into.
It can feel like the contrast of all contrasts. My journey to Christmas with parents comes after years of making an identity for myself away from home. No wonder I go through such a culture shock when I transition back to life with them.
My life away from parents
My life away from my parents and their habitat is utterly different. I am surrounded by idealism, social energy, and experience seekers. Most of the people I relate to still have much of their life ahead of them.
I gravitate towards those who get me, and I them. I choose my friends, those I can relate to best and with whom I share mutual support. Choosing my friends is something I can partly control, and it happens without much effort. My friends can relate to me and I to them. With some tact I can avoid those who irk me, disagree with me, or are hard to relate to. Others do the same with me.
I have total freedom to determine who I invest my time with and for how long. I have no shortage of social opportunities and have freedom to schedule my social life. Meeting with friends for good conversation doesn’t grow old or take a lot of patience for me. In fact, given my busy life, I usually find I never have enough time with them.
I am plugged in and engaged to a vibrant church and P2C culture. With these friends I am learning to be more transparent about my sins and weaknesses, learning to receive their prayers, accepting forgiveness, and love. With them I am learning how to live in the gospel and in turn how to serve others more lovingly, humanly, and humbly.
These are the special places and these are the special people that are helping me grow spiritually. I have been humbled to experience their friendship, see endless prayers answered, and see God humble and transform our hearts.
In these habitats I am personally experiencing the transformation of the gospel in increasing measure. But I strongly desire that my parents can also experience Jesus and community like I do I. And yet they haven’t experienced the gospel or embraced it quite the way I have.
This discrepancy can surface some tension when we relate to one another. This is why I find myself longing to have some connection with my spiritual community while spending Christmas with my family, wishing somehow they could overlap.
Re-entering my parent’s habitat
Even now, while preparing mentally and emotionally to be with my parents, I find myself in an somewhat of an identity crisis, feeling a little strange about who I am. Being with them makes me face the old me. An older version of me I don’t want to revert back to, kind of like an obsolete and dysfunctional operating system.
I prefer to leave that part of my life behind. It reminds me of a time I felt more restricted, less purposeful, and my existence non-eventful. Why am I going to meet them? If I am honest, partly out of obligation, partly because there would be an emptiness if I didn’t see them at Christmas, and partly because I’m drawn to the warmth of dreams of what my relationship to my parents could be.
Every time I greet my parents I have this profound sense that I am not the same person that left their home. As I assimilate back into living with my parent’s I feel somewhat like a misfit, and awkward emotions follow. I get bored of their same old topics and conversations, sometimes stereotyping and judging others. I find myself cringing at some of their opinions.
I find myself questioning what they say and hold them suspect. Then again, I suspect they may feel the same about me. I have opened myself to new ways of thinking and living that my parents didn’t experience or offer me, for better or worse, or just different.
Sometimes my perspective and opinions differ greatly from what my parents taught me. Although I am assured my parents love me, I still get the vibe that I am expected to be, in their eyes, their small compliant and obedient child. They seem to feel uncomfortable with my opinions, hesitant to even listen to the way I see things. I hesitate sharing. I put up my guard.
My parents sometimes do express their concerns or skepticism towards my different ideas and lifestyle. This causes some tension in our relationship. I can see how I make my parents feel nervous and anxious at times. But then again, I can’t presume that the new improved me is superior to them either. I am in just as much danger of stereotyping and judging them, thinking I am superior.
Over the years I have found this annual homecoming experience to be one of the most haunting experiences in my life. How is it that I can feel so out of place in my own family, in the very home I grew up in? Why do I have such a hard time extending grace to my parents? Why don’t I fit in? Why do I struggle with this cultural shift every time? Why is it so haunting?
My place remembers me no more
Recently, God has been revealing to me that he is using my unmet longings for my ideal home to humble me, help me relate to my parents in grace, and give me hope for my future family and home with Jesus. My annual pilgrimage back to my parents helps me remember that my strong longings for perfect family connection will never be fully realized in this life.
Jesus is my ultimate home.
Jesus is the ultimate home my parents could never give me. More than that, he is the ultimate home I can never establish on my own. He has a much better family and home life in store for me, but that will only be fully realized when I see him face to face.
Could it be that Jesus is using my transition back to my parents to strip away all my efforts to establish my identity in the world at large? Could he be using it to ground me, to find once again that my worth is not in my past history, what I accomplish, what ambition and drive I have, even if for such a good cause?
Perhaps God uses moments like this to shake up my life during the festive season so that I can step away from what I think I have earned, and away from the image I am making for myself. My identity on my own is not my ultimate identity. It humbles me to remember my roots, that I am deeply flawed, undeserving, and still very much powerless to change myself, my family, and my world.
Jesus had parent issues
When I ponder what Jesus had to give up so that I could find my true parent, my true home, I am humbled. It was a painful journey he had to go through. How estranged must Jesus have felt from both his earthly home and his heavenly one?
I can certainly get a sense of how Jesus felt estranged from his earthly parents. The few accounts we have of their interaction with Jesus, they seem to totally misunderstand him. Whether losing him at the temple because he was on his Father’s business, or when he initially refused his mother Mary’s request to turn the water into wine.
But I cannot imagine the magnitude of what it might be like for him to be estranged from his heavenly Father. On the cross, he absorbed all of our human family’s sin and lost his place before God, the perfect parent, and with it was shut out of his eternal home. His place remembered him no more.
When God turned his back on Jesus on the cross, the door to his ultimate home was slammed shut. He was banished, his sonship stripped and taken away. His place in heaven as God’s son was no more. The perfect parent-child relationship severed.
Why? Partly so that I could become a child of God, the perfect parent.
Because Jesus was estranged from his earthly parents, and his father in heaven, God opened the door of his eternal home to me. God is the perfect parent I can come home to this Christmas, my truest home. This is the home that I desperately need to go to for Christmas. If I don’t, I will be disappointed and frustrated putting my great longings and expectations onto my earthly parents.
I do thank God for my parents and all they have sacrificed for me. But I have to acknowledge that they are not my ultimate parent, but only point toward my true parent. My heart looks to Jesus, finding hope in his presence and promise that he is preparing me for God himself, my true parent, and also my eternal family and home.
The ultimate home I am looking for is in God, not my earthly family. I am not to expect my family to meet my deepest needs for home. I cannot blame my parents for their failures to meet those needs. Only Jesus can meet all my needs for home. Jesus promised that he is preparing me a home. Not just a physical structure, but a complete place for me to belong completely, forever. There I can have the perfect relationship with my heavenly father, forever.