Forest Lake Talks

A Message from Ellen 12-6-23

December 6, 2023

December 6, 2023

Dear Friends,

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I was talking with a friend who told me that she dreads the holidays because she has lost so many family members. She was grieving, and rightfully so. But then she said something like, “Everyone else has family to gather with at Thanksgiving. I feel like I am the only one who doesn’t have their family to eat with.”

As gently as I could, I told my friend that this was simply not true. That “everyone but me” line is a lie. It might be a lovely, pink-tinged, Hallmark card lie, but it is still a lie. Being aware of the conversations we have with ourselves is an important faith discipline. All of us have “audio (or video!) tapes that play in our heads this time of year. And perhaps this is a confession, but many of those tapes are self-justifying or about how others have what I want. Sometimes we have to call that tape a liar!

It is true that many of us have empty chairs at family gatherings. It is true that some families have so much pain or suffering in their history that getting together is just hard. And it is true that some of our families are so conflicted and divided that sitting together for a meal or gathering for a celebration is more of an opportunity for an anxiety attack than it is a Hallmark photo opportunity! We don’t have what we want, and sometimes we don’t have what we need. Life is not easy this side of Heaven.

But Jesus came and proclaimed “peace.” We call Jesus the Prince of Peace. Do you think he just got it wrong? I don’t see much peace breaking out around the world. And I know lots of people for whom celebrating the holidays can be painful.

It helps me to remember that Jesus grew up in a land that was occupied by a foreign army. He was rejected by his own people and betrayed by his best friends. I think that the peace that Jesus proclaimed and gives, has nothing to do with soft lights, lots of food, political agreement, or picture-perfect families. I think that the peace that Jesus offers is a peace “that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I believe that Christian peace is a peace that exists in the middle of occupying armies, stress, grief, anxiety, and suffering.

To receive the peace of Christ is not a miracle as much as it is a decision, a spiritual practice, and a prayer request. When that “everyone but me” tape starts to play in our heads, we need to stop and call that voice “the Liar!” We are to look up and around and find those who are in need and help them. And then, we are to begin to pray and to ask God for that peace that will keep us level in the middle of uneven ground, kind in the middle of hate, and thankful in the context of loss. Next time that voice begins to sing the song of “the greeting card lie”, stop and begin a prayer of thanks to God for what we do have. Then, ask God for the gift of peace. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called” (Colossians 3:15).

Holy Advent,

Ellen Fowler Skidmore

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