Growing up in a minister’s family was a blessing in so many ways. In a time when so many families were beginning to sit down for dinner in front of the television every night, ours still met at the table where we would discuss the adventures, blessings, and misfortunes of our day apart. In a time when many parents were beginning to believe that they should allow their young children to make the decision about whether or not to attend church by themselves, my mother still got us up for Sunday School every week, rain or shine. In a time when even Christians were beginning to think it strange for a family to read the Bible together (I mean…who does that???), my father and mother still sat down and prayed with us and for us, and helped us to understand the lessons in the scriptures. No matter how late the football games went on Saturday night, or how early the Kansas City Chiefs started playing on Sunday, we were faithfully at church praying, worshipping, and giving thanks for all that God had done in our lives the previous week, and all that we knew that God would be doing in the week to come. Yes, growing up in a pastor’s family was truly a blessing in so many ways!
Of course, as is true with almost anything, growing up in a minister’s family also had its struggles, even outside of the threat that we would move to a new town, home, and school every year. There were times that it seemed as if Dad was always up at the church, at some meeting or another, even after he had been up at the church all day for his regular workday. But perhaps the most difficult time of year for us was the holiday season. In addition to all of the regular meetings, there would inevitably be extra, seasonal holiday activities that would require participation and planning on the part of my parents. Combine that with the ever increasing number of Sunday School and Bible Study Christmas parties that they (and sometimes we) were required to attend and if we were not careful, the entire Christmas season would go by without any of us having hardly spoken two words to one another.
I remember one Christmas Eve, just after the last Christmas Eve service had concluded. (You see, at this time, my father was serving a large church, which held two regular Christmas Eve services, one at 5:00 pm, and one at 7:00 pm and a youth led candlelight service at midnight.) Most years, we would hurry home and try to eat dinner between the 7:00 service and the midnight service, sometimes without Dad being able to join us for one reason or another. But this year, after we all returned home from the midnight service, we each collapsed, one by one, in the living room…right in front of the Christmas tree. I remember it so well because we were all so tired, that no one even bothered to turn on the lamps in the room, so the only light available was the light from the lights that encircled the tree. It was in that moment that tradition began that would become a blessing for years to come. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, in the very midst of being pulled what seemed to us like one hundred different directions all at the same time…we began to talk.
We talked about the service, about school, about life, about the funny lady in the choir who wore a different Christmas sweater every year. We talked about Christmas’ past, we talked about being excited to see our extended family the following morning. We talked of my parents’ memories of Christmas’ when they were young, and we talked about God and how easily our family had lost sight of Him, even in the midst of the very season that we had all worked so hard to help our church family to find ways to remember Him. It was right there in the middle of our living room, sitting in the dim light of the Christmas tree with some of my Mother’s famous hot chocolate in my hands that I was able to reconnect with God, through my family for what seemed like the first time in a long time. For years after that moment, any time that someone in my family felt as if things were getting too busy, that we were all becoming too disconnected as we lived out our own separate lives, that person would yell “Christmas Moment!!!” at the top of their lungs. Each of us would drop what we were doing, sit down in the living room, and talk.
No matter where life has taken you, no matter the stress, struggle, or success of the past year. No matter how far away you find yourself from your family or from living as the person that God has called you to be. No matter how lost, confused, or alone you may feel, you can make a decision this year to take a different course. It is never too late for a Christmas moment.
Dr. Matthew B. Scraper