Don’t Let Facebook Fraud or the Ghost of Christmas Past Steal Your Present
I have a confession to make: last month I committed Facebook fraud. After Parents’ Weekend at my son’s college I posted a smiling family photo with this caption: Ate greasy fried chicken, played late night basketball, football, ping pong and pool, watched the Tide roll (sorta), hung out with Mac’s new friends and finished the weekend with church and doughnuts. Excellent Harris family weekend. Clearly I am implying we had a weekend full of Kodak moments. But the minute I hit “post” I felt like a big liar, because in fact I didn’t mention a huge fight, some choice words and one sleepless night where I wondered if all four of us had gone to hell in a handbasket- and if it was all my fault. I don’t believe Facebook is the place for airing personal issues, but I realized I had curated the post to create an impression. I wondered if any other Parents’ Weekend Facebook posts failed to tell the whole story, as mine did.
You see, I live my life with a powerful delusion: I believe that YOUR family has it all together. Your children are always obedient and grateful- they make their beds without being asked and thank you for the privilege of mowing such a nice lawn. Your spouse listens well, supports without reservation, and knows instinctively when you need a backrub. Your (healthy) parents are living the AARP dream; your siblings married people you enjoy and are raising children you love almost as much as your own. Your Thanksgiving will be marked with overflowing gratitude, fabulous centerpieces and flawless homemade everything (your kids actually eat cranberry sauce). Your Christmas will be celebrated serving cheerfully together at a homeless shelter before you all board a plane for Hawaii on the 26th. MY family, on the other hand…
Intellectually I can appreciate that none of that is true. Every family has problems; the Hallmark holiday doesn’t exist. Why then, do I convince myself that everyone else has more/better/easier/happier fill in the blank than I do? How do I get so focused on what I don’t have that I lose sight of what I do have?
There is another trap, what today’s Sunday School lesson referred to as “the myth of nostalgia,” i.e. thinking the “good old days” were so much better than present. Who among us hasn’t mourned at least a little over the holidays, wishing for people who are no longer here, or wishing that our kids were little again, or wishing that we had kids at all. The past tends to take on a rosy glow that doesn’t really match reality. In the Bible, the Israelites in the desert long to go back to Egypt- where they were SLAVES- because in the desert they don’t have meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, onions, garlic… Daily they receive the miraculous manna, and yet they are not only not thankful, they “despise the Lord” for what He has provided. (Numbers 11:20).
Please hear me: I am not saying that we ought not mourn people we love or seasons of life that have passed- not at all. Pretending everything is “fine” won’t make everything “fine.” In fact, if we deny the hard stuff, we deny the redeeming work of God, robbing Him of the glory He well deserves. Avoiding pain only makes it darker and more powerful. In order for God to give us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,” we have to bring Him our ashes, our mourning, our heaviness. (Isaiah 61:3) What a gracious exchange He offers.
So here’s the rest of the story from Parents’ weekend. Yes, we had a big old fight Saturday. Everyone was pretty riled up. Saturday night I tossed and turned and prayed, and then I woke on Sunday morning with only one thought: we needed to go to church together. That wasn’t the plan- my younger two boys wanted to hit the road, but I was desperate to end the weekend on a better note. We went to church, and God was, of course, faithful. Worship changes everything. We all got our eyes off our selves, our worries, and our grievances, and back on our Father Who loves us. Incidentally, the sermon was about racism, but what the pastor really explored was learning to live with, and love, people who may seem to be very different but who are in fact our brothers in Christ. Manna for that moment. Right there, God gave us His beauty for our ashes. That’s Who He is.