This year I am stumped on what to do as my advent or Christmas or Epiphany letter. Last year I was stumped as well, so I just skipped it. But, it’s time to re-engage life and along with it Advent and Epiphany. So this is why you find me reflecting on what I have done before to determine what to do now.
I have written stories about meeting Santa downtown and of how my various friends helped him fix his sleigh (because I almost fell through it). I’ve made Christmas mix CD’s, I’ve created little booklets that contain my “top five” quotes, songs, books, and moments of the year, I’ve given out chocolate Advent calendars, and wrote an advent devotional book. I’ve always wanted to write my own personal “create your own adventure” book for Christmas. It’s a fun idea don’t you think? But perhaps an idea for another year. This year I’m lazy, and it is a time consuming idea. O, and one year, I had a totally failed experiment of making peppermint soap for people. Hardly any of you got any so be glad. It didn’t work, although LV gave me a book on how to make soap because of it. Which may inspire me in the future.
This year I’m just going to write a letter. And no, I am not going to write about what my children did this year. I don't have children and of course if I did I would write an update about how they tripped and fell or decided they wanted to eat mud. Plus, my mom already did that letter I got it yesterday. So this is my practice christmas letter. :) Um. Merry Christmas.
It will be no shock to any of you that what I want to tell you about this christmas is a book. Last night I read a book I have read many times before, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl [wikipedia entry on it]. It is a classic. If you aren’t familiar with it, Frankl was a psychiatrist who was sent as a prisoner to the Natzi concentration camp Auschwitz. His reflections on the experience are powerful, deep, and never fail to give me a reality check. I know how depressing! But it's the only thing this year I feel worthy of a christmas letter.
As I read Frankl’s story of suffering I thought of how good I have things. Frankl tells vividly how apathy takes over in the midst of such extreme suffering. Of how you can barely live so you don't even yearn or want anything. I never realized yearning was a gift! He notes that some of these people didn't even have a desire to live. Frankl made himself a promise when he entered the camps not to throw himself against the electric fence (which was the most popular way of killing oneself for Auschwitz prisoners).
How do people live through brutal suffering, where at any time they could be gassed or shot or beaten to death? His point is that those who make it through do so because they find some way, some how, to make meaning of their sufferings.
Now I'm not suffering by any stretch of the imagination but I think there is so much to learn from people who have suffered. Frankl developed a type of therapy called logo therapy. Sometimes he asked people who came to see him “why don’t you commit suicide? Why do you choose to live?” From the patients answer he was able to fit together how they were making meaning of their sufferings which informed his therapy with them and ultimately improved their mental health.
I have been feeling afraid lately that I am becoming selfish. I fear I will become blind to the depth, breath, and wideness of vocation, community, and identity. I fear I will see God as too small, that I will be too wrapped up in myself to be grateful or love others. I observe with curiosity not judgment that this year I have thought more about myself, and my needs and small sufferings, than ever before.
Reading about extreme suffering and people's humanity in it, un-self-centeres me! And I need this! I see the world through Frankl's eyes and it re-contextualizes hard things of this year, like the awkwardness and pain of coming out. Or having hard conversations with family. Or trying to figure out how to live and be me. It contextualizes death and grief and distance in something much larger and much more eternal. LOVE.
In Frankl's book he searches for meaning in the most extreme suffering. While observing people dying all around him and trying to find the will to live himself Frankl writes: "Love is the ultimate goal one can aspire to. The salvation of wo/man is through love, in love”
So this Christmas, Advent, Epiphany I read of people who only had one piece of bread a day, and I am so grateful for food. I read of people working outside without shoes or with bad shoes in the snow (often while being whipped when they fell), and I am grateful for work in a warm office. I am grateful I am alive as people around the world die every second. I am grateful for a mattress to sleep on as Frankl slept on boards. And so much more! And ultimately I use the volition (will) God gave me to choose to aspire to love others in the midst of my own selfishness.
How about you?