Retrospection can very often be misleading, if not deceptive – but just as often it can afford a uniquely helpful perspective, allowing you to see the larger patterns of your life’s journey that you wouldn’t have detected, otherwise. How these patterns begin and play out, contributing to your story, can be subtly woven into your choices, almost innocuously. But when surveyed over the long haul, can explain why you are the way you are, and what fears and longings have been quietly pushing the buttons and throwing the levers, shaping your life all along.
I grew up with three brothers, two older and one younger. So as the middle child my natural inclination was to be a peacemaker. But when my parents divorced when I was in middle school, my middle child inclination took on a whole other dimension – one that I can only fully appreciate now in retrospect. I systematically became the closest brother to each one of my brothers, desperately attempting to hold the family together . . . and protect myself from ending up alone. At the time, I was completely unaware of the purpose of my actions – but looking back, the self-preservation of my choices is now very evident to me.
Embedded within our primal desire to be known and loved, is our desire to belong and to matter. Which is to say, we are drawn into community so that as individuals we might have our significance validated — but the psychology of this desire takes on a precarious balancing act in the process. We don’t want to belong, as just another face in the crowd, disappearing into some homogeneous aggregate . . . losing our identity. Each of us wants our belonging to the whole to be a celebration of our unique identities – each one a part, each one special.
Sometimes I think we miss how the rhetorical question that Jesus is asking in his parable (Luke 15:3-7) of the lost sheep, takes the listener off guard — but ends up addressing their mostly unspoken desire to be found uniquely important. Because for the shepherd to place at risk the ninety nine to go find the one, would have sounded recklessly indulgent to this agrarian savvy crowd. What an extravagant choice to make for a single sheep. But quickly each listener would have happily tossed aside their pragmatism, so that they too might celebrate the idea of the one lost, being found . . . secretly wanting to know what it means to matter that much to someone else.
This is the extravagance of Christmas — the love of God on full display, announcing itself to the whole world, while simultaneously finding each one of us in our own specific need of his love. This is the great gift of God, which so thoroughly permeates the whole that it seeps into every crack and corner, celebrating each life it touches as beloved. So I say ponder anew the treasure of your faith confessions – God found you in that impossible place your life had become, and brought you home . . . and now there’s a sky full of angels rejoicing.
. . . and while your pondering your gifts — don’t forget this one