My least favorite Christmas carol? “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me. . . . I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my heart.” If you really are away from home at Christmas, the song makes you want to cry—which is no help at all.
As a missionary I’ve been away from my parents and extended family for all but about 8 years since 1980. We’ve been totally away from our family, even our own children for about 12 years. Separation from family is part of being a missionary. How can Christmas be special when you are separated from those you love the most?
When we had daughters at home, we followed many simple traditions that made the season special. I asked my daughters for help in writing this blog, and I realize that, for us, crafts was the biggest part of the fun. We cut out snowflakes, decorated cut-out cookies, decorated the house and the tree. Special ornaments and music added to the fun.
As a missionary, you might be prepared to leave your parents and live in some far-off country. It may be harder to actually have your own children leave you. So how can you keep the joy in your Christmas when you are away from home and family?
My daughter Lisa nailed the answer to the wall.
“I think a big part of what made it (separation from family) okay for us,” she writes, “was that you chose to be happy at Christmas time (and serve others) whether or not we were able to visit family that year or not. I think Lori and I have both inherited that attitude. Also, Christmas is a family holiday because we’ve made it that way. But it is certainly in keeping with the real meaning of the holiday to be apart because of where you serve Him (or to use being apart as a chance to reach to others.)”
Choose to be happy at Christmastime.
Wow! That made me think. She was right. We chose to make Christmas fun as well as meaningful, but there were years when being happy at Christmas was a definite choice.
Lisa spent her first Christmas in the Intensive Care Nursery as a ten-week-premature baby. I spent that Christmas in the adult Intensive Care Unit. That Christmas Day was scary and horrible, but I choose to remember the fun Christmas activities that came earlier in the month. God brought us through that time to full health and strength.
Our most difficult Christmas was probably the year we closed our ministry in Taiwan. We came back to the States the week of Christmas. Broken-hearted for our ministry, we bought a few last minute presents and built graham cracker houses at Grandma’s. That Christmas we definitely had to choose to make the Christmas as happy as we could.
Lisa came to our home in New Zealand her freshman year of college in 1997. She also shared Christmas with us three other times. She spent many Christmases apart from family. How did she cope as a young adult?
“Other favorite things include going caroling, singing in choirs, sending and receiving cards,” she writes. “I look forward to hearing recordings of Handel’s Messiah each Christmas. I try to reflect on the Christmas story and perhaps write a little reflection for myself. I send cards to people who have blessed me that year. I get involved at my church. When I do all that stuff, it’s hard to find time to be lonely at Christmas. (This was true even in my single days.) I like to think back to the various places I have spent Christmas and who I’ve spent them with. I appreciated the hospitality of others, several of whom were also MK’s before me. I like the years I’ve been hosted by other family members or friends, but I think I enjoy even more thinking about years I’ve been the hostess.”
Lisa finished college single and remained single for a number of years. During these years she reached out to international students or lonely people with simple holiday dinners or invitations. She continues to do this as a married woman.
Jesus was away from home on His first Christmas too.
Jesus left His home in heaven where he was worshiped and adored to begin the live of a servant on earth. He gave up so much to provide salvation for us. If serving him takes us far from home, is that too much for Him to ask? I would never want my desire to be close to family to keep me from serving Him. His birth is certainly the main reason for Christmas. But I think he is also pleased when we use the occasion to build family memories and enjoy the many good gifts He gives us.
Maybe you are far from your family for Christmas. Maybe the season brings back bad memories. Maybe some other reason makes the season difficult. You can still choose to make it a happy time. And making good choices is an important key to living the Christian life.