My beloved great-grandmother emigrated from Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) at age 18 and yet never learned English. They lived in a little “Bo-honk” enclave in rural North Dakota, a place where they could maintain the old customs and minimize the need to adapt. Still, after she developed dementia, she walked incessantly around her house until she’d worn a rut completely around it.
Many of us cling to our traditions, expectations and ways of doing things so fiercely that we could run rings around my babička.
Instead of the usual zoom-zoom of Christmas, it’ll be a ZOOM Christmas for us this year. America’s coronavirus numbers are terrible; California’s hospital beds nearly full. In light of this, Janet and I have decided that Christmas will be a cheery and tender string of videochats for us.
I don’t mind—it’s our choice. Yes, I’m frustrated by the impact of COVID deniers and those who foolishly spread their germs. But every one of us has made at least a few sketchy decisions, taken a few questionable and unneeded risks, cut a corner here or there. We’re all in this together.
Janet and I want big handfuls of future Christmases with our family and friends, so we’re not risking everything to hungrily grasp this pandemic-tinged one. We’re making plans to connect over videochat with each individual unit of our family during the holidays. We’ll open any gifts we’ve mailed one another, reconnect, reminisce… eat, drink and make merry, 2020 style.
I’m looking forward to it. There’s usually a huge connection-quality difference between those we can see in person and those we cannot be with. This year, that gap need not exist, and I believe we’ll learn some lessons for connecting better with those with whom we cannot be present on future holidays. We’ll learn to be more “present” without proximity.
Perhaps we’ll reconsider the exceeding value we place on in-person gatherings. Up ‘til now, we’ve all been rather lazy at employing the tools (like videochat) which have been at our fingertips for years to enhance our presence from a distance.
I recently had a powerful lesson in grasping what is at hand…
World Vision has a groundbreaking training program called Empowered Worldview, which works to shift the mindset of people caught in poverty—from one of dependency and fatalism to one of interdependence on each other and a sense that God has a future and a hope for them. Last month, several supporters and I took a “virtual vision trip” to Zambia where we met two women—one who had gone through Empowered Worldview training and one who is slated to do so in the coming year. The differences were stunning… one family of seven goes hungry every second meal and survives in a mud hut of perhaps 8×8 feet. The other just completed a 7-room home with an indoor toilet, has increased her income 500%, and speaks with confidence, joy and hope.
As we reflected on this contrast with the coordinator for this program in Zambia, he explained that one key principle of an empowered worldview is to realize what is already available to you: what is “in your hand.” Recognizing the assets one already has available at-hand is a key to empowerment.
We all need more empowerment these days. We all fail to recognize what we already have “in our hands.” As we approach Christmas, now is an excellent time to take stock of what tools we have at-hand that can be put to use to increase our interconnectedness with others, and with God. We too-easily fall into the trap of ignoring tools available to us, time available, loved ones available to us. Like my babička, we develop familiar patterns and then wear those down until they can become ruts.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m already missing the sweet hugs and the chances to lavish love through shared meals of favorite foods. Finding new ways to underscore our love for one another from a distance won’t come easy. But even that ache is a tender sign of our love. And we innately know that new ways of expressing affection are there to be found, sometimes simply by opening our hands to discover what’s there.
“It’s 2020” we say with a wry shrug, whenever things don’t meet our longstanding expectations. Perhaps during this Season of Wonder we could instead use that declaration as permission… to lay down the old patterns and look expectantly and with anticipation at the new lessons and traditions we could birth this Christmas season. Let’s start by recognizing the blessings, and the tools, God has already placed in our hands.