Patience and flexibility help make the season bright

Published 5:28 pm Wednesday, December 29, 2021

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We are officially in the strange time and space between Christmas celebrations and the parties of New Year’s Eve. Every year I see a Facebook post that describes the space between Christmas and New Year’s as a black hole in which we lose all sense of time, often not even remembering what day it is. I’ll admit that there was a moment last week where I had to remind myself that it was Thursday instead of Tuesday.

As beautiful and joyous as these holidays are, they are also quite disruptive. And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here. We all love our lives to be neat and tidy, ordered in such a way that we feel like we have control over every little thing. But then the end of the year comes, bringing with it cellophane wrapped gifts and late night countdowns. Our routines are upended as we race around town trying to find the perfect present and then the very next week try to plan the most sublime and memorable party. It’s hard to feel like we are in control when we have so much external pressure to perform and prepare.

Yet somehow, despite our addiction to control and order, we find a way to navigate the chaos and disruption of the holidays. This is not to say that navigating these disruptions is easy. I don’t know about you but I am totally exhausted! Maybe it’s easy to tolerate these kinds of disruptions because they are generally fun and joyful occurrences.

But what do we do when the disruptions that come aren’t fun and joyous? How do we carry ourselves when life takes unpredictable and unwanted turns? I think about all the attributes required to navigate the disruption of these winter holidays. They demand patience. If we want to survive the holidays we need to operate with a certain level of flexibility. Some of us even live into the goodwill of Christmas by finding ways to look past that which annoys and frustrates us about our friends, family, and colleagues.

I’m convinced that these are some of the attributes needed to make it through the less enjoyable disruptions. When a friend or a family member hurts us deeply, it might help us in the long run to see them as fallible people capable of mistakes just like we are. I’m certainly not advocating the toleration of harmful, negative, or abusive behavior. But when difficult relationships disrupt our lives, trying to find a common humanity might help ease some of the pain.

We all can admit that we should practice patience more in our daily lives. Flexibility goes hand in hand with this, too. There’s a phrase I’ve heard in AA meetings that I love. “Expectations are just premeditated resentments.” When we expect too much and are let down, we must take great care to prevent resentment and anger from festering within us. My own life testifies to the way recognizing the unpredictability of life has made encountering disruptions more palatable.

I can’t and won’t pretend to have all the answers about what to do when life gets hard because we all experience things differently. But I do think the quicker we can all recognize that we are not in control, the quicker we can learn to make peace with our lives when it feels like we are on shaky ground. May this new year be a year in which we learn to be better versions of ourselves, and may the lessons of Christmas be guideposts on the way.

Chris Adams is the rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington