I've always been impressed by folks who can wrap really beautiful packages. I was helping the kids wrap presents for their class gift exchanges and was reminded, once again, that I am just terrible at it. I was able to find Christmas wrapping paper, but I don't keep a stock of ribbons and bows, and the edge of my paper was pretty wrinkled. Plus, I'm just not good at the mechanics of wrapping. I'm sure there's some tutorial online on how to wrap a beautiful present, but I haven't sought that out. And I'm definitely not good at it on my own.
photo © 2004 Dana Graves | more info (via: Wylio)
Anyway, this is our first Christmas "out" as an inter"faith" couple (I don't know what you call it when one person is a Christian and the other is an atheist. It's not really interfaith, since one has no faith. Mostly we just call it marriage, but for the purposes of today's post, I'm going to call it interfaith and just go with that.). And I don't think I'm coping very well.
Last year wasn't too bad. I mean, it was weird, but I chalked most of it up to an inability to share what was going on with people around us and the general newness of the whole thing. It had rough moments, but I didn't really pay it a lot of attention, figuring that as we settled into the new normal, things would even out.
And for the most part, this has been the case, until just the other night when we were setting up our Christmas tree. We had put in Relient K's Let It Snow, Baby...Let It Reindeer, which is a family favorite, and were all singing their version of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Lots of laughing and fun.
Then, out of nowhere, it hit. The song I Celebrate the Day came on and I was totally thrown into this place remembering that my husband and I don't share our faith.
It's weird how that happens. Most of the time things really are pretty normal. We're just the same people we've always been. We share almost entirely the same interests and truly, he's just one of the most fun people I know. We're best friends and I love spending time with him.
I think part of the deal is that during most of the time, our faith is kind of an undercurrent thing. When we both shared a faith, it wasn't something that we talked about all the time, it was just...there. Sure, we'd go to church together and we'd have discussions about spiritual issues, but for the most part, it wasn't something at the forefront of our relationship. It was a reliable foundation, but not something that we pulled out and examined constantly.
But at Christmas? Well, that's a time when faith has always played a pretty big role. Being church musicians, we'd spend time working on and listening to sacred music. We'd read stories that had Jesus-y themes. We would set up a nativity and marveled one year as a 18 month old Deborah placed all of the characters prostrate in front of the manger. Faith has always been a centerpiece of how we've celebrated Christmas.
photo © 2009 Alberto Otero García | more info (via: Wylio)
Now that's changed. Most days it's like it was. We laugh at The Daily Show. We talk about spiritual things (though conversations are a little bit different now). We like to eat hot wings. It's mostly the same. The difference is there, but it doesn't define our marriage.
But I've got to be honest, during weeks like this, it just plain sucks. It feels like a huge gap between us. My Christian guilt will kick in and I'll think that I should be feeling this bad all the time and why am I not trying to make him a Christian again. Then my doubt-y brain will combat that and say that I hate being "fixed" so why on earth would it be okay to want to fix someone else and shouldn't I just be happy that he's happy? Then I'll feel bad because I shouldn't be so complacent about his eternal destination. Then I'll think that maybe I'm not so sure that I can follow a God who sends people like my husband to hell. Around and around I go.
And what's really frustrating to me is that I've been wracking my brain writing this post, trying to figure out how to tie this all together into a nice little package that is suitable for Christmas. But I'm bad at wrapping presents and right now, I don't have the tools here to make this look pretty or to bring it together into some kind of neat, tidy conclusion. The best I can do is quote Fred Rogers who said, "The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self," and promise you that even though this is messy, it's definitely all me.
I think the main take-away I've got here is simply that relationships, with people and with God, are hard. Even at Christmas. But they are worth the effort. Even at Christmas.