The well-travelled passage in Divine Love and Wisdom comes to mind at this time of year: “Love consists in this, that its own should be another’s; to feel the joy of another as joy in oneself, that is loving” (47). Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. It’s especially fun now that I have three young kids to share it with. To watch the face of my baby as she stares and gasps at the lovely Christmas lights—that’s love. I’ve been looking forward to baking cookies, decorating the tree, preparing presents, and talking about the Christmas story with them.
Today I read the rest of DLW 47: the part that doesn’t get quoted nearly as often; the part that is more chilling than inspiring.
“But to feel one’s own joy in another and not the other’s joy in oneself is not loving; for this is loving self, while the former is loving the neighbor. These two kinds of love are diametrically opposed to each other. Either, it is true, conjoins; and to love one’s own, that is, oneself, in another does not seem to divide; but it does so effectually divide that so far as any one has loved another in this manner, so far he afterwards hates him. For such conjunction is by its own action gradually loosened, and then, in like measure, love is turned to hate.”
Bleak words, but an important message for me, especially at this time of year. To me, it means that I’m supposed to be loving people on their terms, not mine. It’s amazing how quickly my agenda creeps into what ought to be bonding experiences. Of course I want to bake cookies with my toddler… if the cookies still look nice enough to serve to company and the kitchen doesn’t get too floury. Of course I want my husband to help trim the tree… if he concedes to my well-reasoned argument for white vs. colored lights. Of course my five-year-old can wrap the presents… if she uses the wrapping paper appropriate to the holiday.
These petty examples of control, while pedestrian, are spiritual tipping points—the trenches of spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil. The struggle for dominion can be deadly to relationships, turning love into hate. There are forces of evil who urge us to dominate others, killing the love that strives to be born on Christmas day and every other day of the year. Isn’t that Herod trying to find his way into Christmas?
When I look down on these impulses, like a pilot flying high above a landscape, my need to control which stocking to buy for the kids (obviously the tasteful knit wool ones) seems laughable. But somehow I let that difference of opinion sour a previously sweet evening with my husband. Evil spirits would like nothing better than to redirect the moments that have the greatest potential for joy and togetherness toward pettiness and division.
So I’ll be on the lookout for Herod in myself this year. I will try to let Christmas happen on my loved one’s terms, on the Lord’s terms, not mine. I can bake cookies with my kids, knowing the cutouts will be wonky and the dough mostly in small tummies. I can decorate the tree, accepting the colored lights and ornaments clustered on the lower half of the tree. I can welcome presents wrapped with more tape than paper. As the baby attempts to chew decorations, as my two-year-old loudly, happily mangles carols, as my five-year-old takes 10 hours to eat a single candy cane, I can try to love them in the way the Lord intended.