This past Christmas 2020, I arrived at Christmas Eve looking for something. Christmas Eve was always a special time of the year for me as a child, & even long afterwards. But this year, I was entering the majestic holiday with a heavy heart. Earlier in the year, I had witnessed a person who I greatly respected behave in a manner that I found deeply regrettable. And, although I had taken significant action to remedy the aftermath as much as I could, I still found myself unresolved in the relationship to my one time friend. Although I would be completely alone this holiday, having chosen to avoid travel because of Covid, I decided to attend Christmas Eve service. It was still a holiday, & even when I’m down, I recognize the importance of taking the next step forward. It hadn’t felt like a traditional Christmas all season; but I had grown up attending Christmas Eve service so I saw no reason to ignore a tradition that was actually in my control.
What I experienced would go down as a litany of “firsts.” It was my first Christmas Eve service held outdoors under a canopy, again over Covid conerns. It was the first Christmas Eve service I had attended alone. And it was the first Christmas Eve service featuring a sermon involving the Garden of Eden. I thought to myself, “Garden of Eden? But this is Christmas. Isn’t that a little Old Testament for tonight’s occasion?” I consider myself a reasonably intelligent man; but my pastor has frequently proven himself to be just a bit savvier, especially when it comes to scripture.
He talked about two trees prominently featured in the Garden. One of the two, the Tree of Life, God had placed no restrictions on for Eden’s two inhabitants. The other, the Tree of Knowledge, God had placed a restriction on eating from. It appears that this mandate was the only restriction that God placed on Adam & Eve; and of course, because eating from that tree was the one thing they could not do–it became the one thing they did. Sound familiar? Not just the story, but the sequence? In my own life, specifically, in the event that I found so disappointing earlier in the year–that’s exactly what happens. I cherished my friend so much that she could have done literally anything else & I would have overlooked it. But she crossed the one line I could not forgive her for. It started to look as if the evening’s sermon would be an appropriate subject after all, & I began to brood over its implications on my own life.
But then, I heard something unfamiliar. For one thing, the pastor described the forbidden tree not simply as the Tree of Knowledge; but the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. “Whoa,” I thought. “I guess I’ve always known the tree described that way, but I’ve somehow forgotten.” I was surprised at how easily I had overlooked such a critical detail. And the surprises would continue. The pastor explained that because of Adam & Eve’s choice to disregard the lone parameter that God had set for them, all of humanity is born flawed. None of us are perfect. While this statement failed to inspire shock waves within me, the next statement did. But by the same token, none of us are a lost cause either. The pastor continued to remind us that God can take bad things & make them good. So, even if we are flawed, our acceptance of God into our lives can redeem us.
Redeem us? That’s a concept I hadn’t considered throughout these last few months of reacting to the disappointment I had experienced. I thought of concepts like anger, rage, sorrow. I’d circulate terms like validation & vindication. My goals were to punish; to shame; to prove someone else wrong. But what I had really been seeking was redemption.
While what my friend did was bad, it didn’t constitute instant damnation. However bad her choice had been, my reaction to it made it worse. Instead of reacting to my disappointment from a standpoint of letting God in, I had tackled it head-on with my darkest emotions–jealousy, resentment, insecurity. But in the few minutes it took for me to hear my pastor speak these words, I suddenly achieved what I had been unable to for the past several months. I was ready to let it all go–and seek reconciliation. I had been looking to win; to conquer a depraved enemy. I had been searching for triumph! But on this evening, I realized that true triumph came in the form of reconciliation. God takes bad things & makes them good. I just hadn’t let Him do that.
As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a fairly logical person. And maybe, just maybe, I had actually outfoxed my pastor with this next thought. He spent the sermon talking about letting God in; but I had an even better idea. I’ve always considered everyone to have some aspect of God within them; after all, we are told that He created us “in his own image.” But I’ve also considered all of us to have some aspect of the Devil in us, thereby explaining our flaws. My sister had mentioned a Native American proverb earlier in the week that I believe to have originated with the great chief Sitting Bull:
“We all have two wolves inside us. One that’s viscous & one that caring. And the type of person we become depends on which wolf we choose to feed more.”
I had finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I had been fueling the fiend in me during the recent past. It was time for me to feed the side that good. It wasn’t so much an idea of “letting God in,” but releasing the Godly aspect already in me.
On Christmas Eve 2020, I found the very gift I had been looking for. I received free; freedom from my anguish, from my hypertension, from my constant brooding. And to think, after all those months of extended suffering, I had held the key to my own dungeon the entire time. All I had to do was unlock the Godly aspect in me that my anger had suppressed. And if I could find peace, I’m sure you can too. Just let the part of yourself that’s like God out; try applying that approach to your toughest challenges & see what happens. Merry Christmas. And . . .
“God bless us–every one!”