I sat in my car, my hands gripping the steering wheel, glaring at the front end loader inching its way across the road. Perhaps the sheer force of my gaze could speed the thing up? But no. It lurched forward, then back, then forward, then back, performing what appeared to be a 39-point turn to nowhere. I glanced at the dashboard clock and groaned.
I was going to be late. Again.
Why did I take this route when I knew it was torn apart, under construction? Why didn’t I think? And why, oh why, was I always the only member of the Relief Society presidency who showed up to our meetings scrambling and breathless instead of composed and prepared?
When would I ever get my act together?
I’d been feeling off-balance all week. I’d missed a deadline with a publisher. A student had emailed to tell me she was “disappointed” with the way I handled a situation in class. A reader of the magazine I edit, Irreantum, had also emailed me, also “disappointed,” letting me know that he found the journal depressing. My child had brought home a progress report from school with a startlingly low math grade, which I immediately internalized as my own fault (why hadn’t I been helping more?). I’d let November go by without visiting teaching the one sister on my route who I knew needed it most. I’d been too busy to go to the gym much over the past few weeks and had been eating those stupid chocolate covered cherries (why had my husband bought them? and why was I eating them when they weren’t even that good?) and now my pants felt uncomfortably tight. And when I’d gone over to a friend’s house earlier that day, I’d noticed her blinds. They were so clean. Not a speck of dust. Why were my blinds so dirty?
Why was I always late?
Why couldn’t I get my act together?
I closed my eyes and started listening to the CD playing in my car. A Christmas mix. I’m a big fan of Christmas—usually—and on days when I felt more merry and bright I’d crank up the holiday tunes. I even indulged in singers I don’t normally listen to much: your Josh Grobans, your Celine Dions. The song playing that moment was, in fact, Celine. O Holy Night. I quieted my spinning mind for just a moment and let myself listen to the words:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining /
till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth
It was as if I’d never heard the lyrics before. The meaning of that phrase—the soul felt its worth—rang in my ears. The litany of personal faults that had been marching through my head was mundane, to be sure. I knew intellectually that dusty blinds and tight pants, missed appointments and accusatory emails, were mere trifles when I looked at my life with an eternal perspective. So why did I let these trifles consume my thoughts and chase away my peace? Didn’t I realize that Christ’s atonement covered me? It covered my sins, yes, but it covered my imperfections, too. Didn’t it? Did it cover my dusty blinds?
I looked out the window at the female construction worker holding the stop sign, huddled against the biting cold, and my mind turned to the psalm (also sung at Christmastime):
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
This weary woman, out in the cold. The man in the Humvee just ahead of me. The mother and her van full of children I could see in my rear view mirror. Each of us: a child of God. Each of us: of inestimable worth.
As I sat in my car in that traffic, I realized that, yes, Christmas was about giving. But it was also about receiving. And isn’t receiving sometimes harder than giving? As much as Christmas should be about service and reaching out, shouldn’t it also be about acceptance and reaching in? The question was this: was I humble enough to stand before God just as I was in that moment, stripped of pretense and pride, in all my glorious human imperfection, and receive the gift of his son and let it cover me?
I listened to Celine sing out that final note and the traffic started moving again. Yes, I was going to be late. And no, I would never get my act together. Not in this life, at least. None of us would. Which is why I needed a Savior. Which is why I celebrated his birth.
My heart rate had slowed, my hands had released their grip on the steering wheel, and I realized that for the first time in many days I was feeling what all the Christmas cards told me I ought to be feeling: Peace.
I am grateful for God’s unconditional love. I am grateful for my Savior. He is the Good News. This is the gift of Christmas.
(You can listen Celine’s version of O Holy Night here. Even if you don’t normally listen to Celine. It’s good.)
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