Faith | Mental Health | Reflection

The Hope Inside the Christmas Tree

I was a teenager when I rediscovered the magic of Christmas morning. Long gone were the years of bursting out of my bedroom in search of Santa gifts and half-eaten cookies. I was somewhere in the middle of being gifted those magical Christmas memories of childhood and being the one to make them for others. I was kid enough to be most excited about presents and snow, while I was grown-up enough to find genuine joy in the simplest moments.

That’s where I found myself on the morning I started my own Christmas tradition — eager to discover a simpler kind of magic. I woke up while it was still dark outside and cozied up with a mug of coffee and a blanket near the Christmas tree. The lights on the tree danced gently against the backdrop of the snow outside. And I stared at that tree until the sun came up, feeling an absolute fullness and peace in my heart. In those angsty teen years, my heart didn’t feel that way very often.

I’d been having a hard time, in many of the ways teenagers do. I remember feeling like no one could truly see me. I’d been feeling the crushing weight of every brick I placed on myself. Relationship, perfect grades, body image, the need to be best. At that point in life, I was dying to leave my small town, to see the world, to gain independence. To grow up.

But I felt joy in that moment on Christmas morning. I could envision everything I wanted, and I was hopeful for the future. I was going to follow my dreams.

I captured that moment in my memory and held tight to it throughout the year. I recreated it the following Christmas, and then again the year after that and the year after that. It has been my tradition now for somewhere around two decades.

Those mornings and those dreams have blended together, but as I look back, I realize there has been one constant throughout the years. Every Christmas morning, while waiting for the sun to peek out and wish me a merry day, I’ve searched for hope inside my dreams for the future, set to the backdrop of the seasonal symbol of hope itself, the Christmas tree. Every year, I’ve promised myself that everything I’ve dreamed for is just around the corner. The dream job, the best husband, the beautiful home, the perfect figure, the financial freedom. And those dreams, or so I’ve always believed, have given me hope to move forward.

Many years have gone by now since the first year of my Hope Tradition. I’m older, maybe a bit wiser, and I’ve seen a lot of the world. I’ve experienced my dream job, but I’ve also given it up to pursue another dream. I live in a lovely and happy home, with a husband I deeply love, and we have two gorgeous children. If I’m still searching for hope inside a Christmas tree, I have several trees from which to choose. So many of my dreams have come true.

But I’ve been sitting in the dark with those Christmas trees a lot this year already. I’ve again been fantasizing about all the things that would make a Christmas morning perfect, about all the dreams for tomorrow.

If only the kids would listen.

If only I had more time for my marriage.

If only there was a little more money.

If only we could install new floors, and finish the basement, and take the kids to Disney World.

If only I could finally finish the book I’ve been writing for years.

If only my life could keep up with my constantly changing standards and expectations.

That last one hit me hard. This year, the sweet light of the Christmas tree hasn’t felt so magical. In fact, I’ve been feeling a little hopeless. And it has taken so many empty mornings for me to realize that my hope has been misplaced all along.

We need hope to survive in this world. It is the guiding force. We count on it to propel us out of darkness. Hope creates a peace for which we are desperate. But so often, we make the mistake of choosing the easy, fleeting kind of hope. We look for hope in the things we imagine. We search for it in the future, because that means we don’t have to work for it now.

But we’re shortsighted to choose a hope that is so brief and so dependent on specific outcomes. This kind of hope crumbles in our hands. Placing hope in the dream is asking for a lifetime of emptiness. It’s choosing to never feel fulfilled. Because when the dream becomes the norm, we tend to forget that it was ever a dream at all. Instead of taking in the magic of what has become an ordinary moment, we fill the void of the old dream with a new one.

This morning, I realized that I’ve fooled myself into thinking my life’s value was tied into my dreams for the future. The things I would have, the things I would accomplish. But that has never been true. I’ve eagerly worked toward everything that has mattered to me in this life, yet I have never been truly motivated by the things just out of my reach. My genuine hope has always been derived from what I already have.

My hope comes from the people who have loved me throughout my life. Some have left this world, and some are new to it. Both continue to give me hope. Right here, in this moment.

My hope comes from my faith. It is my forever.

My hope comes from the goodness of my heart. That heart has done incredible things. Even when it was broken, it continued to love, to be kind, to endeavor to give out goodness.

My hope is also the goodness of others. Yes, evil and pain exist in the world. But I maintain my hope when I choose to see the beauty in others.

My hope comes from my memories. I can’t truly see tomorrow, but I know yesterday. Yesterday is a part of me. And while some of my yesterdays left me shattered, most of them proved I could put the pieces back together.

My hope is not brittle or fragile. It cannot be swayed, or broken, or misplaced, unless I allow it. It doesn’t blow with the wind. It’s solid. I can cling to it. My hope is not the news. It’s not a house. It’s not a career. It’s none of the things I can’t see yet, and it’s everything I see right in front of me.

So this Christmas morning, I vow not to waste a single moment of magic on my dreams for the future. This Christmas morning, I promise that my tradition will start anew. This Christmas morning, I’ll gaze at my tree with a hope that I’ve never felt before — a hope that is built on everything that’s beautiful about the life I live now.

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