Christmas shopping is stressful for me. It seems I'm forever trying to hold on to something while shopping—hanging on to my coat, my shopping cart, my sanity. Then I have everyone else asking me to hold things.
"Hold my hand, Daddy."
"Hold my purse, Honey."
"Hold these up and see if they fit."
"Hold your horses, Sir. The checkout line starts back there." That's a lot of holding when I can barely hold my bladder.
It was after one of these particularly joyous shopping excursions when I forgot to hold one of the most important things—my tongue.
We were living in Florida and driving on the freeway—my daughters, my wife and I—trying to rush home for yet another neighborhood party. If I could get home quick enough, we might be able to toss some frozen mini-quiches in the oven, slip into those kitschy red sweaters we have, and walk down to the Jones' for a painful night of eggnog with dips. Don't get me wrong, the dips are nice, and they have a beautiful home.
In the car seat, our two-year-old daughter began whimpering something about Santa. I ignored it, trying to pay attention to the immense holiday traffic. In front of us, a fir tree on wheels was traveling the break-neck speed of 30 mph, a reminder of yet another thing to buy before Christmas Eve. The other two lanes were filled with cars zipping past us like hummingbirds in a hurricane. It was unlikely I'd be changing lanes anytime soon.
As I crept along the interstate, I found myself anxious about decorating the house. Dreading the climb into the hot attic, pulling down all the boxes (more boxes every year). No matter how diligently I pack, the next Christmas I always find a misplaced candle—or what used to be a candle—in one of the boxes. The temperature in Florida attics can reach well over 100 degrees. There's always that sickening moment when I spot it from across the rafters. It's that familiar oily, red stain on the outside of the box that screams, "You did it again, idiot!" One year it was in the box with the lights. The wax had hardened around the cords like cheese on a plate of cold nachos.
I shook my head. "Why do I bother each year? I take lights from the inside of the attic, only to hang them on the outside of the attic? Am I insane?"
My daughter's fussing got louder, snapping me back from my thoughts. It was escalating into a cry. I turned on the radio, hoping to drown her out. They were playing the same song I'd heard 25 times that week and frankly, I was sick of it. In the midst of all the traffic and a wailing child, it was the last tune I cared to hear.
My child got louder. I bit my lip. "Really kid?"
Suddenly, I figured out what her problem was. We hadn't stopped to visit Santa while shopping. Earlier my wife and I noticed the large display in the center of the mall, complete with a candy cane throne for Santa. At the time, we gave each other a knowing glance—code for "I’m not spending $100 for photos of my girls sitting in a stranger's lap." So we distracted the kids and avoided the display. Now here we were almost home free.
"I didn't get to see Santa!" my little darling screamed from the back seat. As always, she insisted on pulling others into her little drama.
She's so much like me, and I love her for it.
But today, I listened to it long enough. I'd had enough of the traffic, the mobs of shoppers, and the stinking radio. Blood was rushing to my temples like magma. Unable to hold my temper any longer, the day's activities carried me cruelly to this Mt. Saint Helens moment. Spinning the radio off, I yelled into the rear-view mirror "That’s enough! Santa's dead."
As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I'd messed up. What could I do? The words were out there, stinging my daughter's heart like a giant bar of soap in the eyes of childlike reverie and imagination.
She began wailing, "No, Santa's not dead, is he?"
My wife looked at me then shook her head. "Smooth."
I sighed, sinking low in the driver's seat of the mini-van. Minimizing is always my first defense. So, to look unconcerned about the blunder, I pretended to check my side mirrors for traffic—anything to appear nonchalant. Inside I was kicking myself. "Can this day get any worse? Maybe no one noticed."
"There goes that Father-of-the-Year award," my wife said, staring out the passenger side window.
"I know, I know. I'll fix it. Let's just get home first."
When we arrived, I took our little girl aside, hugged her, and apologized for being such a Grinch. Apologizing to a toddler was a good lesson in humility for me. I am far from the perfect father and this probably wouldn’t be the last time I lose it or say something I regret.
That night, I started the splendid habit of saying "I’m sorry" when I blow it with my kids. To this day, it's proven invaluable in sustaining my authenticity as the spiritual leader of our family.
For our two-year old, my apology and admission of wrong was her tree topper for the night. She put her thumb in her mouth and sank into my arms. For the next twenty minutes we sat in her room snuggling while Silent Night played from the stereo. We were having a moment.
I had spent the day holding things I didn't want to. Now I was holding something and I never wanted to let go.
Needless to say, we were a bit late for the Jones's party. That's okay, those dips could wait.
Do you find yourself rushing around in a whirl of activity this season? Are people and things irritating you—causing you to lose your joy for celebrating Christ's birth? We all need a silent night now and then. Take a moment to stop and consider the miracle of Jesus and all he did for you, and worship Him.
"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you" James 4:10 (ESV).