“Religion in a Family is at once its brightest Ornament and its best Security.” –Samuel Adams
For my family, Christmas is much more than a day, a season or a collection of memories and rituals. Christmas is a lens through which we endeavor to view all things – the universe of our Creator and His purpose for us – every day.
However, it can be difficult at times to comprehend God’s plan for us – after all, how are we to discern our minuscule role in the enormity of His creation? In fact, in our home, we can become so distracted by the daily challenges, demands and routines that we sometimes neglect to seek His purpose for us.
On top of our efforts to maintain a strong marriage and manage our home, Ann and I are raising three children, ages 10, 13 and 15, who have three very distinct personalities, attend three different schools, and are off in three different directions most of their waking hours. (We have friends who have more children and greater challenges, and remain in awe of their ability to manage, and even thrive.)
Recently, my 15-year old son, a faithful and bright young Patriot, came to me with a heavy heart. He told me that sometimes he loses his bearing, feels disconnected from God, and that separation causes him distress.
I acknowledge to him that, similarly, there have been days in my life when I have felt detached from God, and in those times I also struggle with questions about meaning and purpose.
What I have learned (at considerable personal cost) about being disconnected from God is that this division is always the result of my looking to the world for purpose rather than our Creator. Inevitably, after some consternation, I awaken to the reality that our cultural compasses are perpetually disorienting.
Contemporary culture relentlessly encourages us, even seduces us, to irrevocably link our identity to its trappings – what we do, what we have, who we’re with, and the like. But all of these connections are temporal. In the end, if we take our bearings from the culture around us, we are destined to experience emptiness, which it then offers to fill with various distractions and forms of sedation.
I told my son that through my life’s trials, I have learned we must look up before we look out – that we must look to God in order to understand His purpose for us in the world. Indeed, if we define our purpose in cultural terms, or worse, if we try to understand Him through the world’s lens, we are destined to remain astray.
“But how do we know God is there?” he asked.
The New Testament’s epistle to the Hebrews (11:1) notes, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
However, I would offer that in those times when we sense our Creator’s absence, that sense is itself a strong affirmation of His presence. God has built into us a desire to know and to be in unity with Him. When we are not (and have not filled that void with cultural clutter), the emptiness we feel is ample confirmation of His presence.
My son and I talked further about a good metaphor for God’s presence on even the bleakest of days.
We both enjoy flying – it’s in our genes. My son is training for his first solo, and this time of year there is a lot of inclement weather. However, even in the worst weather with virtually no visibility at ground level, a few minutes after takeoff you climb out above the cloud cover into clear skies and endless visibility. This emergence into the blue from dense rough weather is awe-inspiring.
Sometimes in winter, our Tennessee mountaintop is shrouded in clouds that settle in for days and even weeks. This absence of sun and blue sky can take its toll on the spirit. But it is a source of comfort to remember that above the clouds, the sun and stars always shine bright. Eventually the weather will break and light from the heavens will avail itself again.
Likewise, God is always there, even if temporarily obscured from our vision.
We talked about explorers who crossed vast oceans in tiny vessels, setting their course by the North Star for places yet to be revealed.
When we make God our North Star, we are guided precisely along the path He has prepared for us, even though we do not know where it leads. However, as was the case with those early mariners, when we lose sight of our North Star, we must hold steady our direction until we find His guiding light again, correct our course and carry on.
Light overtakes darkness, but only if we open our eyes.
“We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead.” (Isaiah 59:9-10)
And when we do open the eyes of our heart, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Indeed, “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.” (Psalm 97:11)
It is no small irony that a Christmas star guided wise men from the East to the Christ Child in Jerusalem: “After they had heard [Herod], they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10)
The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies of ages, and foretold in His time: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)
Jesus described himself in terms of light: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
And to those who follow him, he instructed: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
But I told my son that even on the brightest of days with my eyes wide open, there is so much about God that remains a mystery to me. These unknowns cause me no trepidation – long ago I discovered that I couldn’t hope to fully comprehend our Creator, whose wisdom is infinite.
My conversation with my son about knowing God and understanding His purpose for us will continue throughout our lives together, and I am grateful for his permission to share this slice of it with you, because I think it speaks to the heart of a universal desire to know our Creator.
In the midst of all the daily activities in our home, we make a point to have supper together as a family. When returning thanks for God’s provision, we always pray for “grateful hearts and joyful spirits,” that we would be grateful in heart to our Provider, and joyful in spirit as a reflection of that gratitude.
This prayer, I believe, draws upon the essence of Christmas, upon the essence of God’s gift to us.
In those moments when we feel apart from God and seem to have lost our way, if we ask ourselves, “Who or what am I serving?” the answer will inevitably be some master in the culture around us, which should awaken us to once again open our eyes and see the One True Light.
As always, on behalf of our staff and National Advisory Committee, I am humbled to stand with you among the ranks of our Patriot countrymen. We wish peace and God’s blessing upon you and your family.
(Footnote: The King James Bible has a total of 31,174 verses, thus the 15,587th and 8th verses are at its center, its core. Those two verses are Psalm 118:8-9. “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” How appropriate.)
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