Dinners, Goodness, & St. Nick

From

Brittany White

You can be good for the mere sake of goodness; you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong – only because cruelty is pleasant or useful to him, In other words, badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”
C. S. Lewis
, Mere Christianity

Leopold Graf von Kalckreuth (1855–1928), Children by the Christmas Tree (c 1912)

Family dinners. The holidays are approaching too quickly and I need some intentional time with my children. So I’m deliberately learning new recipes. The ones where the mother sits down after everyone else to inhale her, now room temperature, food. The kind where the side dishes that will eventually need to be washed chuckle at you with every clink the spoon makes as it returns to the bowl after another helping. Where the conversations are interrupted by reminders to mind manners while at the table. No electronics are allowed and eye contact is needed when you speak. Please say more than “good” when I ask you how the day was.

But they still say “good” which forces me to ask them to morally define it. Now they grumble.

“What do you mean when you say something or someone is ‘good?’ Can something or someone still be good even if it makes you unhappy at that moment? Is it only good if you are happy?” I ask.

“No,” they say in unison as they shake their heads.

My children are 8, 6, and 4, and they’re sponges living in a high skeptic and moralistic therapeutic deistic first-world (i.e. God exists to make me happy).

“Why can’t we base goodness on how we feel?” I question as I settle in my chair, suddenly quite content with my chilled mashed potatoes.

“Feelings change,” my 6-year-old chimed in. “Sometimes how you feel about something isn’t the same way another person feels about something.”

I nod and tell them when Mommy goes to the gym, she has a very different feeling about it than when Daddy goes to the gym. Physical exercise is good for the body, but Mommy doesn’t like it as Daddy does. Does that mean it’s not good?

They shake their heads.

I push further, “Is God good?”

“ALL THE TIME!” My 4-year-old is proud of his Bible Belt response. I wink at him because I’m proud of him too.

Luke 18:19 says, “No one is good—except God alone.” I ask them how God is good.

They tell me He doesn’t change as we change. That no evil exists in Him as it does us and that He always does the right thing. 

“Yes, He does always do the right thing for us, even if we don’t understand it or if it doesn’t make us feel good at the time — When we don’t feel good about something that’s happened, how can we change those feelings?” I push further.

“Read our Bible,” they respond confidently.

“Yes. Mommy and Daddy can’t change how you feel. Your friends can’t always change how you feel either. We can make things seem better sometimes but, just like the gym, you have to go to the Bible, even if it doesn’t feel good at that moment to exercise your own heart, your own mind, and your own spirit. No one else can do that for you.”

I put down my fork.

“Mommy,” my 8-year-old is ready to speak. “So, Saint Nicholas was a real guy. He was a good guy who loved God. Now he is in Heaven and we celebrate his goodness (I haven’t yet told them about the legendary time Nicholas slapped Arius in the face for defaming Christ) and we celebrate our need for a Savior in Jesus. God is the greatest. . . So where does that put the Tooth Fairy? Who is she in all of this?”

I smile.

“WE KNEW IT!” They shout.

How I Wonder.

By: Brittany M. White

I can’t find it. Why can’t I find it?

I’m searching over the roofs of my neighbors as my kids are yelling inside the house for me to help them to more dinner. Why is my heart racing? I could have planned this better. Why can’t I find this star?

I quickly jump off the railing of the deck a bit disappointed and head back inside as the children have begun fighting with one another. I place more potatoes on the plate for my five-year-old and I start wondering if I would have missed that thrill of hope long ago too.

Probably.

I think many of us would have. In my current state of busy, at my current pace, I’m not confident I would have looked up long enough to become curious and follow. Veteran mothers tell me when the children are grown that I’ll have time to look up, to see the stars and learn their names. However, the older I get the more I know, like them, we don’t only use our time to look up, we often use it to look back.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them.” I begin thinking about why people were amazed by the tale of the shepherds, hearing and seeing angels and coming face to face with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Maybe the star of Bethlehem wasn’t this astronomical anomaly that stopped everyone in their tracks but was enough of a difference to make three wise men curious. Or Jesus, lying in a manger of a dark and cold cave in Bethlehem. Maybe that’s why everyone was thrown by the telling of His arrival. It wasn’t a beautiful place that required appreciation. It was a place full of constant hurry and conflict, much like myself.

I begin loading the dishwasher and as I run the plates through the warm water of the sink, right outside my small kitchen window, is the Christmas Star, in my line of sight. The Great Conjunction. For a few brief moments, all was calm and bright. There was no rushing or anxiety––I was astonished. In all its distant glory, it was enough to stir the gratitude in my heart for that Gift given to us over two thousand years ago. He had found me, right where I was at in my rushing and running, as faithfully He does. And my weary world rejoiced.

Lieve Verschuier, The Great Comet of 1680 Over Rotterdam

The Price of Light

By: Brittany M. White

I unravel another bundle of lights from the Christmas tote and ask my husband to line the roof in white. This year, I’ve noticed, more neighbors and communities have put out extravagant Christmas displays. Possibly for the children, most certainly for me. How dark the shadows have been this year.

My husband begins climbing a ladder, and I think back to how I’ve been reading “A Christmas Carol” a few pages at a time, out loud as often as possible the past few weeks. My newborn niece was recently victim to my retelling of Jacob Marley’s haunting visit to Scrooge. As the old man stumbled away from the glow of the town to his cold quarters, Charles Dickens wrote, “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”

How honest a statement about the darkness! To sit in apathy and bitterness, hardened and invulnerable. Can we truly “like” such a thing? Surely not forever! Scrooge, having seen the truth, would tell you so today.

I think about what price bringing illuminance anywhere has cost. Relationally, geographically and economically, intellectually and emotionally — light is not cheap. It takes time, a loyal and intentional investment.

I toss up another strand of lights to my hardworking and semi-uncomfortable husband and remember in the spirit of the season how after four hundred years of silence, God pierced the sky to lead humanity through the shadows. They hadn’t heard or seen from God in centuries, and in following the star He gave them, they find the Light of the World; a humble baby. A price paid to reveal and close the dark path of misery.

My darling husband makes his way back down the ladder, thankful to live another day on the ground, and I take a look at the beautifully lit corners of our roof. In corresponding with a woman about resuming the practice of her faith, C.S. Lewis wrote, “One can’t go on thinking it over for ever, and one can begin to try to be a disciple before one is a professed theologian. In fact they tell us, don’t they, that in these matters to act on the light one has is almost the only way to more light.” (4 January 1941, Mary Neylan)

We must kindle what’s in front of us. Stir the heaviest embers, and pray for enduring flames. Keep lamps burning, our front porch lights on, and continue pushing back the shadows not just for our paths, but the paths of others. Light is not cheap, still God finds each of us worth His radiant mercy and encourages us to dwell abundantly in His glow. No matter the season, on rooftops or six-feet-apart, strive to be light.

Rubens Adoration of the Magi (1609-1610)

Treasures In Our Heart

From Guest-Blogger Brittany White

“You’re going to go see Christmas lights. I need you to put on your shoes and coat and wait quietly. Your brother is too little to go. Please do not tell him where you are going.”

As a five-year-old, I can imagine how powerful it must have felt for her at that moment, for she immediately went downstairs and told him she was going to see lights and that he would not be attending.

My son, Jack, went into a tantrum, and later that night my “very sorry” daughter and I sat and looked out the window as her sister went to see Christmas lights without her.

As her tears began to dry and the weight of her actions lifted, I started telling her of the importance it was for a woman long ago to treasure in her heart a secret God had given her.

“An angel came to Mary, a young, unmarried, and dependent girl, and told her that God was going to give her Jesus, the Savior of the world. Do you know how she must have felt? Excited, nervous, maybe like you, she wanted to burst from the seams and tell the world. But she didn’t make that choice. The Bible says that Mary kept all the things the Angel had told her in her heart and thought about them often.”

For a brief moment, we sat in the warmth of one another. Then as youth so conveniently allows, my daughter leaped from my lap to face me, the cold air creeping from the window met my chest.

“Why didn’t she tell everyone?” She asked.

“Do you remember what happened when young Joseph told his brothers about his coat and his dreams?” I responded.

She thought back and remembered a project she had completed in preschool where she made a coat of many colors with different pieces of fabric. She told me that the brothers had gotten angry and jealous and hurt Joseph.

I nodded as she returned to my lap and looked back out the window at the lights in our front yard ready to listen. “Mary didn’t want to hurt or confuse others who wouldn’t understand and she didn’t want to be hurt herself. She had a long way to go because babies stay in a mommy’s tummy for a while and she and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph, had some things they needed to figure out. So she kept it in her heart. Do you know what happens when we keep good things in our hearts?”

“What?” She asked in wonder, having now completely forgotten the Christmas-light adventure she was missing.

“God grows those dreams and promises and we can talk to Him about them in our heart any time we want! We ask God to bring the right friends in our lives to help us and we trust Him to guide our feet and can focus on what He’s saying. The busy world around us sometimes doesn’t offer helpful opinions, and when we keep good things in our heart while we journey with God we don’t have to worry about letting others down and can change more easily when we discover God’s will is different from ours. Do you think Mary wanted to have a baby in a stable with all the animals?”

She laughs as I continue. “Right! Mommies don’t want to have babies in the hay! But Mary trusted God and brought close friends and family into her secret. Now, how do you think the night would have been had you gotten your shoes and sat and waited?”

I felt her take a deep breath as her little voice began. “I would have gone with Cora to see lights and Jack would eat ice cream and be happy with you. I would not have cried.”

“No, you wouldn’t have. But you also wouldn’t have been sitting here with me getting extra snuggles either,” I tell her as I squeeze her closer to my heart. “Sometimes we don’t keep things in our heart as Mary did, but that doesn’t mean God loves us any less or that He won’t trust us with other good dreams as we grow up. Because of Jesus, sorries, and forgiveness, we get another chance.”

She returns my squeeze with a hug as we watch her sister pull up with her uncle and cousins from their neighborhood adventure.

“Cora’s back! I’m going to tell her that Mary kept a secret in her heart — but I won’t tell her what it was.”

“Oh no, baby, the whole world knows now. Jesus was born! You can tell her the whole secret.”

Remi runs out of the room as my husband opens the front door and I hear her yell out to her sister that she had something important to tell her. How beautiful it is, when a good secret comes to fruition, in God’s perfect timing.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937), The Annunciation (1898)