Christmas at Grandma's was the highlight of my childhood years. Seven sets of aunts and uncles and gobs of cousins squeezed together under the roof of the old ranch house where she lived. Grandma's living room twinkled with the multicolored lights on her lopsided tree and her scarred oak table swayed under a load of popcorn balls, homemade candy, and other once-a-year treats. Throughout the evening, neighboring ranchers and townsfolk stopped in to partake of the merriment sure to be found at the Moore ranch on Christmas Eve. Somehow the old house expanded to hold the horde.
This treasured tradition continued even after my dad's death, until Grandma died when I was fifteen. That year, as the holiday season approached, Mom informed my brother, sister, and me that we wouldn't be going to the ranch. "It's time for us to form our own family traditions," she explained. I was devastated, unable to imagine celebrating Christmas with only four people.
That first holiday was difficult. It took time to develop our own wonderful traditions, but eventually the noisy, crowded Christmases at Grandma's faded into a pleasant memory.
Years later, the familiar warmth of those chaotic celebrations enveloped me again after attending a Christian women's retreatthe same profusion of love and acceptance I'd always felt at Grandma's.
Reflecting on it, I was surprised and chagrined to recognize the similarity between my childhood memories and my relationship with God. Just as Christmas had seemed more fun with a crowd, so did God. He felt more exciting and tangible at retreats or Bible study groups. Without realizing it, I had depended on those gatherings for my spiritual growth. I'd never learned to experience God one-on-one, away from outside stimulations.
Perhaps it's time you did, came the thought. I recalled the Christmases after Grandma's death. Although that first quiet holiday had been difficult, each succeeding year grew better. I began to prefer Christmas Eves alone with my husband. In these simple celebrations, our communication was most open, our love more easily expressed.
I wondered if that's how it could be with God. Early the next morning I sat down with my Bible and a notebook. After reading, I waited quietly. At first, it seemed awkward, even a little empty. But as I persevered, God responded. When thoughts came to mind, I'd jot them down. I found this one-on-one communication sparked a level of joy and peace I'd never experienced in large groups.
I still enjoy crowd-sized celebrationsbut it's when I spend private time with God that I'm truly renewed and grounded. And my most treasured part of Christmas has become those moments sitting by the Christmas tree alone with God.
Copyright Â© 1997 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.