We all do it. . . and we’ve been doing it for a long, long time. While we might not recognize it, it’s the same thing we gripe about when we find ourselves shaking our heads at the selfies our kids post on social media. Sure, our moms used to tell us to “comb your hair, tuck in your shirt, and make sure you pull up your zipper” before we’d leave the house. But there’s a huge gap between having mom and dad (ok, mom usually) caring for us because we didn’t really care about ourselves, to even the youngest of the young now fretting over how things look. We’ve morphed into an image-obsessed culture that requires the complete allegiance of our selves, our time, and our money into keeping up appearances.
The other day I ran across a thought-provoking article that got me thinking about how we’ve been doing this annually – keeping up appearances that is – during the month of December for years and years and years. The article on christianitytoday.com was provacatively titled, “Stop Sending Cheery Christmas Cards.” What?!? Written by Kay Warren, the article was subtitled, “When you don’t mention our son’s tragic death, it only hurts more.” Along with her husband Rick, Kay has been grieving the suicide of her son Matthew since he died last year. As you and I can only imagine, last Christmas was extremely difficult for the Warrens.
That’s where the Christmas cards come in. Kay Warren writes, When I opened the first batch of cards, shock washed over me. Photos of beautiful, happy, intact families cascaded onto my kitchen table. Most were accompanied by a greeting wishing me a joyous Christmas. Some had a signature and the message, “Hope you have a great Christmas.” Others included a standard family newsletter, listing the accomplishments, vacations, and delightful family moments that had filled their year. I grew astonished, then angry, as I realized that none of the cards mentioned that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier, leaving us definitely not having a joyous Christmas.
Again, you and I can only imagine what it must have felt like for the Warrens to read all those happy notes and see all those happy pictures.
I also think that Kay Warren raises a point that extends far beyond the intent of her article. While her words help us understand the very real and difficult waters grieving families have to navigate, I also think that her words challenge us to step back and get real. . . first with ourselves. . . and then with each other. After all, isn’t that what vulnerable Christian community is all about?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about our culture of self-curation. The great irony of our kids and their selfies is that rarely if ever do our kids’ selfies reveal who they really are. In effect, a selfie tells the truth about who we wish we are, rather than who we really are. It’s a facade. A lie. And once our selfie is posted for all the world to see, we indulge ourselves in looking at others’ selfies. . . all the while realizing that the truth about our own selves (which we all tend to know in ways that can gnaw away at us) is that “I just don’t measure up.” But I’ll then go on to carefully craft and post another selfie in an effort to measure up, look good, and appear better than I really am.
So, wouldn’t you agree that the annual Christmas letter is a textual selfie? And when we include the carefully posed and curated photo of the family. . . well. . . that ups the ante? Hey, I’ve written and sent Christmas letters. I know how it works. We’ve chosen to not do it anymore.
I’ve often thought that all Christmas letters could be reduced to a generic four lines: “Dear Friends. Merry Christmas. Our family is awesome. Sorry that your family isn’t as awesome as ours.” Sounds harsh, but isn’t that what’s really going on here? After all, if our letters and the enclosed photograph didn’t reduce an entire 365 days into six paragraphs and one visual second that show the world our very (or imagined!) best, they might reveal the truth about the hurts, pains, and brokenness that have visited us and our families.
What would happen if we were honest about ourselves? I think we’d be more in tune with our need for a Savior. I think we’d be able to be thoughtful, compassionate, and empathetic with each other. I think we’d be indulging in true Christian community. I think we’d realize that we need to stop lying. I think we’d be true to ourselves, and to each other.
While I agree that some Christmas letters are just what you are mentioning Walt, I personally love to find out what my friends have been up to over the last year. I’ve just received 2 very “real” Christmas letters with both the good and the bad stuff listed in them.I usually write a Christmas letter and get a lot of good feedback from it, so I think it depends a lot on the letter….not just Christmas letters in general. I must have a more honest bunch of friends I guess.
My heart is heavy for the Warren’s. We had couple at our church a few years ago that lost a young son, hit by a car. She shared with me that she wanted her friends and people to ask about her son so she talk about him and ask about them; It helped her grieve; i never thought about it; I was so careful what I said, I thought, to not upset her.
I totally understand grief, losing a dad and a brother in October. The holidays can be really hard, but I love seeing pictures of friends and family that live far away. Yes, sometimes the letters can be trite and goofy, but the Christmas card is the only communication we have with some of our family. I lost an uncle in November this year and have already sent a separate card to my cousin wishing her comfort and peace this season. I feel sad that no one comforted the Warrens with their Christmas card and I do hope their community did rise up and comfort them in their loss.
I totally get the “we’re awesome, you’re not” vibe that can be unintentionally communicated, but I think the card idea came from looking for ways to let people know how much we love them and care for them. Maybe it would be better to go retro and just send cards (but not photo cards or letters)?