At Christmas, perhaps more than any other time of year, it can be easy to lose sight of our own worth. To be swayed by impossible ideas of how we should be, while forgetting to give credit for all that we are.
Even healthy people feel pressure to achieve perfection at Christmas. And when severe physical compromise is the starting point, there can be a strong sense of falling short. It can be tempting to see ourselves as having failed, simply for being unable to participate in Christmas in the way that we would wish. I see friends on social media apologising for being unable to choose presents or write cards. Others feeling they’ve let everyone down through being too ill to have visitors. This year I myself have felt especially guilty about my ongoing inability to contribute to all the Christmas preparations. I’ve felt responsible for the restrictions on my family, who continue to be cautious in order to protect me from covid. And I’ve beaten myself up for times when I’ve been overwhelmed and emotionally messy – as though I ought to be able to skip through Advent in a state of calm and ordered bliss.
Special occasions like Christmas can evoke many emotions. Limitations are amplified. Losses that might be bearable at other points in the year can take on a greater edge of pain. And hope can rise up and be scary to embrace. Allowing space for grief and regret is important – as is recognising that none of it signifies personal failure. On the contrary, the very opposite is true: enduring the hardships of lengthy illness demands the greatest inner strength.
The wish to give to others is a strong human instinct, and the inability to do so adequately – at least in our eyes – can be painful. But true giving runs far deeper than handing over the perfect present, cooking the perfect meal, or adorning the house with perfect decorations. Giving our unique selves is the greatest gift we can give: even when our beings are broken.
There were years when I could do nothing but breathe and survive – and yet my worth as a human was no less than it is now in better health. That knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile all that I want to be with the reality of my limitations. But it does help to remind me that what the world needs more of is not surface level glitter and sparkle. It is love, resilience and understanding.
That, I can give.
Sending love and warmth to all who celebrate Christmas, all who don’t, and – most importantly – all who can’t.
I have written previously about Christmas in Christmas Darkness and Light.
Image credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Image description: A bubble, with icy patterns on the surface, rests on the branch of a tree.