The Christmas from Hell

Nothing is ever so hopeless, or so out of control because you’ve blown it so badly, that God can’t fix it . . . but He may take you through hell to do it.

The story I’m about to tell is “awfully raw,” my husband tells me . . . but he gives me permission because he remembers that dark dawn when God’s sweet resurrection power lifted us out of death into life at a painful hideous time, when we had blown it very badly.

We have an enemy who wants to draw the whole world down into death, because he hates man . . . but even more, he hates God. Knowing the immutable laws that govern life and death, he leverages these laws against us, to plunge us into the gut- wrenching sorrow of loss that he knows will be loosed into our lives, if we walk in disobedience. By hurting us, he “gets” at God, Who hates and feels our agony of human suffering with us.

Paul called this enemy “the prince of the power of the air,” his sphere being the airwaves of thought that penetrate our mind. He knows that if he can “think his thoughts” in our minds, he can arouse our flesh to produce wrong-being in our souls, which is death in us. [1]

Therefore, he  “plays up” God’s sovereignty to Christians, and “plays down” our personal responsibility to be vigilant over our thought life. In doing so, he produces our blithe indifference to governing reality — rendering us passive.

We think we can get away with walking sloppily; but Scripture and human history prove that God does not suspend His immutable laws to save us from the grimmest of consequences we bring upon ourselves by poor judgment and wrong thinking.  The battlefield is strewn with bleeding and battered warriors who miss-stepped.

It is, therefore, not just our victory but God’s, for us to be moved beyond our enemy’s reach — translated out of our flesh (which is hopelessly doomed by the law of sin and death operating in it) into our redeemed new man.

I tell you the following story so that you can see how God permits believers to be swallowed up by death, but how He also comes with resurrection power to lift us out of its hold.

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As I climbed the ladder to hang the star on our tree, Christmas music soared around me filling the air, snow was falling outside, and my heart overflowed with prayer as I considered with fresh awe how my Lord had come as a baby, born into a dark and hopeless world. Surely this was going to be one of the holiest Christmases ever.

I was blithe in my assumption — thinking that everything God wanted to do and be for our family would come-to-be — because we all wanted it so much.

It was my mom’s and my first Christmas without my dad, but this sorrow was offset by my exhilaration that our son was coming with his whole family for their first Christmas with Bill and me in our new home in Montana. Our hearts were pure as we looked forward to that sacred time together.

But in the excitement of my preparation, with the many distractions and much work to get ready, I lost my vigilant discretion over my thought life.

My busyness in making lists and menus, taking trip after trip to the grocery store, getting up early and working late began to separate Bill and me. He withdrew to his study, out of my way, and I huffed and puffed dragging the endless groceries in alone, putting them away, wondering why this should be a one-woman show.

Having lugged many cumbersome boxes up from the basement to the living room, along with the heavy sculptures of our stone crèche for the fireplace mantle, I began to tire, finding myself vulnerable to self pity. As I began to clean up and carry the boxes back downstairs to storage, I eyed my husband on the couch.  As I worked all around him, Bill just kept reading his magazine and watching TV in front of the fire, intent on enjoying his evening. But his coolness was palpable.  His absence of conversation or encouragement, and his lack of help began to infuriate me.  There was something going on, and I didn’t know what it was, but I was getting tired of it.

He let me lug every one of those boxes back to the basement, without lifting his eyes or offering to help.  Call it a test.  Call it whatever he wanted . . . I just wanted to see how “selfish” he could be.

He went to bed without me, without a word. When I joined him, it began a string of nights lying side by side in the same bed not touching, not speaking.  I prayed for God to help. Looking out the window into the cold black sky, the whole forest was lit up with the softly shimmering light of the moon reflected by the snow. The beauty tugged on my heavy heart and I begged God to change things — but I didn’t see the picture He was giving me of the choice I had.

So those last two days before our son and his family arrived, I labored uncomplainingly, dead to the light, unable to reflect it. The darkness in my heart grew stronger as I gave in to an increasing sense of being morally superior and unjustly treated — a deadly duo plunging me deeper into the hold of my flesh.

No answer to my prayer broke through. No power of God came to save us.

 

From the moment they arrived, our family could feel the ill will between Bill and me; it was thick in the air.  I made overt attempts to cover it with enthusiasm, pouring out loving efforts on everyone. Bill was subdued, out of sorts, trying to be a good host, but short on patience. I was embarrassed, infuriated and judgmental of him. He was resentful, angry and condescending with me.  Both of us felt the other was the problem, as we succumbed to deadly anger, thoroughly rooted in our flesh.

Outwardly, I was doing everything I could to love our family, to make this Christmas special, to work as hard as I needed to make every meal beautiful, to think through every detail, to put my best face forward. But inside, I was seething, wanting to scream, feeling contempt for my husband, raging over my utter helplessness, infuriated that Bill had the power to destroy what I had worked so hard to attain.  My inner stateofbeing made it impossible to esteem or honor my children’s father, much less love him.  I didn’t recognize how blind I was, how wrong my thinking was,

I was tasting death, but didn’t realize that I had been swallowed up by it.

 

The crash of reality on my soul

The night of the 26th, after their children had been put to bed, our son stood in front of the fireplace to confront Bill and me about how terrible this Christmas was. It was so awful, that he and his wife were going to stay through Bill’s birthday the next day, but then would leave early to salvage what little they could of their Christmas vacation — unless something changed fast.  With respect, but agonizing brutal honesty, he addressed what Bill and I could no longer hide from.

Bill sank back in his chair, listening with his eyes closed; it was so painful. I listened with tears streaming down my face, struggling to keep from sobbing. This was the cruel opposite of everything I had worked for, the last thing Bill or I had intended.

 

Wrong-thinking creates wrong-being, which is death in our souls.

. . . and no amount of outward right-doing can hide, make-up for, or prevent the destruction that death brings.

. . . and begging God to change things is not going to suspend the immutability of His sovereign laws from unfolding.

 

It was one of the most painful moments of my entire life. But seeing the effect of my wrong-being on our family was bringing me to my Peniel, to my Schechem.[2] I’d been brought there before, and I will be brought there again.

Being brought to repentance is hideously painful, but it is absolutely necessary if God is going to translate us out of death and into life. . . out of our flesh and into our new spiritual man . . . out of the reach of our enemy and into the safekeeping of our God.

*

The next morning, before anyone else in the house was awake, I slipped down to my study, fully experiencing the gut-wrenching realization of what was being destroyed as I crumbled before my Lord.  Like every Peniel, like every Schechem experience of repentance:

1.   God was contending with me through the consequences I had brought upon myself.  I was battling for what I held dearest in life.

2.   With a touch, God crippled me, instantaneously making it impossible for me to continue — as I had been — trying to walk our nightmare out.  We had made Christmas so awful that our family just wanted to leave

3.    And now, God was challenging what I believed about Him. Up until this point, I had not understood the degree to which God meant business with me.

Like many believers, I lacked vigilance over my thought life, as if my relationship with the Lord gave me a “get out of jail“ card free.  I knew that holding my husband in contempt was wrong — but I confused God’s patience as laxity regarding “the rules” that applied to me. I was learning that He is a God of severe mercy, willing to take me through hell in order to teach me what He intends to teach me. In this case:

  • No matter what the offense, no matter what injustice has been done to me, no matter how someone else has failed me — GOD is not going to condone wrong-thinking in me, because it is going to produce wrong-being. And death will destroy not only what I, but He, loves best.
  • No matter how hard I try to cover up my ill will, no matter how hard I pray for things to be different . . .  no matter how much He loves me. . .  He is not going to suspend the consequences of my wrong-being.

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He lifted me out of death into life.

I can’t tell you the exact moment the hold of my flesh was broken, my soul was set free, and everything was made new in me. But I do know that as I waited, crumpled and broken before Him, new thoughts came. My mind was suddenly and softly awash with compassion for Bill.

I remembered that his dying father’s last Christmas, when Bill was nine, Bill had taken over his daddy’s job to string their family’s Christmas tree lights and continued to do that for his mom every year, until we were married. I always did ours, dimly understanding that Bill hated stringing Christmas tree lights, because it reminded him of that painful time.

And then I began to think about what his dying father’s last Christmas must have been like. Where was his mother’s attention that year? She was probably distracted and heartbroken, not as emotionally available as she had always been. A nine-year-old boy could have felt abandoned, threatened and confused. Maybe Bill’s remoteness, his seeming resentment, as I become distracted and busy, has to do with unresolved pain from that childhood memory of loss and abandonment.

graceAs these thoughts washed through me,  thoughts that had never crossed my mind before,  I changed. 

And then I saw myself kneeling upstairs, at Bill’s bedside, waking him gently on his birthday, telling him how sorry I was, asking him to forgive me.  I knew it was God prompting me, God calling me to obedience. That obedience was not hard.

6-- obedienceMy inner being was so different — suffused with compassion, humble, contrite — that I got up and ran to Bill, with everything in me wanting to ask for his forgiveness.  I wanted to make things right, to give him the birthday he deserved.

Waking him gently, stroking his hair, I kissed his forehead and cheek, telling him I was so sorry.  He awoke with the sweetness of an innocent child. The air was changed. Our thoughts and hearts were changed. Our son and his wife elatedly decided to stay. Life had replaced the rule of death in our home.  But the very best, most precious blessing was saved until last:

That night as we climbed into bed together and Bill held me, I asked him how his birthday had been.  He answered softly, “It has been the best birthday of my life.”

 

What power is this?

The power of God that sets us free from sin and death is the power that lifted Jesus out of the grave: the power of resurrection. As I waited crumpled and broken before the Lord that morning, grace began to work in me, bringing resurrection power. Resurrection is not just a miracle we are promised at the end of this age, it is a reality whose reach we are meant-to-be experiencing now . . . each and every time it lifts us up out of death into life.

Resurrection

6--resurrection

“. . .resurrection is woven deeply into the fabric of living by grace”

Bob Hoekstra [3]

Sometimes we have to experience the reality of something described in Scripture, before we really connect with what that Scripture is saying. Ever since our Christmas from hell, I’ve understood this passage from Ephesians extremely well . . .

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience. . . But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love . . .  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up. . . For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God . . .

Eph 2:1-9, NKJV

Resurrection, raising us up alive together with Christ, is God’s victory over our enemy, His victory over the long history of pain and suffering that marks the human experience.

Resurrection translates us beyond the reach of our enemy, beyond the reach of sin and death, beyond the downward pull of our flesh.

But, there has to be a death for resurrection to come.

And so, in God’s severe mercy, He bring us to that death. . . knowing that  making us safe often means taking us through hell.

 

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[1] Gen 3:1-7, NKJV

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

[2] See Becoming Who We Are Meant-to-be, March 7th, 2013

[3] http://www.blueletterbible.org/devotionals/dbdbg/view.cfm

Day By Day By Grace, Bob Hoekstra, March 13th, 2013,

The New Covenant of Grace: A Resurrection Covenant

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  1. Duhi Schneider says:

    Valerie, this blog post really spoke to me in a very personal way! Thank you for sharing in such an intimate level. Love you! Duhi

  2. Sue Webster says:

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    Valerie..this posting plows up the hard ground of having to be “right” and demanding the place of honor among our beloveds. You have ploughed the ground for many and given us a visual for death and repentance….the Kingdom is strengthened by your honesty…thank you…sue

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