“Dear God, please don’t let Christmas come.”

Have you ever been there? And, I don’t mean perhaps being a little overwhelmed with too much holiday preparation. I mean when the idea of celebrating anything is more than you can handle.

For me it was 1987.

For most of my life, I had looked forward to Christmas with the usual excitement and anticipation. Raised by parents who taught me from the Bible, I always thought I had the right view of Christmas, and in general loved the Holiday season. But 1987 was different.

As I flipped the calendar over to December, the reality of Christmas hit me suddenly and hard. The idea of celebrating anything, especially Christmas, made me physically sick. How can a person celebrate when their world is upside down, when they have forgotten what anything feels like, let alone happiness?

Earlier that fall, I had lost my husband to a car accident, followed closely by the birth of our first child. To say that I had been surviving for the previous two months is an understatement. Moment to moment I really wondered whether I would survive. Numbness and despair were the only two feelings I had, and I certainly didn’t have any reason for joy. My journal from that time explains it this way:
“My skin is gone. Even the air hurts. I’m raw and exposed. I don’t want to kill myself, but I don’t want to be alive. I’m afraid this will kill me.

And I’m afraid it won’t.”

I poured myself into my work as a nurse and into keeping my new son alive. A son, named after his father, who was both the new source of my reason for living, and also the greatest reminder of my loss. I made it through October, then November; then I must have made it through the first Thanksgiving. I don’t remember it.

What I do remember is the renewed desperation I felt as I realized Christmas was only 25 days away. I began a new set of appeals and prayers. Prayers with the central focus of “Please God, I’m not ready to celebrate Christmas. Please don’t let it come.”

I was sure I wouldn’t survive it.

I asked God for a new Christmas miracle: Could he just delete December 25th this year?
If that weren’t possible, would he consider putting me in a coma until the new year, and then perhaps I could try again? “Dear God, however you do it, please don’t let Christmas come.”

It seems almost comical, and even embarrassing to put in print some of the variations on the theme I prayed day after day, but there are some who understand how sincere even my most irrational-sounding appeals were. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of celebrating without the one whose loss I still felt so deeply, and the grief I was not ready to set aside yet.

My heart turns to several Wilson Hill families that have recently experienced sudden and devastating loss. I remember those days, that first year of trying to breathe and stand up again. Perhaps like me, they cannot conceive the idea of celebrating again, and certainly not at Christmas. They wonder how to survive the days ahead. It’s for them and others for whom the thought of Christmas brings a sense of dread that I share what happened, how the Lord answered my prayer.

As the days passed and Christmas day came closer, my desperation increased, as did my prayers, until just shortly before the dreaded day.

I wish I had written that day in my journal, but even 30 years later, I still remember the day God answered my prayer. On my knees, I began pleading what had become the routine, “Please God… just not this year. Please don’t let Christmas come.”

And then I heard it. I heard the still small voice of His Spirit speaking gently to my heart, asking me a question. “Leah, what if I gave you what you wanted?

What if I hadn’t come?”

I stopped praying and held my breath. Had I imagined it? Then I heard more.

“Don’t you know it was for you, for this Christmas, that I came? This is the Christmas, this is the year you needed me to come.”

I don’t know how long I sat, quietly breathing. I knew the Lord had spoken to me. Slowly, as the realization of those words sunk in, something began to happen in the middle of my body. Like the Grinch’s heart, I think mine grew three sizes that day.

And I understood. I understood Christmas. I understood Christmas.

I began to laugh and cry and sing and cry more, and eventually stopped, with my heart quieted in a way it hadn’t been for a long time. I realized my understanding of Christmas until then had been so lacking. Not wrong necessarily, but incomplete.

When I got up, I knew that not only could I celebrate Christmas that year, but I knew that no matter the circumstances, I’d always be able to celebrate the birth of my Savior and Lord, who came to share with me in my suffering, and to help me when I most needed Him.

1987 was still a hard Christmas. But I count it the best one. The one when I didn’t get what I prayed for. The one in which Jesus came for me.

My prayer for my friends who have suffered loss is to be comforted in the knowledge that nothing could stop Christmas from coming. May your heart be quieted by the new understanding that this Christmas is for you.

Leah Coll teaches Latin 2 & 3 at Wilson Hill Academy.