Joy in a Time of Tension

For some, Christmas is a joyful time; for some, it is not. Amid the lights and parties, there is a lot of pressure to be happy, to wear a smile whether you feel it or not. There is also a lot of stress with buying presents and decorating and travel. Everything has to be just so. It has to match up to some idealized version of Christmas that persists in our memory, even if it never was just so. Perhaps most of all, Christmas is supposed to be the time when we gather with our families in joyful celebration. That’s not always easy.

For queer people, this has always been the case. The closet is not a joyful place. And once you are out, you face the possibility of being rejected outright. Perhaps more often, you are expected to simply bracket a part of yourself, so that no one gets upset. If you’re partnered, that can mean that you have to choose between spending the holiday with your family or the one you love.

Now, in this polarized political environment, a lot of other tensions have been laid bare. It’s easy to reduce it to a question of who voted for who, but it really gets to core issues of who we are as people. Whose lives matter to us and why? Whose pain do we see? If we see it, what are willing to do about it? These are not issues about which we can agree to disagree because they are not just “issues.” They are people. Lives are at stake and, perhaps, our democracy.

This past Sunday was the Advent theme of Joy. But it’s not Christmas morning yet. Instead, it is a glimpse of joy that is a promise of what is to come. It gives us a chance to feel it just for a moment while we wait. It seems that so many of us are in that liminal space, waiting to see what is going to happen – waiting to see if our parents will accept us or respect our boundaries; waiting to see if our fellow citizens will ever experience buyer’s remorse; waiting to see if the dawn will bring peace and justice for everyone. So it was nice to hear from some folks who are on the other side of some of those things. They were able to give us that glimpse of joy.

I found a few things very helpful, so I want to share them, if for no other reason than to internalize them for myself. First, whatever it is you and your family are, you probably have always been. And yet, you have loved each other. Sure, it is more challenging when when all the cards are on the table, but we can still love each other as we always have. Maybe you’re not there yet.

So, second, take care of yourself. Set boundaries. Maybe that means boundaries for appropriate topics of conversation. Maybe that means boundaries for what you watch on TV. Maybe it means setting time limits to spend with family. Maybe it means staying in a hotel instead of at their house, so you can have some space. Worst case, just don’t go. You don’t have to if it’s not good for you.

That brings us to the third thing: spend some time with people who love you for every bit of who you are. True joy, the joy that persists through hardship and grief, is grounded in being able to be fully ourselves with one another. Anything less than that is only tolerated or endured. Everyone deserves joy, so embrace those who embrace you.

Sunday was a joy for me, as it always is. This church is my chosen family precisely because we can all be exactly who we are with one another. We shared stories of stress and fear, but also of reconciliation and hope. We offered advice, but we also walked with one another wherever we were. We laughed and told jokes and we might have even choked back some tears.  That’s joy. May it be ever greater in the new day.

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