Having an Imperfect Christmas? There's Holiness in the Mess

"There's holiness in the mess" by Ginny Kochis (CatholicMom.com)

Image credit: By Gareth Harper (2016), Unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain

My kids struggle with the difference between expectation and reality. They come by it honestly, really: Their mother (me!) has the tendency to form specific ideas about the world around her and then melt when those expectations fall apart.

At no moment is this dichotomy worse than at Christmas. Fill a snow globe with Hallmark movies, midnight Mass, and a living Nativity that serves cookies and you’ve pretty much got my holiday vision under wraps.

This, however, is not real Christmas family life.

Real life for a family at Christmas is presents that got broken under the tree. It is pink eye and stomach bugs on Christmas morning; a favorite ornament in a thousand pieces, decoratively accompanying the small perpetrator’s feet.

In your irritation, you turn to the mantel where your eyes fall on the Nativity. You see the holy infant and his beatific mother lovingly protected by St. Joseph’s quiet strength. There is a beauty there, a perfection that seems utterly unattainable.

And so you (ahem, I) fall apart.

The thing is, holiness isn’t reserved for the perfect. It’s available to anyone who seeks it, from the simple to the broken to the frail. As mothers, we enjoy a special privilege in that our families work to sanctify us.

The work we do to raise our children makes us holy. It makes them holy as well.

Much like my contrast between real and idealized celebrations, nowhere is this more evident than at Christmas time. Mary and Joseph were already intensely holy people sanctified by the gift of the Son. We make peace and reparation for our own imperfections through the Holy Family. It is through them that we see the westward star.

Fortunately, though, you don’t have to take my word for it. Because I struggle with this sort of holiday slump on my own homefront, I asked a few friends to share their wisdom with me. And so I pass on to you the encouragement of a dozen Catholic mothers, offering the truth of our holiness in the ever-present mess.

Mother Angelica once compared sin to mud. She told a story about three people: the sinner, the good person, and the saint. All of them get muddy at different points in their lives, but it’s their reaction to the mud that sets them apart.

The sinner delights in the mud— doesn’t see anything wrong with it and claims it to be “natural”; something they can’t help.

The good person hates the mud and is distraught when he/she falls into it. The good person says, “I can’t believe I fell into this mess again …” and then wallows for too long (not realizing their pride).

The saint is not surprised when he/she falls in the mud. The saint says, “dang it.” But gets out immediately, spending almost no time at all focusing on it. It’s not a shock to the saint that he/she is kind of a mess … but they keep getting back out of the puddle and they don’t dwell on it.

In our family, we try to imitate the saint in that story. We let things go, forgive ourselves and each other, and then DECIDE to move on. Grace Bellon – GraceSwap

My battle with chronic illness has laid me pretty low on many Christmases. The journey has been painful as I have grieved the loss of what I think motherhood should look like. But navigating holy days with sickness has also been a great conduit of grace as I learn, year after year, that it’s not about me after all. When I’m sick, He still comes. When I’m grumpy, He still comes. Whether or not I’m ready, He still comes. Christmas never has and never will be about me and what I can or cannot do to celebrate well. What a liberating truth! Thanks be to God.  Melody Lyons – The Essential Mother

We try to remember and teach that our spiritual life is a journey. We’re full of imperfections. When we converted to the Catholic Church we had to explain to the kids how we’d been wrong about some things that we had taught them. Remembering that we haven’t arrived gives freedom and grace to accept our flaws and mistakes, and let them be part of our own unique journey of faith. Desiree Hausam – Green Catholic Burrow

I keep trying. We keep showing up — to family prayer time, to Mass — in spite of the obstacles. Instead of assuming the attitude that “we have to believe and we have to follow these rules,” we try to keep discussing what and why we believe. We encourage questions. I’m trying to show an example of personal prayer when I have a Bible and journal out, and I offer my days and frustrations as sacrifices for my family. Where I am lacking, I offer my children and husband to the Lord and trust that He will love them and guide them back to Him. Gina Fensterer – Someday Saints

Knowing which things are worth letting go and holding fast to the things that truly edify and fortify your family in the virtues necessary for true discipleship. Also, being honest with your kids about your shortcomings and past mistakes. Even if they make those same mistakes, they know in the back of their minds that you eventually regretted those decisions.

Piety does not mean perfection. Discipleship is messy and showing your kids how you dust your knees off in the confessional and try again is good to model for them. No kid wants a model of unattainable perfection.

Whatever pursuits you see as good and holy (and they often can be!) will always pale in comparison to everything you put into your family (tending your own garden). That means work, volunteering, apostolates, etc. Build up your family first and God will bless the rest. Martina Kreitzer – Catholic Sistas

Our imperfect family is holy by the mere fact that we are TOGETHER. That togetherness can be loud, busy, and overwhelming, at times. But, together we celebrate life, light, hope, and the birth of our Savior during the Christmas season. Leslie McConnell – Advanced Maternal Adventures

Even when we fail, being less than kind to one another, we pick ourselves back up, ask forgiveness and begin again, keeping the Holy Family as our modelDianna Kennedy – The Kennedy Adventures

Joy is found in the small moments—a smile from a spouse, a hug from a child, a thank you from a relative or friend—not from anything we do, but from who we are—daughters of the King of Kings laying in the manger. Christina Semmons – Say Yes to Holiness

Small acts of kindness. We probably use the word kind/kindness more than any other in our family. We may have lots of moments when we’re not kind but we’re always trying to get back to treating each other with kindness because that’s how Jesus calls us to act. Sterling Jaquith

Forgiveness. We are all passionate people, but we are quick to ask for forgiveness when we know we’re wrong and never withhold it as a weapon. Kristi Denoy – Hail Marry Blog

We keep going. Get knocked down nine times, get up ten. Working toward St Josemaría’s goal: “A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.” Liz Schleicher – Dymphna’s Daughter

Letting go and letting God. We are flawed as human beings, and we need to acknowledge that and ask God to take over those parts of us that are not of Him. He wants very much to do that – but He only will if we invite Him in. In our family, inviting Him in comes in the form of a prayer routine. At meals and at bedtime, of course – but also at any point throughout the day when we find ourselves in need of help. I am learning that I need to be a model of prayer for my girls even at a young age, because they will notice the absence of prayer in my life just as much as its presence. Kendra St. Hillaire – Marebear’s Mom

What advice would you give to a mom who feels discouraged this Christmas season? How does your family find holiness in the mess?

Copyright 2018 Ginny Kochis


About Author

Ginny Kochis is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mom to three differently-wired children. She founded the Not So Formulaic community to support Catholic moms raising out-of-the-box kids. Ginny believes God gives curious, creative, intense children the exact mother they need to thrive.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Ginny. I don’t have any advice, but I have sure appreciated the wisdom in this post. This is my first Christmas since losing my husband this past spring. We couldn’t find where he packed the Nativity. We have a donkey and a camel on the mantel. It is my first Christmas as a Catholic. Midnight Mass was beautiful. My kids are all in college, but still living at home (at least that’s what the dirty dishes and piles of laundry would indicate. I don’t see them much). I recently got a job for the first time in 20 years. 2 of my daughters are on the spectrum. One suffers from severe depression and anxiety. Since their dad died, getting them to Mass is like pulling teeth. They have completely rejected his protestant beliefs. A week ago, they forgot my birthday–completely. Yesterday, I made a huge dinner because my parents were supposed to come over. My parents forgot. They are having their own crisis in life. My oldest flew to her boyfriend’s family celebration and it was me and my 16 and 18-year-old daughters at the table. Life doesn’t look the way it used to and I never thought this was how things would be. I probably shouldn’t just lay all of this out in comments, but it does give a bit of background. After our big dinner yesterday, we all went to our own rooms. I took a long nap. Last night my youngest came in and I asked her if she had an okay Christmas celebration. She thought it was perfect. She enjoyed the quiet of it. In the end, that gave me a lot of comforts. Things always change. Life can throw some pretty bad stuff at us. In the end, did we remember why we celebrate? Are we at peace? Perhaps as Our Holy Mother was giving birth in the stable she was thinking, “Really? There was no place better suited to bring the Son of God into the world?” While we romanticize the first Christmas, it wasn’t ideal for those living it. Not until Jesus entered the picture.

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