Peace amid conflict

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The adoration of the shepherds is depicted in this 17th-century painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The feast of the Nativity of Christ, a holy day of obligation, is celebrated Dec. 25. (CNS/Bridgeman Images)

At one time or another, we’ve all secretly yearned for the Madison Avenue version of Christmas.

You know the one — where beautiful people, clad in designer clothes, gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes as he slips an expensive bauble around her neck under a fashionable tree fit for a department store window. All filmed through gauze. Perfect.

In reality, our Christmases don’t fit that image. Tired, impatient children, lopsided trees heavy with homemade ornaments, dogs smashing stolen Christmas cookies into the carpet — that’s where most of us live.

But for some people, even nagging children and unruly pets might be a welcome respite from struggle this season.

People face all kinds of conflicts and troubles, and sometimes the Christmas season as presented in our culture, in its Hallmark version, can add to the pain and a troubling lack of peace.

Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.” (CNS photo)

Consider those who have experienced the recent death of a loved one. How to find peace with a gaping hole in our heart? What about the divorced or those separated by distance from loved ones?

What of those facing terminal illness, a last Christmas? For those prone to depression, sometimes the societal imperative to be joyful can act like a weight on the emotions.

Financial difficulties, employment struggles, skirmishes over politics that set the holiday table on edge, an addiction problem, marriage problems — life is full of challenges. Sometimes we are simply lonely in a season that celebrates togetherness.

How do we find peace and joy?

We might begin by once again reading the Gospel of Luke’s Christmas story. Christ was not born into a Madison Avenue world. He came into the messy, gritty, troubled reality of human life.

We might place ourselves in the scene as Mary and Joseph search for a place for the baby to be born. Their peace did not come from security, riches or fashion. It came from a deep connection to God. That did not take away their struggles. It sanctified them.

Use your imagination to experience the untidiness of giving birth in a cave or outbuilding.

The first Christmas bears no resemblance to the frivolous and often wasteful celebrations we have created around it. In your imagination, savor the earthy smells, the raw and human sights of the first Christmas. Hear the animal sounds and the first cries of a slippery little newborn punctuating the night air.

When you go to this scene in prayer, do not dwell on your own struggles. Be with Mary and her little family in theirs.

From this beginning, fraught with uncertainty, Jesus spent His life among the poor, the marginalized, the troubled, the sinner. This is the real story of Christmas. It’s in our own struggle, sin and marginalization that Christ waits to meet us.

Devote quiet minutes each day to giving your unrest and burden to Jesus.

It also might help to make a list of seasonal “to-do’s.” Can you eliminate those that add to your stress? Narrow your list. Make “simplify” your mantra. Lower your expectations, of yourself and others.

Instead, make a list of people, the people you love, the people you miss or worry about, including the people with whom you might be in conflict. Resolve to pray for those people daily, and reach out to someone on your list each day.

A short phone call, a hug, a note dropped in the mail, whatever seems appropriate. Focus on loving them. Do not demand or expect payback. Work on your own attitude and don’t dwell on theirs.

If you are experiencing pain or conflict, find a trusted friend, adviser or confidante. Don’t go through the holiday season nursing a grievance or hurt alone. Unburden yourself to someone.

Look outward. Lonely? Call someone who might be lonely as well. Take some clothes to a shelter. Volunteer at a food bank. Socialize.

Christ promised a peace that the world cannot give. Reach out to Him.