On Christmas Day, I’ll lug bags through the airport. They’ll be filled with gifts that I wanted to see so I didn’t have them shipped straight to my parents’ house. Those gifts will be padded with the few winter clothes we own, all of which get pulled out for the week of thirty or forty degrees colder than Phoenix. Some version of this has been part of the ritual of Christmas since I became a pastor. A day of flying ends with a few more hours of driving in a rental car. Many times, I have longed to be traveling to a place where I could at least top off the endless day with a glass of wine. Alas, the Southeast continues to hang on to dry counties with the same death grip it uses for the Confederacy.
The plane ride is eerily silent and empty if it’s early and chaotic if it leaves after 8 a.m. The seats are packed with children who are excited about more things than I care to count, are ramped up on sugar or ramped up in hope of sugar, likely tired, and definitely bored. The best of parents are worn thin by the time anyone is seated on the plane. The same pattern is true for security, where parents herd kids through the line. It’s immediately evident if the family flies often or only at Christmas. The kids’ excitement manages to derail that process, too.
Pick a place along the journey and business as usual has gone out the window. The lone open gas station is packed, as is the Waffle House. Roads are mostly deserted, no matter where I’m driving. Across the board, people are either exuding Christmas cheer or in a Scrooge-level huff, with few occupying middle ground. For me, at least, this holy day is mostly an in-between day. It is most definitely the already and the not yet. I have sung carols, heard the Gospel, and marveled at the promise of the Christ child. Family gatherings are still a ways off, including packages and too much food. This day lies in between.
The in-between places are never the ones of memories carried through the years. They are never talked about at family gatherings. We don’t mark in-between places as holy. I am incredibly aware that not hitting cultural milestones makes some places feel more in-between than they should. I spent three years as a very single adult after seven years of higher education and another three as a kind of single adult before getting married. Many people treated all of those years as an in-between, not my life.
As Christmas draws near, I’m aware of how much weight the in-between places carry. Holiday expectations and in-between places never seem to match up just right. The in-between is a place of grief, a place of longing, and a place of wandering.
That day of travel every year that is spent mostly nowhere has given me some perspective on the rest of the year, especially the in-between times. If I cannot live my faith in the far more prevalent in-between times, then I’ve lost some of my best opportunities. Here are a few things I do that day a little more intentionally than the other days:
- Hold babies. I’ve said it many times, but here’s once more: I hold babies in the line for security. At least I make the offer. Most parents look surprised, look around briefly at the number of security guards, then hand over the baby. I know they’ve done the math and realize I’m not going to make it anywhere with their baby. Maybe holding babies freaks you out. How do you make the day of the people around you a little easier? How can you tangibly love your neighbor in that moment?
- Tip well. I loathe that we create industries where we intentionally underpay employees. I always tip 20% out of the conviction that if I can’t afford that, I can’t afford to eat out. We don’t buy drinks at restaurants most of the time, so it evens out pretty well. Maybe your budget is tight and you’re only eating out because there’s no other option. Even so, how can you be generous?
- Be patient. So here’s one way to be exceedingly generous. I am not a patient person. Ask my partner about this and he could well talk for twenty minutes about my lack of patience before you got another word in. Still, we’ve opted for a society that pushes productivity amid stagnant wages. Most everyone is a little tired and overworked. An old Sunday school song might help, “Remember that God is patient, too, and think of all the times that others have to wait on you.”
- Say, “Thank you.” The stories of people in service industries are appalling when it comes to the way they are treated. Recognize the dignity of people around you (imago dei, anyone?) and treat them with basic respect.
- Accept help. The implication of “Love your neighbor,” is that we’re all in this together. There’s more than that, sure, but if you get nothing else, remember that we’re all in this together. You might need help one day and it’s ok to take it. You gave someone else the chance to be nice or to live out their faith. One terrible morning on my way to work, I stopped to get caffeine at a gas station. I opened my wallet to pay and it was totally empty. I realized in my non-caffeinated stupor that when I dropped my wallet from my nightstand the night before, the cards must have fallen out. Someone behind me paid the $3 and I went back home and found my cards. I love that person dearly, even though I wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them, again.
The in-between is holy, too. For it was in the in-between place that the Christ child was born because we needed something in-between heaven and earth. Let us occupy the in-between with as holy intent as we welcome the Christ child.