Last week my 11 year old son boldly stated his intention to write a letter to Santa this year; the reason he felt the need to clarify is because last year I prepped him for the eventuality that one day he will no longer choose to do this. I explained that as we outgrow toys, we outgrow the need for a visit from Santa and step aside to leave room on the sleigh for the requests of smaller children. He accepted this notion without question, but was firm in his resolve to make his heartfelt wishes known to the man in the red suit yet again. I told him it was fine by me, at which point he said with incredulity, “I really don’t understand how people can NOT believe in Santa. Could ANYTHING be more obvious?”
He makes an excellent point.
For a guy who only shows up once a year, Santa has some kind of mad PR machine working for him. Has there ever been anyone in the history of the world who has had more books, movies, songs and TV shows written about him? Has any character appeared in more artwork, advertisements or on more street corners? I’m not even going to attempt to research this, but in terms of public awareness, I’d say there is no one and nothing that ranks above St. Nick, with the possible exception of GOD.
See what I just did there?
My son’s canny observation prompted me to engage him in a conversation about the importance of our beliefs. I explained to him that beliefs shape our perception of what we experience, so it is crucial to establish a strong and positive belief system about everything, most especially ourselves. Our internal dialogue about whom and how we are is the number one factor in our effectiveness in engaging with others and the world at large.
He seemed to easily grasp the idea that his beliefs about himself would impact his life, but had a harder time understanding how denial of the obvious—Santa’s existence and climate change were the examples he used—could change or influence anything. I told him that it all comes back to personal responsibility; what we believe drives our behavior and our behavior is the stone that causes the ripples in the pond. We are powerful and influential beyond our wildest imaginings, so it is critically important to be a force for good.
This conversation caused me, naturally, to re-evaluate how my belief system has been working for me recently. I have always been one of those everything-happens-for-a-reason people (with my apologies to the many wise and rational folk this understandably offends) because it is a belief that is helpful to me in looking at my experiences, most especially the frightening and damaging ones. This belief has helped me to reframe some harshly negative incidents into something more empowering and useful.
However, I have also come to realize that I am a person who values clarity and certainty perhaps above all other things; this means whenever I am facing a challenging situation with no clear course to resolve, I have a tendency to panic. My need to impose a positive meaning on all that is happening to me undermines my ability to let go, go with the flow and TRUST. In other words, I have a constant urgent yearning to skip to the end of the book (they lived happily ever after!) instead of living in the uncertain and messy present.
I want the wisdom and reward without the journey. Is it just me?
There is a great deal of uncertainty in my life right now, and therefore my son’s as well; it is not surprising that he would want to dig into his belief in the positive (Santa) during this challenging time. I had a dream recently that I was in the woods alone at night on a snow covered trail; the only light was the moon and walking in the deep drifts was arduous work. I was overcome with fear and doubt—should I turn around or keep going? Except I couldn’t remember where I was coming from or how far I’d already walked; also, I wasn’t sure where I was going or how long it would be until I got there.
In the dark, cold woods, alone at night with no idea whether I am coming or going sounds about right these days. But in my dream I heard the voice of a beloved friend urging me on: “Just stay on the path.” I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated this line to myself since I had that dream. Keep going, keep moving and stay on the path.
In this place I have become interested in the fact that the words “belief” and “faith” are often used interchangeably. Living with uncertainty and strife, I have come to realize that while my belief system is undeniably strong, my faith could actually use some work. My tendency to apply positive meaning in retrospect, while helpful, is nowhere near as powerful as an ability to find value in the present.
The holiday season is called “the season of faith” because it is a time of hopeful expectancy. As Christians await the birth of a savior, children await the visit from St. Nick and we all await the New Year, our gratitude goes before us—there is absolutely no doubt these things will come. And it occurs to me this is the very definition of faith: gratitude in advance.
A child who has misbehaved still waits with an optimistic view that Santa will deliver; as adults we trip and fall but go forward with the idea that our missteps are still leading us somewhere we want to be. My belief in myself and my capabilities and in the essential goodness and healthy symbiosis of mankind is fertile ground for inevitable growth and mutually beneficial shared experiences. However, it is actually my gratitude for all that is yet to be that helps me stay on the path.
This Christmas, I think I will be writing a letter to “Santa”. Like my son, I will share all of my heartfelt wishes knowing that whether or not I have been “good” or “bad” I can still be grateful for all that has been, all that is and all that will be. As with Scrooge’s ghosts, I can take stock in the past, present and future knowing that every moment has the potential for a new beginning.
And when we are grateful for each and every moment we have knowing without a doubt that good is coming, we are living in faith. That is what Christmas and Santa remind us to believe every year.
Could anything be more obvious?