My junior year in high school was not a good year. It was a dark time for me.
My dad had recently gone through his second divorce and was trying hard to raise four teenage boys as a single parent and deal with his own depression at the same time. I was only 16 years old, but my life was rapidly unraveling. I was drinking one night and I totaled my car. On another night I was arrested for “possession of hash with intent to deliver.”
Dad picked me up at the police department. I was expecting my dad to start yelling at me, but when we got in the car he put his head in his hands and started sobbing. “The chief of police thinks I have done a horrible job in raising you boys,” Dad said. “He told me that he had heard about you and that you were going to end up in jail.”
Somehow I failed to see how my behavior was adding to my Dad’s depression.
As Christmas rolled around, it was clear that he had given up, as he made no attempt to celebrate. No tree, no gifts, no plans. It wasn’t that he didn’t have any money. He just didn’t have the emotional strength to think about Christmas.
On the Friday before Christmas, I decided I was going to buy a tree with my own money. My best friend Jim and I went up to the Christmas tree lot at the A & P Store. All I had was $6 for the tree, so you know it wasn’t a very good tree. Not as bad as Charlie Brown’s tree, but almost.
As Jim and I were setting up the Christmas tree it kept falling over. Some of my buddies stopped and pitched in to help. Of course, none of us had set up a tree and we didn’t know what we were doing. I ended up tying a piece of clothesline to the Christmas tree to hold it up. At that point, one of my buddies started laughing and said, “So this is Christmas at the Harper’s home?”
I know he was just trying to be funny, but I felt like punching him. That Christmas tree represented my hope in 1975. It gave me some sense of control of my life, and he just totally dissed it and my family in one sharp remark. Yes, my family was dysfunctional. Yes, my life was broken.
A few days later, Jim invited me to spend Christmas Eve with him and his family. I think Jim saw how hopeless my situation was and wanted to give me some encouragement. To be honest, I’m not sure that Jim’s parents liked me that much, but they welcomed me into their home on a very intimate night for their family.
The atmosphere at Jim’s house was very different than mine. Jim was the oldest son of eight kids, and it seemed to me that he had the perfect Mom. Their house was decked out with decorations and tons of presents under a giant Christmas tree. You could feel the excitement of his siblings and love in the atmosphere.
There were not any presents under the tree for me, but Jim’s family gave me a gift that was much greater. They welcomed me into their family when my family was broken.
They gave me the gift of hope.
This is why we do what we do. The example that you set with your family is a powerful sermon to the people who attend your church. Your consistency to be there every week for other people’s kids is encouraging to the people who are watching you. And they are watching you.
Your life is a living object lesson.
We live in a world where there is a lot of brokenness. There are a lot of broken people and broken families. Keep giving hope to broken families. That is what Jim’s family did for me that Christmas Eve night. They did not fix all my problems, but they gave me hope.
Of course, you can’t fix people either, but you can introduce them to someone who can—Jesus Christ.
As you go about your busy life this Christmas, remember what Christ said about you: “You are the light of the world.”
You might be asking yourself, “How do I let my light shine?” You can let your light shine by:
- Doing good things for people
- Saying kind words
- Giving people hope
Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff in the world. All the more reason to give people hope.
“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” – Matthew 5:16