Jesus said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” But they had no idea what he was talking about. So he went back to Nazareth with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in body and spirit, blessed by both God and people. (Luke 2: 49 – 52)
Christmas brings a slew of photo cards from friends and relatives looking clean and shiny and happy. But the glistening family portraits don’t capture the full story of what each family has been through or what lies ahead.
I have a framed photo of one of the few Christmas portraits that my family took when my sisters and I were little. We look marvellous, dressed in our Sunday best and all smiles. Less than a decade later, the holidays came with the news that my mum had cancer and would have to undergo radical surgery to save her life. She entered the hospital early December and was still there at Christmas with the doctors unsure of her prognosis. There would be no family photos that year.
I was the baby of the family, 12 at the time, trying to act mature but feeling completely disoriented by Mum’s long absence from home and Dad’s constant worry. I remember getting ready Christmas morning and Dad saying to me, “Put your hair in braids the way your mum likes it”. I had no idea that Dad noticed such things. At that moment, armed with knowledge that Dad was paying attention to the details of our lives, I was confident that all would be well.
“The most beautiful thing that God created was the family,” Pope Francis said at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Not the beauty captured in a family snapshot at Christmas, but beauty born of attentiveness and love.