Into Grim Air

Sane and level-headed people have asked me this before, and they will certainly ask it again this year: why would you ever attempt to conquer the Christmas Eve church service with your kids—what kind of death wish is that? Why climb that mountain? Why not just Zoom it in?
It’s a fair question—I’ve often asked it myself. And, it always seems to boil down to this: Because it’s there, Deborah. Because we can, despite experienced mental health experts warning against it. Because humans are meant to explore the edges of our own physical and psychological limits, and nothing quite pushes those limits like attempting to shepherd your wild-eyed, ALL-ENGINES-GO maniac kids through the Christmas Eve church service.
It’s a white-knuckled, zero-oxygen climb toward Almighty God and most of your parents’ friends that—with a single misstep—can turn catastrophic if your head is not on a swivel. It’s a path I’ve hiked before, but one I cannot walk for you. This is not a guide. It’s not a map. There are no certainties here. No shortcuts. (Plenty of ice axes, though, and baggies of Goldfish.)   

There is only what we know to be true and relatively safe. 

This is that path. 

Step One: Preparation

One does not simply round up one’s child(ren) and set off upon this journey. That would be madness—an open invitation to disaster and/or a helicopter rescue. Rather, months and months of meticulous planning are required. This environment’s unique and ever-changing conditions require all sorts of specialized gear—unsoiled outerwear and “your brown-shoes” and so forth. Oxygen tanks. Bone broth. That sort of stuff. Supplies and munitions must be stockpiled and catalogued well in advance, ideally during the harvest months. After all, it is better to have the mini-bags of Doritos and the stun gun and not need it as opposed to not having them and end up getting escorted out of the sanctuary during the offering.

Also, whatever time your service starts, plan on getting there six-and-a-half hours beforehand.

Step Two: Basecamp

The church foyer is the basecamp. After parking in a lot you didn’t know existed and getting your gear to the front door, it is best to rest and regroup. Reassess the situation. This is the time to issue all final threats of bodily harm and lint-brush off any remaining dog hair from the sweaters they absolutely hate. This is the time to GET CONTROL OF YOUR SHIT. You are, after all, heading straight into the beast: The judging gaze of your community. They will think poorly of your parenting abilities should your kids somehow skateboard up the aisle looking like dirty runaways, cursing and chugging Mountain Dew Code Red along the way. People will talk.

Get it right—get to your seats with the merest appearance of parental competency—and it will all be worth it, sort of (not really)! Time to get moving, though. Storms are moving in and it’s getting dark. If you’re wanting to leave prayer flags asking for orderliness upon your journey, leave them here. God favors the prepared, yes. But He protects the humble.

Step Three: The Vertical Ascent Through the “Death Zone”

This is it. This is where your entire family can fall down an icy crevasse, so to speak. The service has started … only 29 more hours of steadfast alertness to go! This is where shit can go sideways FAST, for this is when the boredom and restlessness sets in. This is when it’s imperative to rely on your training and unleash all provisions at your disposal. Do not panic; only clarity can help you now. It is your job to keep the peace at all costs, by any means necessary. If they want to watch porn on your iPhone, so be it. They hold all the cards now, just mute it and keep praying. This will all be over soon.     

Step Four: Summit 

Our church wraps things up with a candlelit version of “Silent Night,” and yours likely does, too. Granted, the handheld flamethrower does tend to add an exciting new dimension to the stress. (“I double-dog dare you to do arson!”). But the fire cuts both ways. It can trick the brain into seeing genuine wonder in your kids’ eyes, if only for a second. They are engaged and singing and not trying to stab each other in the head with a Nerf gun. All those months of preparation have led straight to this.

It is, for a lack of a better phrase, Christmas magic—or as close to it as we can get these days. It takes months of preparation and loads of bear mace, but you can see it. You can see it with surprisingly clarity, actually, if you know where to look.

Because it’s there.