Why I’m Glad The Christmas Story is Messy

by | Dec 19, 2022 | Faith | 8 comments

Christmas Story is Messy
Merchandise is Here!

Sheila here!

Every Friday Rebecca writes an email that goes out to our 45,000 email subscribers. (Well, sometimes it doesn’t go out until Monday, but she does write a weekly round-up!).

It tells you what the top posts of the week were, points you to the podcast, and makes sure you didn’t miss anything. But most of all, it contains a reflection that wasn’t on the blog, that often sums up what’s going on behind the scenes as we wrestle through what we share on the blog and the podcast. 

I’d like to share one of her email updates today, and let you know that you really should subscribe

So here’s Rebecca!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Last month my mom (Sheila) did the “digging yourself out of the pit” month, where we planned to talk about how to get a great sex life back, how to move forward, etc.

We constantly have people asking us to do more positive material, and focus less on the abuses and mistreatments that have happened because of evangelical teachings.

And you know what happened?

Horrible, misogynistic “Christian” men took to the comment sections.

And women in marriages to horrible, misogynistic “Christians” sent us questions and stories because they were stuck and didn’t know where to turn.

So what was supposed to be a month of super upbeat, “happy” posts turned into pretty much a month on marital rape. And I think that was necessary.

We would love, LOVE to be able to be at a place as a church where we could focus on making the good better. But what if the way we get there isn’t supposed to mean we leave those who are drowning behind?

What if we all banded together, as women, and said “no more” to the horrible, misogynistic, toxic brand of religion that is leading to all this abuse, instead of ignoring it to focus on prettier things?

What if instead of getting frustrated that people who are being abused are being given too much air time, we decided to roll up our sleeves and work to make our local churches safer places? What if we stopped laughing at the sexist jokes made in our presence, we made a fuss when churches held book studies of harmful books, and we refused to support institutions that kept secrets for abusers and rapists?

All of this has gotten me thinking about Christmas.

Christmas has never really been my favourite holiday.

I mean, I loved it as a kid, but once I was in my Jr. High age I enjoyed Christmas but felt Easter to be more significant for me, personally. My birthday is in January so as a kid Christmas was really exciting but I feel like my birthday was a bit more exciting, and it was just a few weeks away.

But as I’ve grown up into adulthood and specifically motherhood, Christmas has become so meaningful.

Specifically, Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship in the Christmas story is sacred to me. Christmas has begun to signify female support and friendship in the strongest way. Mary goes and stays with Elizabeth for the final months of her pregnancy, and we hear both Elizabeth and Mary prophesy together about the beloved little lives they are carrying.

As someone who gave birth in October and November, Christmas has been really special as I look down on my little babies and think about back all those centuries ago to what a young virgin mother may have been feeling, kissing his tiny bloody head, holding his tiny little hand in hers. Feeling the warmth of his breath on her breast as she nursed him.

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I worry that sometimes we long for a whitewashed faith, a whitewashed church. One that looks so pretty, where we talk about the virgin birth and the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist, but we don’t talk about the more grisly realities that the women went through. We don’t talk about the virgin torn, we don’t talk about what it would have been like for Elizabeth giving birth to John in her old age. How scared might she have been? How did her bones and joints ache during her pregnancy? I know how much mine hurt, and I was 24 with my first.

I feel very much right now that we, as a church, are going through labour pains.

And when I think of a woman going through labour, I immediately wonder what the dad is doing to help! Most husbands, when their wives are in labour, are really uncomfortable watching her in pain. It hurts them to see her hurt so much.

It’s OK to be uncomfortable seeing people in pain. That’s natural. It doesn’t mean you don’t have compassion, it means that you have empathy! Empathy hurts!

But what you do next matters. The good husbands are the ones who jump right in, embrace the pain, embrace the discomfort, and hold her hand through it all.

The others are the ones who leave, who make it about them, or who try to convince her it’s not so bad, getting mad at her for being “dramatic”.

I personally believe we are in one of those times where the church is facing a real crossroads. We are in the middle of the not-so-nice part of the story. We’re not at the angel meeting Mary, or the baby jumping for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.

No, we’re in the part where it hurts. We’re in the part with blood and pain and tearing. And although we can have faith that this too, shall pass, and something beautiful will be on the other side, what we do in the midst of the pain matters.

I believe something good and something new is coming.

I believe that what we are doing here at Bare Marriage is just a very very small part of the larger movement that is happening. And I believe it will be for the good of all, not just those who are already healthy.

And that, to me, is glad tidings of great joy for all people.

That is a reason for hope.

Sheila here again!

I believe there’s reason for hope too.

I also believe that this is a really painful time for so many people.

It’s like that final comment I left on Friday’s post where I was sharing some of your thoughts on spanking. One woman had written:

Y’all, our churches/church leaders lied to us about sex. They lied to us about marriage. They lied to us about purity. They lied to us about submission and hierarchy. They lied to us about impending Armageddon (some of you are too young to remember this). They lied to us about many things. They also lied to us about child-rearing. Please stop striking children. Follow the many wonderful gentle parenting/connected parenting resources, and grow.

Many of you are feeling like the church you grew up in lied to you.

In fact, as we gear up to release She Deserves Better in the spring, we’ll share with you some of our survey findings–that those who no longer consider themselves evangelical and those who are leaving the church are not primarily doing so because they just want to sin or they don’t have enough faith. No, these are the people who were super involved as teens, and were far more likely to have been hurt by church teachings.

They’re the walking wounded.

Some of you are among them. Others of you aren’t, but you’re looking at people you loved leave the church and you can’t figure out why. Or you’re looking at your church starting to have fracture lines, and you don’t know what to do.

But maybe at this time in history things aren’t going to be pristine. In fact, maybe they never really were. Maybe life is always messy.

And the Christmas story tells us that God understands that, and enters into it, and redeems it.

For the first time in a few years, I have a church I’m excited to go to on Christmas. So does Rebecca. So does Joanna. And we’ll all be telling you about that on the Bare Marriage podcast this Thursday.

But it’s been a messy few years.

Thank you for hanging in there with us. And I hope that as we listen to the Christmas story this year, we’ll embrace the mess and the pain, rather than try to whitewash it. The pain is part of the story. God understands the pain. And through the pain, something better is coming.


Christmas Story is Messy

What do you think? Do you find comfort in faith not alwas being pristine? How are you processing that this year? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kay

    I read somewhere once that a reformation (church or otherwise) often takes about three generations to complete. I find that hopeful. I think we are leading the way, but when I look at my own kids? Whew, they are going to change the world. They already are not having any of this garbage. They see through manipulative theology instantly. These toxic churches must evolve or die. Because Gen Z and Alpha are not having it.

  2. Mara R

    Sheila from above post: “They’re the walking wounded.”

    And the church is the only institution that shoots it own wounded. We’ve heard that one before. But usually it when church leaders are trying to re-instate a fallen abusive pastor (Driscoll anyone?) and trying to shame people into letting the wolf back into undeserved leadership authority so he can continue to bite and devour the sheep, those who are walking wounded in truth and not in political spin.

    Yes, I’m glad things are changing. There’s no turning back now.

  3. Nessie

    How men respond really is important.

    While in labor, my husband couldn’t keep attention on what I needed during/through even one contraction much less all of labor (now we know he has ADHD). He ended up watching television while I labored essentially alone. Laboring when your “help” is literally right there serving only himself is incredibly lonely, sad, and frustrating. In the end, a baby still arrives, but it really starts to shape how you see that other person and not for the better.

    I think that’s why it hurts so much when these “Christian” men speak against women trying to finally be seen and heard. Once you know better, you do better- unless you don’t, and that is when it cuts deeper. That is when it feels like a betrayal.

    Messy faith overall shows me that God’s Word is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, dividing joint and marrow… yes, this scripture is about judging the heart and thoughts of people, but it gives a great, active imagery of a messy business. God’s salvation plan for us was anything but pain-free and messy. Crucifixion is horrendous. I think God does most of His greatest work in the messes so it does give me some measure of comfort.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Nessie, i’m so sorry. That’s just awful. I’m glad it gives you some comfort. I’m sorry you were so let down, though.

      • Nessie

        Thank you. I have many stories like this as I know many other women do, too. It’s the accumulation of these smaller pieces that adds up- not merely the isolated incidents- and I think that’s why so many of us finally reached, “Enough is enough,” points in our lives. I truly do think my husband wanted to be of help but literally could not make his body/mind focus enough to do anything helpful. Thus men that are capable of doing something can be of so much help to their sisters in Christ but also to their brothers who are less capable at times to speak up or help for various reasons. We are a body of many parts and abilities. If those who are able and gifted in speaking out actually make use of their gifting for the good of others (even if they do not benefit explicitly), it can really show the Church as She was meant to be utilized which is a beautiful picture.

  4. Nathan

    > > How men respond really is important.

    This is very true, since the powerful people in many churches only listen to or give weight to men. Now, if in a church, every woman picked herself up and walked out the door, they MIGHT listen to that, possibly.

    My own church specifically disagrees with the “women must be in total submission” belief, although many people within the church live that ideal. However, they still preach the command that if wives don’t have frequent sex with their husbands, the husbands will cheat and watch porn, and the wives will be at fault. Also, the Eggerichs book “Love and Respect” book is on our recommended reading list.

  5. Laura

    Faith is supposed to be messy and hardly ever sticks to a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter formula that the church tries to push on everyone. In the last two years, God has shown me that organized religion is not supposed to be “organized” or fit into one box. For someone like myself who has always thrived on following formulas and order, I have learned that my faith strengthens when I let go of formulas and order. God’s ways are higher and far different than what we can imagine or fathom. It is through the mess, that I realize how blessed I am thanks to God!

  6. Ellie

    Hmm, I don’t think the “Love and Respect” book is well-written at all. It promotes rather problematic relationship dynamics in my opinion. Also, it’s written from a very middle-upper class perspective. Just my two cents. Merry Christmas by the way!


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