Did you ever have a “God moment?” Even if you’re not a believer, have you ever experienced a surprising insight, a sudden drawing back of the veil, that caused you to stop whatever you were doing simply to ponder what you’d just seen, heard, or felt in your heart? I’ve had many.
Once, for example, I had traveled to the Boston Public Library for a meeting. Since I’d arrived a bit early, I spent a few minutes people-watching in the lobby. An assortment of interesting characters passed by, but my attention was especially drawn to a class of middle-schoolers, who had come for a library tour.
The social dynamic among the students was eerily familiar. Some were the cool kids, comfortable being the center of attention, which they commanded by their antics. Others, the clear majority, seemed indifferent to their surroundings. They conversed in small clusters while waiting for the tour to begin. (This was before the age of the ubiquitous cell phone.) Finally, there were those bringing up the rear. I’ll affectionately call them the misfits. They generally appeared ill-at-ease and eager just to get beyond this ordeal. I understood.
As I watched, I felt compassion for this latter group, whose members quite likely endured taunts and trials for being perceived as different or for failing to measure up to some unjust standard. Then, however, I noticed something important. Yes, the misfits were segregated somewhat from the larger group, perhaps by choice; however, amongst themselves, they genuinely cared for each other. Maybe they weren’t as audacious as their more confident peers, but they talked, goofed around, and laughed together. They shared a bond, a communion of souls. It’s difficult to explain, but that awareness was startlingly joyful for me. In that unexpected moment of clarity – a “God moment” – I appreciated anew the wonderful blessing of comradery.
On another occasion, my wife Marianne and I were in our stateroom awaiting the launch of a Caribbean cruise. Shortly before the scheduled departure, the ship’s captain made an announcement that we’d be leaving late due to a mechanical problem. Since our balcony overlooked the pier, we were able to witness some of the feverish activity below as cruise line personnel scrambled to resolve the unnamed issue. It looked like exhausting work.
We finally set sail about three hours late, and I watched the departure from our balcony. As we exited the ship’s berth and crept toward the open ocean, I saw three workmen gathered at the far end of the pier. Most likely, they’d been forced to work overtime and were quite tired. Still, they lingered, enjoying each other’s company. The last sound I heard from those men was a hearty, shared laugh. It seemed to speak directly to my soul about the healing power of friendship.
Right there, I lifted up a prayer of thanksgiving… under the stars, on the Dolphin Deck.
I’ve noticed that, on social media sites, some atheists mockingly equate belief in God with belief in Santa Claus. That always makes me smile.
I learned the truth about Santa on Christmas Eve when I was only six years old; and, for a few hours, it felt as if all the magic had drained from my world. Then, I had a “God moment” – perhaps my first (though I doubt that) – and learned what C.S. Lewis might have called a deeper magic.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I offer this wee bit of context.
Exactly one year earlier, when I was five, I had a Santa Claus nightlight. It plugged into the outlet, just below pillow level, behind the headboard of my first big-boy bed. And, if I were frightened during the night, one quick look at Santa’s backlit visage, with rosy cheeks and kind, smiling eyes, was all I needed.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.”
How thoroughly wonderful that, with all of the many children in the world, Santa cared so much for me. My devotion was real, and it reached its peak on that long-ago Christmas Eve.
Alongside the foot of my bed, there was a drafty old window, which routinely frosted over during the winter months. By late December, the frost was already thick enough to obscure the night sky.
I was restless and far too excited to sleep; but, it was the promise of presence rather than presents that denied me slumber. Santa Claus would soon be near; and, thinking back, it felt as though hope itself, rather than blood, was coursing through my veins. Eventually, after many adoring glances at my nightlight failed to satisfy, I pulled off my covers and made for the window.
I haven’t many crystal-clear memories from early childhood, but that night is an exception. My big sister, Christine, who shared the room with me, asked what I was doing. “Watching for Santa,” I replied matter-of-factly, while scratching out an icy peephole with my thumbnail.
Through that tiny portal, I expectantly searched the dark sky for a sign. Every twinkle, every shadow passing in front of the moon, quickened my pulse. I couldn’t have identified it at the time, but this was, I’m now convinced, an early experience of desire for the Transcendent.
That moment apparently left a profound impression. Even today, when I go to my prayer room hoping to encounter the un-seeable One, I can almost feel a ribbon of frost melting beneath my thumbnail.
Despite a valiant effort, my five-year old self never did see Santa that night. I ultimately returned to bed and fell asleep. While I’m sure it was wonderful, I have no memory of Christmas morning that year or of the presents under the tree. The next year, however, would be quite different.
Months passed, and Christmas Eve arrived again.
Just before bedtime, Christine, who would turn eleven the next morning, pulled me aside and said that she and my Mom “had something important to tell me.” She had a strange, sad expression on her face, and I sensed something was wrong.
They both knew of my sensitivity, and it must have been quite difficult for them to bear such crushing news. I don’t remember the precise words they used, but I do recall their reason for telling me on that particular night. Though I hadn’t known about it, our family had been struggling financially. Consequently, Christmas was going to be lean that year – just two gifts per child.
My Mom had decided it would be better to tell me the truth the night before than to have me wake up the next morning thinking I’d somehow disappointed Santa during the previous year. Today, I marvel at her concern. That night, however, I was too brokenhearted to think.
I cried… and, so did my Mom.
Grieving is hard work for a little boy, especially on Christmas Eve. I still had my Santa Claus nightlight, but looking at it only magnified my sadness.
That night, the frost on my window remained undisturbed.
On Christmas morning, I lingered awake in bed. The birthday girl, my very closest friend, came over to encourage me.
“Come on. Let’s go see.”
“Okay,” I replied, but I was still slow to move.
“You know,” she said, “it’s not that Santa isn’t real. He’s just not who you thought he was.“
Two gifts awaited me under (and beside) the tree. And, honestly, of all the presents on all the Christmas mornings of my childhood, they are the only two I can still recall. One was a paint-by-numbers kit with a special kind of glittery paint. The other took my breath away. It was my first and only childhood bicycle, a 24-inch Columbia that I cherished immediately. Was it my imagination, or did it really glow?
No other conclusion was possible. I must have been a very good boy that year!
I looked across the room at Santa’s now smiling face.
“She sees you when you’re sleeping. She knows when you’re awake.”
Philosophical proofs of God’s existence make my head spin. Try as I might, I just can’t follow the arguments; and, I’m honestly not edified by them. I don’t say this to disparage intellectuals, whom I greatly admire. It’s just that, if the world is comprised of thinking people and feeling people, I’m a card-carrying member of the latter group. In Myers-Briggs typology, I’m classified as an INFJ, which is a fancy way of saying that I lead with my heart.
My “proof” of God isn’t found in logic, reason, or even the theology I so dearly love. Rather, it’s found in the comradery of misfits, in laughter at the end of the pier, in frosty peepholes, and in Santa’s smiles and tender tears.
Yes, I still believe!
Hi Steve: Thanks,once again, for a glimpse into the wonders of the spirit. I so much enjoy your sharing of your faith and memories. May you and yours have a meaningful and happy Thanksgiving time.
Thank you Steve. Your meanderings and remembrances have reached into my heart. I too still believe there is a Santa now bearing gifts for us of abiding love.
Thank you, Mary Jo. Blessings always, my friend!
Steve , thank you for sharing that sadly beautiful memory. Although the thought of Santa was quite precious to a young boy of 5 what you understood was much more meaningful and character building. My heart went out to your mom for her strength to having to make that decision to share the truth with you at such a tender age, and for you to have to deal with life’s realities, but what you both shared was luminous to the soul.
Thank you, Sandy! She was a remarkable woman, and this will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas since she went home. For that reason, telling the story was important to me. I appreciate your kindness. Blessings always on your beautiful family!
I just finished reading your post. I was moved and admire your deep feelings and how your connected several seemingly unrelated events. That shows a strong faith and nourishes us.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.
Thank you very much for your kind words, Farzi. I wish you every grace over Thanksgiving, Advent, and the Christmas season! I hope you are well, my friend! – Steve
Thank you, Steve, for these beautiful “God moments.” Your words encouraged me to remember a few of my own.
I’m so glad, Carolyn! 🙂
Just lovely, as usual. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Julie
Steve you write so beautifully, I will always believe. Happy thanksgiving.
Thank you, Sheryl. Me too. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving!
Steve, thanks for sharing these memories and reflection. You would be an astounding homilist with the infusion of your heart into theology! This particular essay reminded me of the Christmas Eve when I, too, peered out of a drafty, frost encased window looking for Santa. Instead, my parents pulled up to the front door in the family station wagon and started unloading boxes. I was so confused! I think back on that memory even today, now able after all these years to smile at my parents’ constancy and love.
Thank you for your kind words, Mary, and for sharing your own Christmas story. It is a blessing to be able to look back at our past and see love at work – even if we didn’t immediately realize it at the time. I hope you are well and that you will enjoy a truly wonderful Thanksgiving! Blessings always, Steve
You made my morning! I will watch out for “God moments” this holiday season!
I hope you have many, Tricia! Blessings always, Steve
You brought a few tears to my eyes for sure – but they were tears of the joy and gratitude we can hold in our hearts despite the times of deep sadness or disappointment. I will keep my eyes and my heart open this wonderful Holiday season of Thanksgiving an Christmas and look forward to seeing those God moments! Thank you for sharing such a beautifully inspiring story.
Very nice to hear from you, Janet. I hope that all is well and that you are flourishing in your holy work. It’s the “God Moments” that keep us going. Let’s both keep watching and listening. Blessings on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and always! – Steve
This would be an inspiring Agape Latte!
Of course, I know about Agape Latte, Louise, but I’ve never attended/participated. It looks like a wonderful program. Blessings for Thanksgiving and always, – Steve
Steve, another wonderful Thanksgiving/Christmas life story that somehow always ends with much encouragement! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas to you and your family!
Thanks for your kind words, Anne. Please know that I wish the same for you, my friend. Blessings, Steve
I am the oldest child of seven. My youngest sibling is twenty years younger ….quite a difference ! He grew up with my children….we lived in the same house for years and this story brought back memories of his childhood. He was so disappointed when my mother told him there was no Easter Bunny…followed by no Tooth Fairy the following year ! However, when she told him at the age of eight there was no Santa, he began to cry….sobbing, he looked up at my mother and said…..”next year are you going to tell me there is no God ? “
Ruthie, that really touched me. Maybe your brother would enjoy reading “Believing in Santa.” Fee free to share it. Blessings, my friend!
Thanks for a wonderful piece. May you be blessed in the coming year.
It’s wonderful to hear from you, my friend! I hope all is well.
Thanks for your kind words and good wishes. I hope 2023 will bring abundant blessings your way.