A few years ago it became something of a tradition for me to dress up in a Santa suit and make an appearance at my grandchildren’s homes.
I like it. A lot more than I expected. A lot of preparation goes into this event. I have to change my appearance enough so they don’t recognize me.
It’s a lot of work to become someone else to someone who knows you so well.
A legend has even developed to explain the resemblance between Santa and Papa. You see, Santa was going through Denmark, where my grandparents came from, one year many years ago. He met and married a woman in my family, and so Santa and I are distant cousins which is why we look somewhat like each other. It’s a family resemblance. Which of course means that the kids are actually related to Santa. I don’t think they’ve started bragging to their friends about it yet. And I’m still not exactly sure how I’m going to explain the reality of Santa to them when they reach that point. I have to acknowledge the fact that I have been lying to my grandchildren.
Still working that one out.
I walk into the Christmas party and the eyes of every child are locked on to Santa with laser precision. I even wore the suit to my church’s Harvest Carnival at Halloween one year. I didn’t know what to dress up as, but then I realized I had this costume just sitting there waiting to be worn so I used it. It was incredibly fun to see the looks on every kid’s face when they saw Santa at Halloween. They all seemed to be in varying states of amazement, and the fact that I knew many of the kids there and called them by name made it almost epic. Kids across the street would point and yell, “Mom look! IT’S SANTA!!”
As I walked around with a Santa gift bag full of candy slung over my shoulder every child who saw me would simply stop and stare. Sometimes their jaws would drop. I would stop and open my bag and let them take some candy and talk to them for a minute. Even as they reached into the bag to get their candy their wide eyes never left my face. They were convinced that I was not a man in a costume even though it was Halloween.
They believed I was Santa.
I made some discoveries about why I like it so much.
When I walk into a room full of kids and they see Santa they really want to believe it’s Him! They want Santa to be in that room, and they want to know that he knows them. They want him to be real.
And this is essentially why I like it so much myself. When a child looks at you with utter faith and devotion to who they believe you are it makes you want to do almost anything to fulfill their wishes.
The dangerous part is that, for a little while at least, for just a moment, it makes you believe you actually can.
And there’s the rub. Belief is a powerful thing, but when it’s directed at me I know I could never live up to the awe that I see in their eyes.
We have a need to believe in someone. We were created that way. Without a focus for our belief we become aimless, weary, and despairing. With nothing to believe in we die.
God knows this. It’s why we have Christmas in the first place; to prove that God is real. To know that He can live up to our faith, and actually exceed the limits of that faith. To be completely and overwhelmingly real.
And just to make sure we understand that reality He sends His son. The flesh, blood, and bones of God. Human like me, but worthy of my faith, my belief. One who sees the darkest parts of my soul and does not shudder, who loves me nonetheless. The one who considers my life a gift to Him should I choose to give it, rather than the wreck I think I’ve made of it.
Believing and being believed in have two entirely different effects in our lives.
Believing in something is completely worthless. There is no physical object worthy of our belief or devotion. I might be devoted to a concept embodied by the object, but my belief cannot be in the object itself. Its only value is in the amount of space it occupies.
Believing in someone is completely different. A person can return your belief. They can believe in you. If you show them the truth of who you are then others can believe in you appropriately.
There are times though, when I believe too much about someone. I believe beyond their ability to fulfill my beliefs about them even though they have been honest about their abilities. And sometimes they have presented a different face to me that belies the reality of who they are – this happens more often than I like. It takes time to know a person well enough to believe in them. A lot of time.
On the flip side, how does all this apply to myself? Am I showing others my true self? Am I giving them enough of me for them to make an honest assessment of what they should believe about me?
Then there is the added dimension of whether or not I do, or should, accept what others believe about me. Do they know me well enough to speak to this area of my life? Can I be objective enough to hear if there is any truth to what they say, good or bad? Does what they tell me serve me, or themselves? Is it truth, or simply manipulation? What kind of effect do they have on the lives of others to use as a litmus?
One of the main problems in our society is that we so often try to live up to someone else’s idea of who we are, or should be. No one else’s opinion is ever objective, and rarely consistent. I have seen so many relationships destroyed in the passion of a moment’s anger or misconception. Few of us take the opportunity to look at the whole of the person we have known for a long time, and see what was said in the context of their humanity; their own faults and weaknesses.
We have a need to believe in someone greater than ourselves.
Think about this in realistic terms. How would you feel if you had a friend who was rich and powerful, and neither of those terms applied to you? Now think of how you would feel knowing that your friend had such a great love for you that he would give anything he had to care for you or protect you. Most of us dream of being rich and powerful ourselves at some point in our lives, but we are also aware (usually) that we might not actually handle having all that very well. I would likely squander much of it. So, the idea of someone else having the responsibility for all of that is very appealing. You know there is someone who always has your back, and has the ability to care for you in the right way. When I was a child I knew that if an older kid picked on me one of my older brothers would “take care of the problem” if it became necessary. The perpetrator would not go unscathed. When I know someone who needs help with something that I can’t personally help them with I love to be able to say, “I know somebody who can help with that.” But the fact is that I do bear responsibility for my own life, and the actions contained therein. It’s also true that I am prone to failure, and I am just as responsible for that.
That’s why I believe in God. I choose to believe in Him, because I want to believe what He believes about me. He says He loves me. He knows everything about me and does not waver in His attitude toward me. He believes I can be better than I am, and because He sees me as pure as I was originally created to be I am inspired to be better than I am. That’s not to say I am always successful. I fail on a regular basis, but there’s always a better standard for me to return to.
When I was young and my parents had died, in the absence of an earthly father I eventually came to allow God to take over that role in my life, and I found Him to be a much different father than what I had expected of Him. I found a father who has no faults who knows my shortcomings and loves me nonetheless.
So this is the kind of man I now strive to be; in my case not to love others in spite of their shortcomings, but rather in spite of my own.
My success in this varies greatly, but I keep trying because, honestly, there are a few people out there who really try my patience. Particularly those who bully, threaten, or abuse others. For them I just want to say “Back off, because you better believe Santa Claus is coming to town!”
My daughter told me a story of something that happened with my granddaughter Chloe a few months ago. I’m not sure I remember all the details correctly but this is the main gist of it. They had gone to a park so Chloe and one of her friends could play. While they were there some older boys started to chase them. Chloe was a little scared of them as they persisted, and so she stopped and turned to them and yelled what she seemed to think was the most powerful threat she could think of at the time; “You better stop, my Papa is DAN BODE!” Apparently they left her alone after that. I don’t know any of the kids there, and I was not present, but apparently she invoked my name with enough authority that they had second thoughts.
I don’t believe in Santa the way I once did, but I still want my grandkids to, because then they unknowingly believe in me. The thing is – they already believe in me. They were raised with the knowledge that Papa has a special relationship with them, and they have lived according to that knowledge.
The reason I believe in Christmas is because I believe in Easter. Christ came into this world with an incredible lasting impact. He left it with an even greater one.
No one else died to make a point of it. Not on purpose.
That’s really enough for me to place my trust and my belief in Him.