Once I believed in Santa Claus. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, most kids do. But the first time I believed in Santa Claus I was 28 years old. Let me explain.
My unbelief as a child stemmed from a direct question I asked my mother when I was five:
“Is there really a Santa Claus?”
My mom took one look at my stern face and intent eyes and knew she had to tell me the truth.
From that point on, believing in Santa Claus was a symbol for unreasonable leaps of faith, and at times, a saying I used to label something as unthinkable. If asked to sample an unappealing dish, for example, I might answer:
“Eat that soft shell crab? I’d sooner believe in Santa Claus.”
Santa became my standard of correct cynicism. But as a 28-year-old suffering from a serious relational blow, I sought an expert’s help with my mounting cynicism. When I walked through the doors of Pathways counseling center, I was not seeking an imaginary man in a velvety red suit. But after a year of sitting across from Mike, a gentle man who listened well and loved harder, Santa Claus entered my realm of existence. I spent one hour a week with Mike, telling him about the difficulties of everyday life that had nothing to do with my present surroundings, physical chores or daily-life demands. Instead, I had difficulties that sat like mildew in my mind from constant vapors of past harm. One morning Mike asked me,
“Why are you afraid to love people?”
Dozens of reasons flooded my mind and heart, but one in particular stood out. Before I could say it, Mike guessed:
“Do you think you are shockingly ugly?”
As the sting of that question hung in the silence of our private counseling room, I studied Mike’s face. He knew every secret that was possible to tell, ones I barely dared to tell myself. He knew things I had done that are too ugly to speak of. What was he asking this for? He knew I was ugly.
“Yes,” I said, like a criminal admitting to a previously denied crime.
“You are not,” Mike returned with forceful certainty.
In the intensity of this discourse, I gasped and sat back in my chair crossing my arms in front of me. A laugh came out of me, the way I would laugh at someone trying to convince me that a 300 pound man flies with reindeer and slips down chimneys.
“You have no way of knowing that,” I said with my head drooping and my mind full of awful things I had done but hadn’t told Mike yet.
Mike looked me square in the face, enough to get my full attention. With a half-smile and an air of an expert, he said,
And something stopped inside of me. There wasn’t enough time for the sneaky thoughts in my mind to leap to the surface. The calmness in Mike’s face blotted them out. I was still in a way I had only experienced once before, in the moments when I surrendered my life to Jesus six years earlier. But here was a man I hadn’t known long. A man that I didn’t know outside of a counseling setting. Yet no objection held up against Mike’s honest feedback of who I was. I trusted him. And it felt like the first time I had ever trusted another human being. As I sat for a few moments in the fullness of relationship, I sat with God penetrating every inch of that room, breathing with us, in and out, breathing the honest, undeniable truth of beauty. I knew that at my very core God created beauty, and I knew that there is nothing I had ever done, and nothing I could ever do to blot that beauty out.
Walking down the hallway back to the waiting room with Mike I felt as though I had lost 50 pounds in that chair. I smiled slyly, casually turned to Mike and said,
“I feel like I just believed in Santa Claus,”
Mike acknowledged what I was saying with a polite nod, and again a half-smile. I continued,
“…and that’s something. I didn’t even believe in Santa Claus when I was in kindergarten.”
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