In the movie “The Polar Express,” we go on a journey with a boy to the North Pole. This boy is a doubter. He is at the age where he is starting to question the existence of Santa Claus. Yet, when the Polar Express comes to take him to the North Pole, he gets on the train. He is filled with skepticism and questions even when Santa arrives to mount his sleigh at the North Pole.
As the elves jump up and down and crowd around Santa, the boy desperately tries to catch a glimpse of Santa. As the reindeers prepare to leave, a single bell falls off one of their reins and rolls toward the boy. He picks it up and shakes it. The other children can hear the sleigh bells ring, yet he hears not a sound. He closes his eyes and repeats two words: “I believe.” At first, he says the words as a question but with each repetition he becomes more confident and the words become a proclamation. The moment he believes and finally hears the bell, he turns around and comes face to face with Santa.
What do you believe in this Christmas season? Our society places many distractions in our path, such as focusing on what gifts we receive, finding the perfect gift for others or setting up an excessive number of decorations. While time with family and preparing for Christmas are important, it is even more important to remember the core belief of Christmas — Christ our Savior was born!
Like the boy in the “Polar Express,” you might have some doubts. You may get wrapped up in the materialistic beliefs of our society. You may also have questions about your faith. This season can be difficult for a variety of reasons, especially if we lose focus of our core belief. It can be easy to focus on grief, loneliness, conflict with family, not having enough money to purchase gifts or personal struggles that make it difficult to focus on the true purpose of Christmas. You may have doubts about Christ being your Savior or that he cares about you at all. You may be questioning parts of the Catholic faith. Questions are OK and, I would even argue, healthy!
Struggles can make us stronger and asking questions can increase our faith — if we are looking in healthy places. Do we turn to God for our answers, or to our society? The boy turned to the sound of the sleigh bell — the source of belief that all the children except him could hear. Do we turn to our source of belief — Jesus on the cross? Do we seek him during this season of his birth? Just like the boy, we need to take the first step by getting on the train despite doubts. Then we will we find the truth.
I encourage you — whether your beliefs are big or small or your focus is somewhere else this season — to get on the train and seek Jesus. Jump on those traditions and practices that help you experience his birth. For me, it is listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies. The experience does not have to be focused on Jesus, for Jesus can be found anywhere, even in a movie “only” about Santa. Once we begin believing in the real reason for the season, we will see Jesus right next to us the whole time. “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29).
(Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)