Joni Mitchell’s River is another of my all time favorite Christmas songs.
I know, I know. I may have some opposition here. It’s not really a Christmas song at all. It’s more of a winter song. Not even a nod towards Jesus and the story of Christmas. But just bear with me; it’s spiritual, under the surface. And actually quite moving to me.
If you haven’t already gathered, or happen to be reading this blog for the first time in your life, I am a melancholy girl through and through. I find beauty in not only the beautiful things in life, but the bittersweet and sad as well. To me, there is something poignantly lovely about the human experience from its splendor to its grief. God created all our emotions, not just the happy ones, and for His good purposes. That’s why a good cry can feel so good. And hitting our limits forces us to look outside ourselves for a Savior. It is in the plea, when we’re at our end, that we can find that which is truly life-giving. Personally, my moments of deepest grief, deepest pain, have resulted in the most beautiful seasons in my heart. I’ve met God more intimately in those moments than in all the other pleasant ones combined. What isn’t completely lovely about that?
Back to River.
It’s comin’ on Christmas.
They’re cutting down trees.
They’re putting up reindeer,
Singing songs of joy and peace.
Oh, I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.
You know this song? Isn’t it depressing? Before I listened closely, I thought, but why? Why is she so down on Christmas? The song rambles through a few verses of winter-themed commentary, but we don’t get an answer to the question of “why” until about halfway in:
I wish I had a river that I could skate away on,
‘Cause I made my baby cry…
I’m so hard to handle.
I’m selfish and I’m sad
Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had.
Oh I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.
There it is. Brokenness. Loss. Remorse. Hurt. The Plea.
And this plea – whether Joni Mitchell’s herself, or merely an invented character – is not so different from ours. Hard to handle? Check. Selfish? Check. Sometimes sad? Check. Doing my share of damage to my loved ones? Check and sigh. Sometimes I plain hate the sound of my own voice by the end of the day.
But the woman in River makes an unfortunate, though very human choice. Her plea causes her to decide to retreat. Now, I’ve had these days. Sometimes weeks. I stop offering my true self. A relationship gets messy and hurtful and maybe I don’t deserve more. Maybe the damage is irreparable. Maybe I’m alone. I start to believe there’s only one choice.
Just. Skate. Away.
How many of us are way down that river in our hearts? How many of us have tried that route of managing our brokenness? Just skate away. All of us. Every one.
And you KNOW now why this is a Christmas song at its core. This messy, unpredictable, hurtful life spinning around us is exactly why Jesus came.
In His immense love for us, He became Immanuel, God with us. Not because we deserved it, but precisely because we didn’t. When we were way the heck down the river, He came to save us. He came to be with us when we were sure we were alone.
In my life, I can tell you from experience, He continually works at melting all my rivers and quieting all my pleas. He gently reminds me that my plea, my yearning for healing and that abundant life, needs to turn me towards Him, not toward an icy path of resignation and retreat.
In River, again one of my favorite Christmas songs, Jesus whispers, I’m here. I’ve got this. So you can untie the skates.