Wordless testimonies may say more than you think.
By Sandy Feit
It was just a cheap plastic ornament. I’m not even sure how it ended up in our box of decorations—probably part of a yard sale “collection” that came with my son’s tabletop tree. But every year when I opened the boxes marked “Christmas,” there were Mary and Joseph gazing at baby Jesus, all six painted eyeballs just a hair off target. Above the family was a minuscule star that lit up when not one but three batteries were inserted (and “C” batteries at that).
Now, illuminated ornaments can be captivating, like our miniature blue church with the stained glass windows. But the glow from this manger was barely visible, even if you turned off every light in the room. The tiny white bulbs covering our tree would have totally camouflaged the little scene, which, as a result, never even made it to the branches facing the wall.
For years, I was tempted to throw the thing away—my practical, aesthetic side kept pointing out that it was heavy, wasteful, and flat-out ugly. Yet for some reason, I never could. So each winter, I’d pack it up, avoiding the decision for another 12 months.
Until the Christmas following our youngest child’s wedding. At that point, I’d been an empty-nester for several months and apparently was coping with unfamiliar emotions by taking charge of those things I could control. After shipping the last trickle of gifts to the newlyweds and finally storing all the wedding paraphernalia, I found myself on a cleaning binge. Once I tackled my daughter’s room and her many years’ accumulation, everything was fair game: coat closet, silverware drawer, jewelry box . . . and holiday decorations.
By Advent, I was ruthless. When the lid of my gold-striped ornament box was removed, there was the little manger scene, still lying where it had been unceremoniously tossed, without so much as a swaddle of old, wrinkly tissue paper. Deciding to act quickly before second thoughts could set in, I hit the trash foot pedal and felt satisfaction as I flung in the crÃ¨che.
But then as the can closed, I caught a glimpse of the holy family, plastic though they were, lying on a dirty napkin next to a grapefruit rind. I was jarred by the image of Jesus—my Savior, born to die for me—cast aside carelessly like worthless junk. How many have treated Him that way? I wondered. How many still do?
For a second, I wanted to reach in and retrieve the ornament—or at least push it way down to hide the visual offense. But that practical voice accused me of being silly, so I mentally changed the subject and resumed decorating. Too bad it was Monday . . .
Decking the halls made me lose track of time, and I was still home when the cleaners arrived. Once their cyclone of activity begins, it’s best to be out of the way, so I hung snowflakes on the last few windowpanes, grabbed my keys, and started for the door.
Suddenly I heard a horrified GASP! behind me—and turned to find Rosalie staring, paralyzed, at the trash.
I stuttered an explanation but realized how feeble it sounded in light of her agonized discovery. “May I?” she asked, tenderly lifting the little ornament and wiping it clean with her rag. She lovingly wrapped Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in a paper towel and placed the treasure in her purse for safekeeping.
Nothing more was said about the incident—ever—but at least one of us still remembers it vividly.
So what’s the lesson? To value artifacts or become savers? As Paul would say, “By no means!” (I’m still determined to win the clutter war.) But what I did learn, and rather painfully, was to become more aware of wordless testimony. Prayer at a restaurant, a cross worn around the neck, and “fish” bumper stickers all loudly declare our Christianity. But such declarations can be affected in a big way by little things—even things we deem inconsequential, like skimping on a tip, squeezing past the red light, or discarding a Christmas ornament.
We forget that the Rosalies in our life are watching. And they may be drawing the conclusion that following Christ makes one no different from the rest of the world. What’s worse, we may never know they feel that way—or have opportunity to correct the misperception.
Even if we do get the chance, impressions—whether true or false—can be tough to reverse. Despite the fact that I know the truth of the plastic manger situation, Rosalie was left with a troubling inference of what I do and don’t value. No matter how many times she straightens my framed “As for me and my house” calligraphy or dusts my “Jesus” candleholder, the crèche in the trash could, I’m afraid, be the louder “voice.” I just hope it won’t speak of me every time she spots it on her tree.