On Saturday, a sad, sad friend came to visit me.  She* is Jewish.  I do not think her sadness and her religion are related.

She came to my house to avoid the loneliness of her apartment and to try to get some work done.  I puttered around.  I baked cookies and sang Christmas songs and talked to my roommates about their Christmas shopping.  She lay on the couch and tried to read law briefs.  When she was really sad and couldn’t work, we went down to my room to talk.  She sat in my white armchair, and talked, talked, talked about the regret and the loss that she felt.  “I don’t have any hope,” she said.  “It will always be this way.  I will always be sad.  There is no hope.”  I looked at her slumped in my chair, her feet up on an unpacked cardboard box.  On the wall behind and above her was a framed picture of Jesus, in white robes and red sash, with arms outstretched, come in clouds and glory to love and heal.  I didn’t say anything.

This Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about how I need to be more attentive to other religions.  I have non-Christian friends, it turns out.  They’re celebrating other holidays.  I forget this.

For instance, on Saturday, my Jewish friend was telling me about the Hanukkah gift she gave her boyfriend (also Jewish).  I realized I hadn’t even thought that my Jewish friend would be observing Hanukkah.  “Oh no!” I said.  “Should I get you a Hanukkah gift?”  She shook her head and said, “Hanukkah’s not actually a big deal.  We just give gifts because it’s so close to Christmas.  This is what you can do.  You can buy me a Christmas gift and just say it’s for Hanukkah.”

I appreciated her accommodating response, but I’ve decided I don’t want to be that kind of Christian.  I don’t want to sleep in my ideological majority and merely sweep other people’s holidays and plans into a box labeled “Christmas or OTHER!”  I want to know how to show people that I am interested in the ways that they worship, in the holy days they observe.  That I care enough about them to ask tailored questions when the easiest thing would be to say, “What are you doing over Christmas?” as though Dec. 25 has significance and custom for everyone, regardless.

And this is just the stuff of elevator talk.

This weekend, with my friend, I realized that I have more than a desire to meet the holidays with political correctness or cultural sensitivity; I want to know about other religions so I can minister better, so I can love better.

Confronted with the sadness of my dear friend, I wanted to share a hope and comfort and a vision for a life that can be better.  But I wanted to do it with doctrine she believed in.  I couldn’t.  I was unprepared.  I didn’t know enough about Judaism—or, I guess, my friend—to know what her religion would say to her in her moments of distress.  I didn’t know anything about Jewish conceptions of hope, stories of deliverance, or counsel for healing.  Because I didn’t know Judaism well enough, I couldn’t even try to remind my friend of things she thought were true.  I ended up sitting next to her, saying little, just rubbing her hands.  Fine, I guess.  But what if it could have been more?

I know I could have shared my own faith, which testifies of Christ and the healing and hope and vision for a better life that come because of the Atonement and when we try to live as He lived.  Those tenets of Christianity are ones I cling to in this cold, cold world.  But my faith–it’s like a blanket, warm and familiar and good.  I know that sometimes when we’re feeling precarious, we just want to sleep beneath our own blankets and smell the smells that have comforted us for so long.  This is why I bring blankets to hotels.  To feel at home especially when I’m not.

In future, I’d like to be good both to people in elevators and to friends in need.  I want to be the kind of person who can reach for the blanket of my friend’s choice.  It may not be my blanket, but it will be hers.  And somehow, that seems the most Christian, Christmassy thing to do.

For S.

*The gender of my Jewish friend may or may not have been changed merely to keep you mystified.