I don’t think Rainey believes in Santa Clause anymore. At least she’s having some serious doubts.

“Do you eat the cookies we leave for him, Mom?” she asked in the car last week.

“Of course, sweetheart,” I replied, totally busted. “But that doesn’t mean Santa isn’t real,” I hoped to clarify. “It just means Mommy really likes cookies.”

“Why doesn’t the Polar Express come for me?” she asked sadly after reading the book for the tenth time since Thanksgiving.

“Well,” I sighed, closing the book and stalling for time. “Maybe your belief in Santa is so strong that he doesn’t think it needs to stop here.”

From the doubtful look on her face, that explanation didn’t seem to help either, so I added, “Or maybe he has our address on the same tracking system as UPS. They’re always losing our packages.”

But that was lost on her, too, so this morning she solemnly confessed at the breakfast table, “I want to believe, Mom, but I’m just so confused.”

I remember when I stopped believing in Santa Clause. I don’t know how old I was, but I recall announcing to my mom in a very grown-up way, “Mother, I don’t believe in Santa Clause anymore.”

“But,” I added with certainty, “I totally believe in the Easter Bunny.”

You know, because a giant rabbit hopping from yard to yard dropping eggs and candy into cute, pastel baskets is so much more believable than a fat man sliding down a chimney delivering toys to boys and girls around the world in one night.

But even though I’ve outgrown the naïve logic of my youth, I can still relate to Rainey’s confusion. My doubt these days, though, is oftentimes directed toward God, the great big Santa Clause in the sky.

Or at least that’s how I sometimes think of him.

Sometimes I believe he’s obligated to give me good gifts, like Santa, based on my nice behavior. And when he gives me the equivalent of coal in my stocking, I think he’s not worth believing in anymore. Truth be told, God doesn’t always seem to come through for me like Santa used to on Christmas morning. And sometimes he makes as much sense as flying reindeer and seems as distant as the North Pole.

But like Rainey, I want to believe. I want to believe that God is real and that I can climb up on his lap, ask for anything, like a child before Christmas, and find him in my living room during the dark winter nights of my life.

But believing is hard, like growing up, in a world where we all suffer loss and encounter confusion sometimes. I suppose coming to terms with the truth about Santa Clause is part of the maturing process for Rainey, but losing faith in God doesn’t have to be for me.

Maybe I should stop treating God like Santa and admit that my belief doesn’t obligate him to make my life make sense, to make it work for me and make me happy. Sure, he cares about my questions, and he cares about how I feel, what I think, and why I sometimes hurt. But he is much more interested in letting me know him, and at the same time, know myself, and a stocking full of coal is often how he does it.

I like the sound of that as much as I liked the sweater my aunt knitted for me in the fourth grade, but as I’m slowly and somewhat painfully learning, life’s lumps of coal are often diamonds in disguise, drawing me deeper into God and closer to a life of faith, hope and love.

And, besides the cookies, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

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