There were parts of my house that were off-limits because they were dangerous. This included the loft inside our garage, the thorn bushes in the backyard, the workshop, and the attic. I understand why three of these four were dangerous, but the attic was just another level to our house. Wanting to mostly abide by my parents’ rules, I decided one July day I would check the attic out. After all, there weren’t power tools up there. How unsafe could it be?

What I found up in that attic shocked me. There were empty boxes from our Christmas presents. This may not seem all that weird – except these were boxes from the Christmas presents we received from Santa Claus… and Santa didn’t bring them in boxes.

A horrific reality sunk in: My parents’ had kidnapped Santa Claus.

As I woefully descended the attic steps, lamenting the reality that I needed to turn my parents in to the police for kidnapping, the actual reality set in:

My parents were Santa Claus.

I was angry. They lied to me and the first thing I needed to do was confront my mom. I laid the accusation out against her – she had been deceiving me for 10 years of my life and how could she pretend to be Santa Claus? I ran into my room crying.

My mom came into my room to console me and calm me down. I learned that the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, and leprechauns were also not real. I then looked at my mom and I asked her something that I think startled her,

“So, is God not real, either?”

Santa Jesus Isn’t a Thing

There is a really toxic image of Jesus that a lot of Catholics have – Santa Jesus. Here is how Santa Jesus works: You believe in Santa Jesus and want to have a relationship with him, but the relationship is really kind of messed up. You only want a relationship with Santa Jesus because you want the good things that Santa Jesus brings.

And Santa Jesus wants you on your best behavior, or you won’t get anything good. In this view, when we get “coal” spiritually, or when life is hard, or when we suffer, we immediately think that we have done something wrong or that Jesus is mad at us.

Santa Jesus is a toxic image of God because eventually we realize that it is cruel and no decent relationship works like that. It is wrong for someone to simply love us and give us good things when we do all the right stuff. We wind up rejecting this image of Christ when we are faced with suffering; what does Santa Jesus know about suffering? Couldn’t he do something about it?

As a child, my image of Santa and my image of Jesus were very similar. Jesus wanted us to be good people and if we were bad we wouldn’t have a good life. Good people got good things, and bad people got bad things. It was simplistic and fair. It is an image of God that worked for a ten year old; unfortunately many people have this view of Jesus well into adulthood.

The Real Thing

Santa Jesus becomes irrelevant the first time we find ourselves doing all the right things, but someone that does evil things gets more than us. It is the first time that we don’t go to that party yet find that, rather than everyone praising us, they gossip about us. It is the first time that we do the holy thing in a relationship, but instead of winning our significant other over, they dump us for someone less holy.

It happens when we strive to love the Lord and our neighbor, yet bad things still happen. We start to ask God, “have you been lying to us? Is any of this real? Where is my reward for being a great Catholic? Why don’t I get good gifts for being a good person?”

Sadly, a lot of people get stuck here and some walk away from God. They can’t reconcile their understanding of Santa Jesus with the reality of the world we live in. Sometimes bad people seem to get more while good people suffer. It can seem like God isn’t being fair with us. Is there any benefit to being Catholic and living a holy life if we don’t “get” anything for it?

The Greatest Gift

As a kid I was more focused on the gifts that “Santa Claus” gave me; once the myth of Santa Claus was dispelled a big part of me was worried that I wouldn’t get those gifts anymore. As I grew up, I realized that there was something bigger behind Santa all along – my parents’ love. As a teenager, it became more important to me that I spent time with my family rather than got a lot of gifts. That continues as an adult – simply just to be with them is gift enough.

Jesus Christ is the same way; what is the benefit of following Christ if we don’t always get worldly things? Simple: The benefit is that we receive the greatest gift – Christ himself. Jesus gives us himself in relationship; when we follow Christ we live in His life and love.

It doesn’t mean we will become millionaires.

It doesn’t mean we will have a new car with a giant red bow on it.

It doesn’t meant that we won’t suffer or experience unhappiness.

It also doesn’t mean that “bad people” will always get what is coming to them. In fact, we should hope that those that don’t have a relationship with Christ get what they deserve – God’s mercy, healing, and love. Just like us.

When we look at Jesus as though He is Santa, we can easily become disappointed when we don’t get what we asked for in prayer, when we feel like we are being neglected in the gifts that we receive, or when other’s receive more (when we think they should receive less). But Jesus is not Santa and gives us the only thing worth anything – the gift of himself.

Image via Flickr, CC 2.0, Logo added

About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @LT_Jstepanek.