Summer seems to be the never-ending celebration in our family. Birthdays, anniversaries, and savory accomplishments are often clustered around the long days and hot months of sunshine. We start in mid-April and keep right on going through the end of August with picnics, pond days, ball games, fireworks, weekends in the city, and the skillful hunt for the perfect gift. I love it all!
However, last year (2018) marked a milestone birthday celebration for me, and I found myself trying to avoid the suspecting attention directed towards my big day. This isn’t too out of the ordinary for me, but this time I made it REALLY clear that I didn’t want a party or gifts. I just wanted quality time with some of my favorite people.
Perhaps I was a tad overly adamant about this. I kept reminding my husband, “Please don’t plan a surprise party, and please ask my friends not to do the same. Please.” He knew I was serious, but my friends thought I was just playing it cool. And any attempt made by one of them to override my wishes for a quiet, non-party-style celebration felt like pressure—the kind of pressure that gave me a lump in my throat, sweaty palms and watery eyes that thankfully never turned into telling tears.
But I started to wonder why. Why did I have such a strong, visceral response to avoid the attention or be celebrated in this way? It was a milestone birthday, after all.
And then the dots connected in my heart and my mind.
You see, a few years earlier, I showed up to a surprise birthday breakfast planned by a dear friend. She had invited friends from all different spheres of my life. And it was such a gift to share breakfast, laughter, and lively conversation all gathered around the same table that morning. The celebration ended with each friend speaking a few words of meaning and blessing over the next year of my life. It was a memorable birthday, for sure!
But a couple of days later, one of those friends pulled me aside to express anger and frustration that other friends would share similar words of blessing as hers. Wasn’t she my closest friend? Didn’t I understand how awful that made her feel to hear other people talk about me in that way too?
I was shocked. I listened to her share her frustrations, asked a few questions, and reassured her that her friendship was special to me—but I drove home confused, sad, and in disbelief from the conversation we just had. Unfortunately, the friendship never recovered, even after several attempts to make things right. I lost a dear friend, and it was actually quite painful.
This experience rattled me, and for a while, I shied away from my own birthday celebrations or any kind of personal celebration, for that matter. I was fine to celebrate someone else, as long as it wasn’t me. Until I realized how much my desire to not be celebrated impacted the people around me, too.
That’s when it hit me that celebration was like love (in fact, I believe celebration is an expression of love). The best kind of relationships, including friendships, are the ones in which we give love and receive love. Likewise, the best kind of relationships are the ones in which we give celebration and receive celebration.
Maybe I’m stretching this too far for you—this correlation between celebration and love. But it worked for me. And by connecting the two, I was now free to move on and embrace celebration once again in my life. Because if I could give and receive love, then surely I could give and receive celebration, too.
As with most difficult or painful experiences in life, there are lessons to be learned. So, here are the valuable lessons I learned about Celebration over the years—and may these lessons be a source of encouragement if you wrestle with celebration too:
Give it. If you have the kind of personality and /or profession that generates a lot of friendships or relationships, make sure the people you hold most dear know how meaningful their friendship is to you. Celebrate them well.
Receive it. Surround yourself with friends who love and celebrate you well, too—friends who acknowledge your mess and their mess within the health and safety of a secure friendship, and friends who make room at the table for others to join, too.
Embrace it. Celebration is an innate part of being human, so embrace it with gratitude and joy. We are hard-wired for celebration.
Face it. If celebration is hard for you, stop and consider why. What does celebration mean to you? When do you first remember having a negative perspective of celebration? What painful memories or difficult past experiences have you had that keep you from celebration?
Put it into practice every day. What’s one small way you will celebrate your own life today, and one small way you will celebrate someone dear to you?