Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Bah Humbug.
For many people, Christmas is the saddest time of year. In a culture that is obsessed with all things Christmas, it is easy to feel like an alien when our thoughts and feelings are anything but merry.
Whether your pain stems from lost loved ones, unfulfilled hopes, shattered dreams or personal failures, the holidays will probably intensify your feelings. On TV we see storybook families and peace on earth – nothing but laughter and smiles. But what if the reflection in your mirror reveals a lonely heart, empty arms, betrayal or rejection?
Do you wince when someone exuberantly proclaims, “Merry Christmas!”? How can you possibly celebrate the season of joy when you feel such deep sadness? Is it possible to be honest with your feelings without becoming a grinch, ruining Christmas for everybody else?
The good news is that you can do more than just survive this Christmas. Rather than clenching your teeth and simply enduring the holidays, you can allow this to be a time of healing, a time of moving through grief and beginning to embrace life again. First, though, you have to face reality.
1. Get Real
Start by honestly facing what you are going through. Acknowledge your pain, name its source, and share it with people you trust. At Christmas there is a great temptation to paste on a smile and go through the motions. This may help you survive December, but it will do nothing to help you grow through your hurt. As Eugene Peterson writes, “Year by year, as we deny and avoid the pains and losses, the rejections and frustrations, we’ll become less and less, trivial and trivializing, empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.”
2. Give Yourself a Break
Accept your physical and emotional limitations this year. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Christmas is a hectic, demanding time: we sing carols about silent nights, still and calm, and then we run around madly, trying to stuff as much into each day as possible. Step out of the whirlwind. Choose only the most meaningful traditions to hold on to and set the rest aside for a year. If you have lost someone close to you, your traditions may need to be altered, but continuing to keep those traditions is a way of keeping the person’s memory alive.
3. Give Others a Break
The chances are very good that, sometime during the holiday season, someone is going to say something that seems insensitive to you. Understand that most people really do want to help, but they may not know how. Who of us is completely at ease in the presence of deep hurt? You may have to make the first move and tell people what you need.
While it is important to be wise and protect your wounded heart, remember that grief is not an excuse for being selfish. Consider other people’s needs and reach out to them. Serving others is good medicine! You can’t possibly know what hurts other people are carrying. Everyone has a story – even that perky sales clerk who is giving you a headache!
4. Plan Ahead
A sure recipe for feeling overwhelmed is to have no strategy at all. Look at your calendar and consult your immediate family members. What will be helpful? What will be hurtful? Christmas events can be either a pleasant distraction or a painful reminder of the problems you are coping with. Try to leave yourself an escape in case you need one. For example, drive yourself to Christmas parties so you can leave early if you need to.
5. Allow Yourself to Have Fun
Sometimes when we are struggling, especially when we are coping with the death of a loved one, we feel guilty when we realize that we are actually having a good time. Moments of happiness seem to somehow dishonour the person we miss. But it’s okay for you to have fun; in fact, it’s crucial to your healing as you realize that life will indeed go on. The fact that you are still able to smile does not reflect on your love for the person or on the depth of your loss. So if you unexpectedly find yourself enjoying this Christmas, embrace it! That’s exactly what your loved one would wish for you.
6. Celebrate the Real Christmas
Far from the idyllic scenes on Christmas cards, the first Christmas was messy and painful. Think of the confused teenaged mom who birthed her first child far from home, next to noisy animals in a smelly barn. More importantly, think of the Father who loves you so much that He gave His only Son over to poverty, pain, danger and death. Draw near to this Father who is close to the broken-hearted, and who saves those who are crushed in spirit. He alone is the one who can heal your wounds, redeem your pain, and give you true joy in the midst of your suffering.
An old carol by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow laments,
And in despair I bowed my head. “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
As you approach Christmas this year, does this express your heart? If so, our prayer is that God may bless you in the area of your deepest need this Christmas, moving you to embrace the truth of the next verse:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
Copyright © 2004 Glen and Christie Hoos. Used with permission.
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Glen and Christie Hoos joined the FamilyLife team in 2003, after 5 years with the Athletes in Action division of Campus Crusade for Christ. Glen is Project Manager for FamilyLife. He and Christie have a deep desire to help young families build their homes on a solid foundation.
Glen and Christie will celebrate Christmas in Aldergrove, BC with their two daughters, Lydia and Chloe. They will also shed December tears for their sons Noah (stillborn June 3, 1999) and Simon (stillborn Sept. 14, 2003).