“Happy Holidays!” As the end of the year approaches, everywhere we turn someone is telling us to be happy. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… well, not for everyone. While images of love and joy fill storefronts, TV screens and magazine pages, for many people, the reality of the holidays isn’t so cheerful. This time of year, we remember people we love and those we’ve lost, particularly the older we get. Between stressful end-of-year deadlines, family dysfunction and loss, poor eating and drinking habits, and increasingly cold and dark winter days, it’s easy for the holiday season to feel not-so-merry and bright. In fact, for some, the holidays can seem more like something to survive than to enjoy. The traditions and events that can add so much joy and meaning to the season are punctuated with painful reminders of the person we loved and lost or the person who is no longer here to share in it.
There’s nothing like the season’s festive messages of peace, love, and togetherness to really make us contemplate our existence, our relationships, and what really matters to us. We think about the people we love who live far away. Perhaps we mull over what we cannot afford to do or what we can’t afford to give to others. Many of us pause to consider what’s going on in the world beyond our lives and the lives of the people we know too, especially given such tragic, world events. We might think back on the entire year and feel we have not achieved what we’ve wanted to. Universally, it feels as if our hearts are heavy this season.
Constant reminders of others’ happy seasons can additionally serve as a painful reminder of the happiness and love that’s lacking in our own lives. If you are struggling this year, take some solace in the fact that no one’s life is perfect. And no one’s Christmas is like the movies. The holiday strain doesn’t discriminate against anyone. For this reason, the month of December can be a particularly difficult time of year for those dealing with family conflict, loss, breakups, divorce, loneliness and mental health issues, among other life issues.
What should we do when Christmas doesn’t feel like a season of joy, peace, and love?
Author Gerald Sittser had no easy answers as he wrote “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss” a book about the loss of his wife, mother, and 4-year-old daughter from a head-on collision with a drunken driver.
Those who suffer such loss run the risk of “the gradual destruction of the soul” as guilt, regret, bitterness, hatred, immorality, and despair threaten to devour it, he writes. Christians have the option of embracing loss in the light of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.
“The sovereign God,” he writes, “who is in control of everything, is the same God who has experienced the pain I live with every day. No matter how deep the pit into which I descend, I keep finding God there. (Psalm 139:8) He is not aloof from my suffering but draws near to me when I suffer. He is vulnerable to pain, quick to shed tears, and acquainted with grief.”
This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. —Psalms 119:50