Do you need another reminder that some people suffer at holiday times? Maybe not. Is there anything I can share that would help you relate to some of those sufferers? Maybe so. I'll try.
1) You can't fix it.
Everyone who suffers at holiday time knows it's coming, for the most part. We're aware that it's not always completely rational, yet it's not so arbitrary that it's unpredictable. We know that the wish for a better situation will make the pain of our present one all the more tangible. We might have entered a certain numbness at other times of the year, but holidays seem to remove the anesthesia.
I do not intend this to make you feel bad about past attempts to help. We know you mean well. I just want you to not feel that you need to do something extraordinary to get us through. You don't. In fact, what we would prefer is a simple greeting, a heartfelt smile, and freedom from having to relate a “spun” or flat out untruthful rendition of what we got for Christmas or what wonderful family gathering we had. Those are the questions we would like to avoid.
2) God can fix it.
But for some reason he hasn't chosen to do so yet. Don't misunderstand my point. We know very well, and in fact we celebrate, that the mess of the world is precisely why Jesus came. If the world were not the kind that would create a slaughter of the innocents, God could have just sent a tract, or maybe another prophet. No, the world was irremediable by ordinary means (see point #1) so it took God's extraordinary rescue mission to begin setting things right.
In the meantime, we live in hope and anticipation. We look forward to the day when the kingdom is on earth as it is in heaven. We believe that our pain will be ended then, but not until then. God can fix it, but for reasons we don't always understand, he hasn't chosen to do so quite yet, and so we wait.
3) We need to rejoice.
Those of us who grieve are great at grieving with others. I just preached a funeral earlier this week. I'm not commenting on the sermon delivery (or the fact that I was the last-minute song leader) but I will say that a minister experiencing holiday sadness naturally relates to the sadness of a mourning family. They probably saw me as amazingly in touch with their emotions. They probably credit me too much. Frankly, that part was easy for me.
The harder part is to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” A wedding this week would have been tough. If things are going badly for you, I can genuinely ache for your pain, but oftentimes I choke on the “brag letters” that come out at Christmas. Why? Why can't I celebrate your grandchildren's academic brilliance and athletic prowess? Why does that make me feel competitive? What a waste! Perhaps one of the greatest spiritual disciplines we can all work on this year is to gather all the Christmas letters in a pile, then read them slowly and thankfully, praising God for the wonderful things that have happened to our friends and family, even if we have been left out of those blessings. In fact, as I think about this, I hope I get many of those letters this year. I frankly find joy in knowing that other people have had great years. I like to know that good things can happen, even if they don't always happen to me.
I'm impressed with how often we are called to be joyful before God. He doesn't say “be joyful if you feel it in your marrow.” He calls us to be joyful despite our circumstances. When I surround the table, I experience it as Eucharist –thanksgiving. I rejoice when it is time to go to the house of the Lord, even if my activity there is lament. I celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world because it is a joyful event. My emotions during the holiday season do not change the joyful substance of that advent. Acknowledging joy is a discipline that will ultimately bless me. Do not feel bad about your joy. Do not try to hide it from us because we don't match it as well. We need your joy. We're glad you have it! If jealousy prevents us from sharing your joy as God would require, we need to grow. Don't shield us from that necessity.
4) But sometimes we need to mourn.
We'll try not to ruin the Christmas service or to get misty-eyed at awkward times, but we can't make any promises. Frankly, sometimes it's tough. If that happens in your presence, please don't shine a spotlight on us. That would be all the more embarrassing. You can acknowledge that you see our pain and ask what you can do. Likely we will tell you there is nothing you can do, not because we're being brave, but because that is exactly true. Of course we crave your prayers, but odds are we won't want to express even that. It may look like you've embarrassed us or angered us, but you didn't. We appreciate the gesture, even if we weren't able to express that. One thing for certain – we do not want our mourning to become the main event. We came to celebrate; we just couldn't pull it off. We need you to do that.
Finally, let me say that everything I've written comes from my own experience. Someone else might legitimately disagree with what I said, so maybe it should only be taken as a statement of how I feel, but in talking to other “holiday sufferers” I think this post is pretty much on point. I may be weird, but I'm not completely weird! Seriously, people are unique. Read and apply this post with humility and prayer.
Grace and Shalom