Maybe you’ve lost a loved one this year, maybe a job or your health or a relationship that you held dear. Whatever form your loss has taken, grief lingers like a shadow where sunshine had once been. And sometimes the joy of the holidays is not enough to overcome the sadness we feel. It’s as if we’re on a carousel with brightly painted horses, bright lights and loud music but we are in the middle simply standing still.
Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” so please know that the Lord himself understands your pain and has no condemnation for those who are plagued with grief. In fact Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. . .”
It is certainly His desire to come to you, to sit beside you in your brokenness and to stay with you until the dawn of a brighter day. And He will. He is faithful that way. While He is always ready to help us, there are things we can also do to help ourselves when we find we are in a dark place.
While I am not an expert in grief or in healing, I have experienced the strain of trying to make a holiday happy when my heart was sad, of having to cope with the glaring gap left by a loved one’s absence or of simply becoming so caught up in the dizzying swirl of activities that I lost the joy of the season. Here I offer three suggestions for finding our way back to happy:
- Find Comfort in the Word of God. The Bible is rich in wisdom, in practical instruction and in encouragement for our souls. When we are discouraged, depressed or in despair there is LIFE to be found within the pages of the greatest book ever written. As we prayerfully seek God’s help, He causes his words to come alive in our spirits, our hearts and our minds.
- Find REST. Grief is exhausting. Creating time and space for self care is crucial. Especially during the holidays when our already full schedules are even more jammed, the pace can become frenzied and leave us feeling frayed. Look at REST as an acronym for the following tips:
R – Remember the good times. When I am feeling my worst, I sometimes pull a soft blanket over myself, lie down somewhere comfy and let my mind choose a really pleasant memory to dwell on. It’s amazing how reliving good memories can cause our bodies to relax, our breathing to deepen and our tensions to ease.
E – Energize yourself. This can mean different things for different people. Some folks are energized by exercise and physical exertion. Others feel more alive when they are in a dynamic social setting. My husband is restored when he spends time in nature. Whatever works for you and causes you to feel stimulated and more alive is what you should do.
S – Stay away from negativity. We may need to separate ourselves from certain people or situations in order to keep ourselves in the happy zone. Don’t feel guilty about protecting your emotional health. God has given you one chance to enjoy a beautiful life and it’s your responsibility to set up safeguards to best ensure success. If you find the news depressing you may need to stop watching it for awhile. If gossip filled conversations at the office bring you down, stay out of them. Use Philippians 4:8 as your guideline for what you allow your mind to dwell on – those things that are “true, honest, just pure, lovely and of good report.” If it doesn’t fit that filter, don’t let it in.
T – Talk it out. Often if we are troubled about something we just need to be heard. Having a trusted friend who will allow us to verbalize our grief or frustration can be enormously therapeutic. The Galatians 6:2 mandate, “Bear ye one another’s burdens”, is a way of minimizing our pain by lightening our load.
3. Find a New Way. When the pain of trying to hold to holiday traditions merely highlights a loss in our lives, it may be time to try something new. For years we celebrated a Thanksgiving dinner which included an elaborate table setting, the opening of early Christmas gifts which we exchanged with my sister’s family and a sort of Thanksgiving service which our mother always led. After her death I struggled a couple of years trying to make that particular holiday seem “normal”. This year we decided to try something new. We all went to our farm where I had prepared a tasty but informal meal. We used paper plates and plastic cups, let the children run and play outside until dark then by headlamp and flashlight helped our younger son and his wife cut down a Christmas tree to take back to their home in the city. It felt relaxed, joyful and right. And I think everyone has voted for this to become our new Thanksgiving tradition.
In mid December five years ago, our daughter-in-law, Starre, lost her dad. Since then she has struggled with the sadness of his absence and the feeling that the holidays “just weren’t right”. This year, rather than giving in to the depression she decided to be proactive and try something new. On the anniversary of her dad’s death she gathered with other family members to remember the man she loved. We shared appetizers, pizzas and desserts. We wrote messages on paper Chinese lanterns, lit them and watched them float into the air. We looked at pictures, told stories, laughed, cried and shared. At the end of the evening Starre smiled in satisfaction and declared this would be the first happy holiday since her dad’s death. She had found a new way of reconciling his absence with his impact upon her life.
If your holidays have not been happy ones I want you to know how sorry I am for that. I also want you to know you are not alone. Many people struggle through what should be joyful occasions but are left feeling lonely and confused. Our God is a master at healing broken hearts and wounded emotions so I pray you turn to Him as your chief source of solace. He is also the originator of creativity and can inspire you with wonderful ideas for giving your holidays the facelift they need. I wish you peace. I wish you joy. I wish you holidays that are happy once again.