“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king . . . “
“Tis the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la”
Over the next few days, many will struggle to find “joy” or “jolly.” I’m thinking of dear friends who unexpectedly lost loved ones this year; a family shattered by a spouse’s infidelity in such a way that never again will the family sit together for a Christmas meal; my peer in ministry with crushing health issues; the “man or maid” alone on this holiday that seems to demand companionship; a wife who finally just had enough of her husband’s meanness and walked away, for the first time she faces a fractured Christmas; an elder who has managed to outlive her peers and her children; those parents whose son will not make a Skype call from Afghanistan this year, his death a few months back the result of an improvised explosive device; the resident of a local nursing home, surrounded by peers whose family have visited, but it seems she has been forgotten by her busy family.
Others with melancholy temperament, or having a physical disorder that results in a chemical imbalance known as depression may be “blue” in what is supposed to be these brightest of seasons.
My objective is not to cheer you, but to validate that what you feel is ok. Look to Matthew for validation. The ancient village of Bethlehem was the site of the birth of Jesus Christ, the grandest event in human history. In the same season of time when wise men brought gifts to baby Jesus, Bethlehem was also the site of atrocity worse than what happened in Berlin a few days ago.
16 Then Herod, . . . slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Matthew 2:16-18)
From the passage notice:
- The joy at Bethlehem’s stable did not eliminate or reduce the reality of “Rachel weeping for her children.” The birth of the king of the Jews, did not reduce the pain caused by the murder of a peasant child. Matthew allows those who suffered depressing loss to own and mourn their loss. Neither the original prophet Jeremiah or Matthew criticize the residents of Bethlehem who lamented, wept and mourned – at the time of Christ’s birth. It is fine for there to be some tears at Christmas tables. You have permission to feel what you are feeling! Don’t apologize.
- The visit by the wise men; and Rachel’s weeping for her murdered children happened in close proximity. The lesson: sorrow and joy can co-exist. Loneliness and hope often use the same mailbox. Your sadness and depression should not define other people’s experience, nor should you expect it too. Children will laugh and enjoy their new toys; the ugly sweater contest will happen, even if you don’t participate; and MawMaw’s turkey and dressing will be as wonderful as ever. So . . . don’t pull your shroud of despair over everyone else.
Confession time: on occasion I struggle with Christmas. I’m not sure why. There is no particular reason. The “holy children” are a joy, Norma’s holiday meals merge the best of southern tradition with recipes gained from years of travel, days of holiday quiet are enjoyable but . . . still it is there. Perhaps my confession will at least help someone else feel themselves to have company in their strangeness.
Actually, there can be any of several reasons. My second most dominant personality trait is having a melancholy temperament. Further, at times, I’ve fought the dark battle of clinical depression. Also, I’m not particularly oriented to enjoy settings where I hear stories about “Aunt Lucille’s thyroid gland is acting up again.”
Some of the solutions:
- If any of this describes you, it is fine to feel what you and I share. Be comfortable in not being the “life of the party.” Be secure in your own skin.
- Don’t rain on other people’s holiday tradition or enjoyment of the season. God has not called any of us to be Scrooge. Your sorrow or melancholy and a son’s thrill at having bought himself a new drone for Christmas can coexist.
- Be present and visible for lunch, dinner and opening those presents, but at some point you may decide to take your Kindle reader, escape to a back room and read a book. You could even choose to get and read my book “Healthy Church, Start Here!” from Amazon. Take some divinity, fudge, pecan pie and other assorted goodies and for a while enter your own little world. It will be fine. You have permission to do it.
- If the darkness, despair and your depression becomes overwhelming please call someone for help. The sadness of their season causes some to commit suicide. Please value yourself more than that. I do! Where you live, there is a suicide prevention hotline. There are people who will listen to your despair and may be able to light your path through the dark of your Christmas.
I’m interested in how you have worked your way through the challenges of this season. Please share your comments.
Some seasons of life the best you can do is survive, there is likely no way to thrive. Live the day; live the season; trust me, laughter will resonate again. Wise people around you likely know your pain and are willing to validate it as I am doing. The way you feel emotionally is not a reflection of how others feel about you.
If it seems there are none who will do so – find an elder who has lived 7 or 8 decades. Elders tend to intimately know the many faces of life. They have lived the co-existence of life and death, light and dark, disappointment and hope. An elder’s hug and quiet conversation may well be exactly what you need this Christmas season.
My free e-book Where is God in My Dark Place is available again. Perhaps you have a friend who you know to be struggling with despair or depression this year. Would you send them a link to carltoncoonsr.com and suggest my free e-book to them