It’s the most wonderful time of year! Right?
For some it is, but for others …
Well, not so much.
For some people the holidays are hard–sometimes really hard. The reasons are varied, but people without strong ties to a supportive community (whether family, friends or both) that they actually “do life” with are especially vulnerable. Although we have more ways of connecting than ever before, a growing number of people are isolated, lonely, and craving true community. For those who are, this time of year can feel anything but wonderful.
I wish I didn’t know quite so much about this particular subject. Even more, I wish I could say I have completely and victoriously overcome all of my own persistent “holiday blues.”
But that wouldn’t be true.
What is true is that I’ve learned a few things about how to get through the season. (And yes, if this time of year is a struggle for you, sometimes it is okay to think of it in terms of “getting through” it. That does not make you a Scrooge or Debbie-Downer–it simply makes you honest.)
There are no magic bullets on this list. Some things may or may not be helpful. But in the hopes that these tips might be useful for someone else, here are some of the things that have helped me minimize the pain, and maximize the joy of the season:
1. Be kind to yourself. This is so important, yet often so difficult. God has lots of grace for you–especially when your heart is hurting–so have grace for yourself. When you catch yourself beating yourself up for your lack of “Christmas spirit”–or failure to be this, or do that–just stop. Practice speaking kindly to yourself. Make time to do the things you love, the things that fill you. Also remember that you can celebrate the fact that Jesus came 365 days a year. Don’t put added pressure on yourself to make one day matter so much more than all the others. (Jesus will understand–honest.)
2. Free yourself from the responsibility of meeting other’s expectations. We all want to bless the people we care about, but it simply isn’t possible to make everyone happy and meet everyone’s needs. So don’t try. Figure out what really matters and save your emotional energy for those things. As much as possible, keep some space from those who drag you into a spiral of negativity or who otherwise suck the life out of you. Be responsible for your own choices and actions–not anyone else’s.
3. Forgive quickly. People hurt each other. We don’t mean to but we do. Things like canceled plans, emails and calls that aren’t returned, insensitive remarks, being left out of things, etc., all hurt twice as much this time of year. But chances are, it’s not about you. Everyone has their own stuff going on and things just happen. Let go quickly and bless them instead. Yeah, sometimes it’s hard–do it anyway. As for those special folks who are so generous with their “advice” about all the things you should be doing to change your circumstances–bless ’em double! (Even the person who has given the most shallow, hurtful “counsel” ever, probably meant well.)
4. Cultivate gratitude. There is always something to be grateful for (usually there is much to be grateful for) and recognizing those things is often simply a matter of perspective. And a right perspective is something that can be cultivated. If an entire good day seems out of reach, then celebrate the good things and good moments in each day. And there are always moments to celebrate–even on the very worst days. Purpose to be thankful for what’s good and you might be surprised how much good you find. Enjoy every good moment for all it’s worth!
5. Give without an agenda. Somehow, someway, to someone–give. Big or small–give. Give without wanting or expecting anything in return. There is something incredibly powerful about giving (whether of your resources, your time, your emotional energy, or whatever) when you are in pain. But give wisely–not out of a hope to “get” and not out of guilt or compulsion. You don’t need to offer your time and resources to everyone who wants them (see #1 and 2!)–give where your heart is led to give.
6. Ask for help and/or prayer. Find a safe person or two and let them know you’re having a hard time. You don’t need to tell them everything. Don’t be offended if they don’t have time to hear everything. Just ask. If you don’t have anyone who is safe (and I know some do not) do what you can reasonably do to begin to develop those relationships. Understand that it takes time (sometimes a long time). Don’t be afraid to reach out again–even if you feel like you have over and over and it seems no one has “heard” or understood. Even when people don’t respond in the way you hoped, they probably still care more than you think … and they may be praying more than you know. Believe the best.
8. Let go … and rest in the truth. Despite the fact that we’re all faced with countless exhortations to “try harder”–sometimes the very best thing we can do is to stop trying so hard and let go. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up or becoming a hermit. Letting go means that after you’ve done what you can reasonably do to cooperate with Holy Spirit–you leave it in his hands. You let go of the pressure to “fix” yourself and your circumstances. You let go of what people think and of what they do or do not understand. You let go of your own demands for a particular outcome. And you allow your weary soul to rest in the truth.
And this is the truth: You are loved. You are valued. Your needs are important. You are worthy of love and affection. You are accepted. You are cherished. God has plans for you that are good–to give you hope and a future. And right now, in Christ–regardless of how it looks or feels–you have all you need. You lack nothing.
Jesus knows how you feel–even when no one else does. You will always belong in his family. He cares.
I care too. So do others whose names and faces you may or may not know. Even in times of deep loneliness, you are not alone.
And you will get through it.
*Note: The lack of “connectedness” in our culture is a huge and complex issue. The obvious hope is to get to a place–individually and corporately–where we do more than just “get through it.” But as I noted in another post recently, sometimes you have to get through it before you can get over it. I hope to add some additional thoughts on this issue soon. For now, if you ARE blessed to be in a good place, please be mindful of those who are hurting–especially those who may not have anyone. Never underestimate the power of a few simple words (even a text) to say “Hi, I’m thinking about you and praying for you.” Don’t assume someone else is doing it. For those who receive little encouragement, just knowing someone else is thinking about them can be priceless.