The holidays are “supposed” to make us think of words like thankful, merry, and happy. We are “supposed” to enjoy this time of year. But…what if a loved one is not coming home for the holidays? What if this is going to be your first Christmas without your mate, your parent, and your child? What if death, divorce, distance, or decisions causes you to associate the holidays with words and feelings like depression, anxiety, and stress?
Some who are reading this will want to stop right now because you already feel that sharp pain that is caused by your loss. I would say to you please don’t. Some of you are saying, “Jeff, quit being a downer, I love the holidays.” I would say to you that I don’t want to diminish your joy. However, this is for people who are wondering if it is normal to hurt? And if you don’t need this, chances are you know someone who does?
The experience of joy during the holidays is not universal. It is not that those who have lost the feeling of joy during the holidays want to be killjoys. If you find yourself in a less than festive attitude right now I want you to know that it is okay. It is normal to hurt.
As a matter of fact, Jesus gives us permission to hurt and not only that He understands. He said to those close to Him who were hurting, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
In this passages, Jesus not only tells us that it is normal to experience hurt in this life, giving us permission to hurt, He also gives us permission to hope! One of the reasons for hope is seeing that our Lord hurt. He knows what it is like to be deeply moved when you lose someone who is dear to you. (John 11:33)
He knows what it is like to weep when we lose someone close to us. (John 11:35) Jesus knows what it is like to be alone. (Matthew 27:46) Through His experiences He teaches us that it is normal to hurt. And the fact that He endured and overcame gives us reason to hope.
Having endured loss during the holidays and speaking with many others who also have experienced loss, please allow me to share a few practical suggestions that might be of help. We shared these suggestions in our Grief Seminar at Lewisville as we discussed, "Handling the Holidays."
PREPARE – If you have lost someone close, you know that the ambush of emotions can attack at any time. If we can attempt to identify just some of those times we might be able to prepare as those times arrive.
ACCEPT – It might help to accept the difficulty of this time of year. Our losses are real and the holidays have a tendency to magnify those losses. Remember this is a season. It will pass, and we can continue our journey toward overcoming loss again.
SOCIALIZE – Try not to hibernate during the holidays. The overwhelming feelings you have may tempt you to isolate yourself. But try to force yourself to be with others. Make sure it is people you enjoy spending time with.
LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS JUST A LITTLE – Remember that many Christmas songs and movies paint an unrealistic picture of the holidays. Not everything is as it appears on the TV screen. Do your best to listen to songs and watch programs that bring you joy.
DON’T ANESTHETIZE – Many people try to numb the pain of the holidays with drugs or alcohol. It is a fact that trying to numb emotional distress with chemicals can create even more depression and pain.
RECONSIDER – It might help to rethink how you decorate during the holidays. If old ornaments or decorations cause too much pain, don’t display them this year. It’s okay to set them aside for another time. One friend of mine told of how they didn’t even celebrate Christmas in their home for a few years after losing their son. They went to a different location.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – Take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Exercise whenever you can. Spend time with people who bring you joy. Above all, spend time in prayer and worship with your Father in Heaven.
DON’T FORCE YOURSELF – If going to the mall and being around a million people is too stressful, consider shopping online. It’s an easy way to stay out of the chaos of busy stores.
DEVELOP – Work on some coping strategies. Keep the phone number of a close friend, your elders, your preacher, or a counselor nearby. Make a commitment to yourself that if you feel negative thoughts taking over that you will call someone. There are people who would love to help.
TURN ON THE LIGHTS – Get as much sunshine as possible. Winter has a way of taking its toll on our emotions by the loss of daylight. Studies have proven that many of us are Vitamin D deficient. It’s okay to take a Vitamin D supplement, but we also need to be in the daylight when we can.
SET BOUNDARIES – Communicate specifically to family and friends what you are capable of doing during this time of year, and what you are not capable of doing. Don’t let others make you feel guilty and force you into taking on more than you can handle.
REACH OUT – Find others who might be alone during the holidays and reach out to them. Do something for someone else. It has been my experience that when I am down, if I will do something for someone else, it always makes me feel better.
PRAY – Ask God to help you to be strong during the holidays. Ask Him to surround you with people who will bring you joy. Ask your Father to help you find hope in the midst of your hurt. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
My prayer is that these thoughts will be of some help to those who are hurting. Perhaps some of you who have endured difficult holidays would leave comments about something that has helped you. Above all things, remember, It’s normal to hurt and there is hope to be found in Jesus.
Dear Father in Heaven, today we pray for those who are hurting during the holidays. Our prayer is that they may know of your great love, of your comfort, and of your concern. Help us to encourage one another. Dear God, help us to be sensitive to the pain of those around us. We are thankful for Your love for us in sending Jesus into the world. We are thankful that He taught us that it is normal to hurt, and that He continues to give us hope. In His Wonderful Name we pray, Amen.