The Dreadful Holidays

I turned to Cameron today as we made our way down to Fort Worth and asked, “Do you remember the first time we came down here?” He said he couldn’t remember. But I could see it vividly. The highway was still in the same constant state of construction, skies were the same typical winter gray, and the trees were nearly bare along the side of the road. Last year, I  looked up on the new large city with the new large hospital and dreaded every bit of it. I knew it was December and that the hospital would be decorated extensively for Christmas. Nothing about Christmas last year felt exciting. I just sat wishing every day to slip by unnoticed.

For many of us, we look toward the holidays with dread, fear, anxiety, sadness, or depression. We know that something will be “off” or “not usual” this year: the empty seat, the foreign food, the missing companion, or like us, the strange location and uncertain prognosis. We spent a quick time at our usual family Christmas and then hurried down to the children’s hospital to spend a few hours holding our twins. Charlie ended up “clamping down” or having a “code blue” moment on Christmas, a trend he continued on every holiday in the hospital. So I completely understand dreading holidays. I understand wishing everyone would not make such a big deal about it and let it pass by quickly.

I also understand the feeling of guilt related to the holidays. I felt guilty for not caring about Christmas. We didn’t feel happy enough to shop in stores. We didn’t take the kids to go see Christmas lights. I asked Evelyn last week if she remembered if we put Christmas lights up, we didn’t. There can be such guilt for being unhappy during the holidays. Our culture demands this to be “hap-happiest season of all”! For the world, it is because this is the season of thankfulness and giving (but being happy seems to rely a lot of receiving). The Bible will tell us the truth that this season is the greatest because it is the remembrance of the birth of Jesus, the savior of the world.

I was aware of this truth but it didn’t change my constant apathy about the “festivities”. During this time last year, we have had to remind ourselves of what is true. These truths were the grounding forces for my mind when it was so easily going adrift. And so if you dread these coming holidays or are already singing Christmas carols in the shower, I give you four truths and tips that I found helpful.

1. God loves me, even if I missed 20 of the 25 days in the advent calendar. It ok to forget about traditions, skip the work holiday party, shop for all your gifts online, or forego sending family cards. You’ll hear about everyone else doing all their merry, cheery activities and perhaps feel guilty that you aren’t and really don’t want to. God’s love for you is based on Jesus, and absolutely nothing you do (or don’t do) and certainly not based on your emotions (for the most part). But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

2. God often provides ways you can show love despite feeling dreadful. Eating cafeteria food on Christmas was far from glamorous but spending hours of Thanksgiving and hours of Christmas with the staff in the hospital was surprisingly delightful. They dreaded going to work on that day, we dreaded having children there but with that “misery loves company” idea, we had a great time. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people… Galatians 6:10

3. That leads me to this key point, perhaps it’s time to change your expectations. What you see your friends do with their family and friends for the holiday can create a sense of false expectation for your life. Pictures with Santa! They are so cute, can we take Charlie to Santa this year? Um no, germs, gross. Even the amount of gifts one gives another or one receives can make you have false expectations of your loved ones. Just ditch it. You do you (in this sense, because that little motto is terrible advice in almost all other areas of life). For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:7-8

4. For those who are joyfully looking forward to the holidays, don’t forget those who are not. The hospital is still full of children and adults in which that day will be dreadful. There are homes with empty seats. There are remorseful people behind bars unable to get home. There are homesick students unable to pay the fare to go home. Do what you can. Do what you are lead to do. Don’t worry if it might be “cheesy” or strange. It’s not. We were on the receiving end of what people thought would be odd. But we smiled on Christmas, because even if we didn’t have everyone around us, we knew we were not alone. And to the anonymous person who left us a year’s worth of “loose change collection” (with a book about the Christmas Jar), we tearfully thank the unknown giver. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4