Whether we want to admit it or not the holiday’s are here! Thanksgiving is less than a week away and Christmas is all around us. For many people this is a stressful yet exciting time. The stress usually comes from good things; scheduling parties, shopping for gifts, baking, and making sure that we keep our hearts in check to remember the reason for the most wonderful time of the year. For most of us, this is a splendid time and we look forward with great anticipation to the joy of the season.
But, what if that isn’t you? What if this season brings memories of heartache or the stress of family turmoil that you could just honestly do without. If you walk into the holiday’s thinking that you might be filled with sorrow more than you will rejoice you probably aren’t alone. Chances are all of us have something about this season that brings stress. Are you nervous or anxious over interaction with a wayward family member? Is there unforgiven sin against you and the discomfort of being around your abuser? Perhaps you are saddened still over the grief and loss that appears all over again when there is an empty seat at your dinner table that will never be filled with your loved one lost? If these scenarios, or ones like them cause you pause as you enter into this holiday season, then take courage for God’s word has great comfort for you in your heartache.
“…our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4a
Heartache is never easy any time of the year but there is something cruel and unusual and a bit isolating when the rest of society seems to be singing about all that is jolly and bright and you find yourself in a state that is discouraging or less than ideal. It’s just a bummer. And you know what? It is a bummer and you don’t have to pretend that it isn’t. It’s OK to be bummed out about your broken dreams and heartache because this side of heaven there will be heartache and discomfort and suffering and loss. There will be hurt and heartache during the holidays and any other time of the year for that matter. But you don’t have to let it define your holiday season. “In this world you will have trouble, But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The reality of Jesus’ words don’t leave us in the months of November and December. God’s word rings true 365 days a year and my holiday hope for you is that you would cling to them even more in the coming weeks.
Practically speaking, if you know that you will be engaging in less than ideal circumstances with your family members or just anticipating an overall sadness that comes this time of year, then it is helpful to have a plan. So here are three easy tips that you can use to keep Christ at the center and not your disheartening circumstances.
- Know and apply your boundaries. Just because someone is family doesn’t mean that you have to engage in deep conversation with them, or be alone with them, or even pretend that heartache doesn’t exist. If both parties aren’t in a place for reconciliation then don’t force yourself to be there. You can still be kind but create a boundary that prevents any further heartache from taking place. If someone is persistent and presses you for conversation or deeper discussion that you might not be ready for then you can politely thank them for wanting to talk but ask if you could plan a time to meet together when there isn’t so much holiday bustle going on. You have recognized their request and responded with your own need. Just because someone asks you for something doesn’t mean you need to agree to it. For example, if you have a family member that is particularly challenging to be around it’s OK to limit your time with them. Set a clear expectation of when your event will end, or if your time together is extended then make sure you have time to get away; take a walk, be alone, and recharge yourself before more family time.
- Keep your nuclear family first. So often as adults when we return home to the house we grew up in, even if we have been gone for decades, we immediately revert back to being a child. We may tend to suddenly act and feel like that child did when they were growing up in the home. Being in your home or engaging in life with your parents might remind you of hurtful times or fights and anger that affected you greatly as a child. Now that you are an adult you don’t think about them much, until you are around your parents or in the home you grew up in. So remember, as an adult you don’t have to become the child again when you see your parents or show up at home this holiday season. Being mindful of the fact that this may be something you are prone to do will help you fight emotionally against it when you do arrive. Strive to run to your spouse first, not your parents. Keep your nuclear families traditions alive, even if you are traveling and don’t be ashamed to say that you do something differently then they way you did it growing up. Just because you are in your parents house doesn’t mean you have to do everything just the way you did it growing up. Prioritize your marriage even as an adult child and you will find freedom to be yourself this holiday season.
- Finally, and I hope it goes without saying…Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. (Heb 12:2-3) Jesus is the reason for the season, but it wasn’t just his birth that was miraculous…it was why he came. This little baby born was born a Savior and he knew full well that he would eventually be dying for our sins. We celebrate his birth this time of year but let’s not forget why he was born: so that he could die, to save us, so that we would truly live. Jesus is bigger than heartache, abuse, hurts, and dysfunction. Jesus is bigger than awkward family situations and bigger than our insecurities. Jesus is bigger than our sin and shame and the greatest gift, after the gift of salvation that God gives us, is one that you can give yourself: PEACE. True peace that can only come from Christ alone. He holds it out for you as you embark on these next few weeks. Take hold of it and let it transform your season. I hope it will.