by Lifeword Executive Director Donny Parrish
Christmas can be the worst.
That doesn’t sound very religious coming from a guy who has spent most of his life in the ministry. It’s almost sacrilegious, isn’t it? Well, although I really do enjoy Christmas and all that season has to offer, there were several years when that wasn’t the case. There has been a time in my life when I have dreaded Christmas, almost to the point of despair.
November of 1992 found my family reeling. Our firstborn, Brittany, had passed away in a freak accident. There is no describing the despair and hopelessness that we felt. Although we were believers in Jesus and I was serving in the ministry, and even though we knew all of the verses and were certain that Brittany was with the Lord, we were devastated by her loss.
Honestly, that first Christmas we spent without her I know that we were all in shock. It had all happened so unexpectedly and quickly that all we knew to do was put up a Christmas tree and go through the motions of having Christmas. We had a three year old, Samantha, that we were so worried about, so we had to try to make things as “Christmas normal” as possible.
But things were not normal. And soon the reality set in that there would never be another normal Christmas. Brittany was gone. It was overwhelming. And I remember spending most of the next year dreading holidays. I especially dreaded the Christmas season. I didn’t want to experience that pain again. I could find no way to fix this hurt and desperation inside myself and I certainly had no way to fix the hurt that I knew my family would experience. Christmas would never be the same again.
Maybe this Christmas finds you there. Maybe the loss of a family member, the loss of a marriage or the loss of a dream, or maybe it’s just that the season itself brings a feeling of dissatisfaction because the day never meets your expectations of a “Hallmark Movie” Christmas.
How do you navigate that? How do you deal with the feelings of emptiness that Christmas can bring?
Well, I’m certainly not a psychiatrist or counselor, but I can share some of the things God has taught me in my grief journey through the years:
#1 The day is never as bad as the dread.
I can remember dreading Christmas Day. I would pray that the experience of hurt that I was so anxious about for my family to be easier in some way. But, as it turned out, the actual day was never as tough as I dreaded that it might be. I wish I could have known that. I spent a lot of wasted time worrying about how my family would push through Christmas Day. God was always faithful to supply the grace we needed to get through. God’s grace is always in supply in abundance at the time that we need it. He provides grace for the moment of need. He’ll give you grace to deal with Christmas Day. And it won’t be as tough a day as you feared that it might be.
Exodus 16:4 (ESV): Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day…”
Just as the people of Israel were given enough bread to gather for that one day, God will provide grace so that you will be able to endure.
#2 Investing in other people will help ease your pain.
There is something about walking with other people through the troubles in their lives that will help you cope with the loss that you’re feeling. I’m not sure how that happens. But I do know that it helps me. There are people out there who are homeless, who are hurting, who need someone to lean on, who are just waiting for someone to help them.
God never wastes a hurt. He wants to take the experience that you have walked through to help someone else. In the process, God eases the burden you are carrying. So, look for someone to help this Christmas. In turn, God will use your kindness to help you.
2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (ESV): Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Let God heal you through the process of you being a blessing to others. You could be the only person who can relate to what they are feeling.
#3 Don’t expect everyone to understand.
They fact is, they can’t. They will never be able to understand how you feel. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s not that they don’t want to understand. They just can’t. And you really don’t want them to. To do so would mean that they would have to suffer as you are suffering.
So, give people a break for not fully understanding. Don’t resent them for not being able to travel to where you are emotionally. There’s no one in human terms who can really commiserate with your suffering, but there is Someone who can truly understand.
He has hurt deeply, felt abandoned, walked into unimaginable pain and gave all that He had only to be put on a cross. Tell God how you feel. He does understand. And He really cares about you.
Hebrews 4:15–16 (ESV): For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is the only One who can truly understand. And He is all you really need.
#4 Trust that better days are ahead.
It won’t always be this way. There will come a day when you won’t dread Christmas the way you do now. I’m not telling you that life will ever be like it was before. I’m not promising you that it’ll pain-free. But I am telling you that things will get better. God will give you the ability to cope with your loss. You will feel joy again. The dread of Christmas will lessen. God will give you people, experiences and friends who will help you live again. Better days are coming. I promise. I can because He did.
Psalm 30:4–5 (ESV): Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Christmas is tough when you are hurting. There’s no quick fix, no easy solutions, no “one size fits all” way of getting through the season. There will always be a sense of loneliness and pain in the holiday season for me. I miss Brittany more now than I ever have before. But, there’s a lot of joy, too. Time doesn’t heal. But God does. And knowing that one day I’ll experience Christmas with her again helps to carry me through on the hard days.
I’ll be praying for you during this Christmas season. I’m praying God will allow it to be merry for you and yours.