Ever since I was a little girl, I have been intrigued by shepherds, specifically the shepherds the Bible mentioned in the Christmas story. Historically shepherds were referred to as the forgotten people and were seen as especially lowly in society. Thousands of years later, I am humbled to admit how many times I feel like I am part of the forgotten people. Despite social media, technology, and the ability to instantly connect with others, I think we all struggle with feeling forgotten in different ways. The holiday season can compound these feelings of loneliness in a hundred little ways. I know personally how hard and painful it can be to experience joy in this season when we feel like we have been forgotten.
Last Christmas, I struggled through the holidays, feeling like I was stumbling along, getting hit and bruised and kicked from all sides. I felt like a kid who had been picked last and was scuffing his shoe on the playground dirt waiting for someone to see me. I was deep in the midst of intensive treatment and was spending my days being severely ill and in lots of pain. After spending Thanksgiving in bed because I was to weak to get out, I timidly and reluctantly approached the Christmas holidays.
Financially, we were in desperate shape due to my medical costs so that our tree held a few little gifts under it—mostly supplied by a dear friend who even kindly remembered my cat. Emotionally, my parents and I were running on exhaustion as we worked to adjust to moving out of our house and into my grandmother’s small home a thousand miles away. Too sick and too tired to make new friends, I experienced more extreme loneliness than I ever had during my long fight for my health. I filled out Christmas cards, simply going through the motions, walked through a book release smiling at all of the right times, and wept behind the scenes in the dark of night through numerous Hallmark movies, as I longed for the holiday season to be over.
At my core, I felt forgotten and alone, not so much by dear loved ones, but by God. In grief, I felt that I was without purpose and there was a fragment of fear that had woven its way deep into my heart. Fear that life would always look like it was currently. Fear that the days of joy over wrapping presents and decorating a tree was gone forever. Fear that the joy of the season was removed forever.
I read and reread the Christmas story again and again in my Bible, longing for comfort. Again, just like when I was a child I was drawn to the shepherds in the story. I thought about their long and uneventful nights in the dark night after night continuing to press on in their jobs that society had looked down upon. From my sickbed I was gently reminded that often in the midst of feeling forgotten, we still have a unique and important role; God first assured the Shepherds, Do not be afraid. In the grief of my own dark night, I needed the gentle reminder to Not be afraid, just like the Shepherds long ago.
Friends, if you are struggling through this season, going through the motions, smiling in all of the right places, yet weeping behind the scenes, I pray that you will know the tender care of our Lord who always cares for the forgotten people. God created you. He loves you and you are seen. Even if you feel forgotten and abandoned, even if you are in grief at where your story is right now. Even if you are terrified of where your story is heading. You are not alone and you are not forgotten. I pray that in the midst of your dark night you will know the tender care of our Lord who always cares for the forgotten people; be assured, just like the shepherds were so long ago, to not be afraid.
Rebecca VanDeMark is an author, speaker, and blogger who loves Jesus, life, and the miracle of hope. Rebecca is the author of the newly released book, When Light Dawns: Daily Reflections on Advent & Christmas for Lyme Warriors, and four other previous books including Praying through Lyme Disease and December Caravan, which is a collection of short stories sharing the hope of an ever-present God. Rebecca is the founder of Grace Engaged, a ministry to high school women, and Lyme Caravan Foundation, an organization that helps Lyme disease patients and their families. Rebecca holds degrees from Cedarville University, Regent University, and American University. Before fighting health issues Rebecca worked in Washington, DC, with two non-profit organizations and later taught high school history and Bible classes for seven years. Rebecca loves celebrating the beauty of the ordinary each day as she fights Advanced Late Stage Lyme Disease in addition to other health issues. She lives with her family, splitting time between the sweet south and upstate New York. Rebecca can be found at her personal website or on her blog.