Originally posted Advent, 2016...
Christmas is supposed to be white twinkle lights and homemade ornaments with perfect family members and wishes come true. But that's not how life works. Some people are going through really hard things, and the timing happens to coincide with the most festive time of the year.
Some will be braving memories of a lost loved one for the first time. For others, it's been years but the pain remains fresh. Sickness. Chronic illness. Pain. The list of hardships is long, and most of us know someone who’s suffering—or perhaps it’s even us.
So how do we get through the holidays? How do we couple suffering and hardship with the most wonderful time of the year?
- Arm yourself with loads of grace. (You may need to ask for help from above on this one. I know I do.) The holidays can become unbearable when everyone wants their own way. A lot of demands are placed on people—from gifts and cooking to travel. Operate from a place of grace for yourself and others.
If someone’s late, that’s okay.
Perhaps grief won’t allow them to stay the whole time. That’s okay.
Maybe the suffering person can’t eat anything you’ve made. That’s okay. Don’t reach for the defensive. Reach for grace.
What if someone doesn’t love the gift you slaved over? That’s okay. Because our confidence doesn’t come from the perfect gift, it comes from our Father above.
Talking about giving and receiving grace is one thing, but really believing and doing it is another. Bestowing grace on yourself and others—allowing peace to permeate your Christmas—doesn’t it sound so much better than berating yourself or others when things don’t go according to plan?
- Dance. It's hard to know what to say and what not to say. Especially in the midst of someone's suffering. It can be a dance to figure out what’s helpful and what’s not. Here’s the deal: we’re people—we ARE going to mess things up. But our hearts are often in the right place. This dance goes both ways. That grace we just talked about can be extended to the person who says the wrong thing. Don’t give up the dance of family and relationships because you’ve stepped on someone’s toes in the past or they’ve injured yours. Dancing is worth it, even when it’s hard.
- Give Thanks. When something or someone gets you down, stop and make a list of things you're grateful for. The holidays can be so busy it's hard to remain peaceful. But if we can reach for gratefulness in our hearts it smooths out so many other things.
- Recognize each other. I don't mean knowing who is who at a family or friend gathering. I mean recognizing what is going on in someone's life or heart that could make the holidays really hard. Reach out to them. Tell them you care. Tell them you are going to spend 5 minutes of that morning praying for them. Or that you're going to put a reminder in your phone to pray for them in the middle of what will be a hard day.
And if you’re struggling…maybe you need to be the one to reach out and say, this is going to be tough. Will you pray for me? Because I believe someone longs to pray for you and love you through the holidays. Recognizing each other matters.
- Focus elsewhere. It's not about you. This is the first line in The Purpose Driven Life and it’s a good one to remember as we enter the Christmas season, because, goodness, things can get overwhelming. Even shopping and getting the house ready or planning dinner. If you have suffering going on in your life or the life of a loved one, things are even more heightened and hard. What might usually be a small thing can feel astronomically huge. So let's point our eyes to Jesus. Because it's really not about us. Christmas is about a child who came down to earth and was born because of our sinfulness. We cannot erase our sinful nature, but he can and did. So when you're wondering how you're going to get through this holiday season, look to Jesus. Immanuel. He has already come. He wants to save us. He wants to be asked. He is waiting for us to look to him so he can rescue us once again.
God, as we move toward Christmas, give us the grace to love each other well, right where each of us is at. Give us the strength to love big, even when it hurts. Help us to keep our focus on you and to cling to peace and grace and gratefulness. Please meet us in navigating suffering and hard, just as we know you will.