The stories are the same. Only the names change. It's Christmastime and little Danny (or Joe, or Bill) is bursting with anticipation at what might await him under the tree. A new bike? The action hero coloring book? Or, to hope against all hope, could it be a gaming system to top all gaming systems? Danny's heart could hardly take the waiting.
But in between Danny's hopeful dreams were other questions he didn't want to face, but knew they were more likely to happen. Would dad be drunk and angry again this Christmas? Would mom retreat into her "safe" shell and pretend everything was fine? Would older brother and sister bail as soon as possible to hang out with their friends? Would Danny feel as alone this Christmas as he did all the ones before?
Christmas is a message of hope and joy, but for many like Danny, it has been overshadowed by memories of disappointment, loneliness, and deep, deep sadness.
Do your memories of Christmas carry some of this kind of weight? If so, I want to offer you a message of hope that might help you fight what has become the seemingly inevitable holiday blues.
Here are three keys to fighting off (or enduring through) the holiday blues:
1. Connect with Healthy People
Alone is not good. God said so from the beginning. (Gen. 2:18)
When we get hurt, the natural response is either retreat or retaliation. In both instances, though, we begin to close ourselves off from others in order to prevent further pain. We isolate. We hide our true selves. This is normal. But it is not helpful or healthy in the long run.
You and I need connection. It's how God made us. While "alone" might help in the short term to prevent unhealthy people from hurting us further, it doesn't work for how God made us to thrive.
This Christmas, what if you took a bold step to connect with one or two healthy people? These are people who are humble and loving; they consider others more important than themselves. You need such connections if you are to fight off (or endure through) the holiday blues.
Take a moment to pray and ask God to lead you to such healthy connections this holiday. And trust that God is with you and loves you; He is the faithful connection your heart needs most.
2. Focus on Jesus
Jesus was called a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." (Isa. 53:3) He knows what it feels like to be misunderstood, rejected, and abused. He was the greatest Christmas gift ever (the Original!), and yet He was ultimately discarded on a cross outside the city of His own people.
But Jesus didn't stay on that cross. He overcame sin and death. He rose from the grave in victory. God's Word says of His attitude:
"...for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2)
Did you catch it? For the JOY! Jesus endured the greatest suffering of any man. He carried the weight of sin that was not His own. He died a brutal death that He didn't deserve. And He rose from the grave to offer eternal life to you and me -- for FREE! He went through it all for the joy that it would produce.
Will you spend some time this holiday focusing on Jesus and celebrating His voluntary sacrifice for you? Will you ponder what it was like for Jesus to hold on to joy in the midst of so much pain? Could you ask God to give you a sense of the hope and joy that is yours through Jesus?
"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Heb. 12:3)
3. Give till it Heals
I bet you thought I was going to say, "Give till it hurts." But there is deep healing that comes when we understand the gift we have received in Jesus Christ, and then begin to give as He gave to us. True generosity is not a burden, it is a delight and joy.
At first, learning to give when you have a history of pain connected to this season of Christmas can be very difficult. It can feel like a burden to give to others when others have been anything but worthy of such grace. But this is what makes Christmas come to life, for you and I were anything but worthy of God's amazing grace, and He chose to give --> all the way to death on the cross -- for our ultimate healing.
As you give, you will experience a connection with God that is rich and beautiful. You will understand the heart of God more fully and appreciate His love more deeply. And you might just uncover what you have always really wanted on Christmas: a place to belong. You belong with Jesus. And when you give, you look like Jesus.
May THIS Christmas be like none you have ever had before. May THIS Christmas you experience new hope and joy as you connect with healthy people, focus on Jesus, and give until it heals.
My whole life I have struggled with depression. It's been an on-and-off thing since as far back as I can remember. It's not something I talk about very often. I have been on medication in the past to help regulate my mood. It is one of my core weaknesses, like a "thorn in my side." And although I have discovered on life's journey that I don't need to live in fear of my weaknesses, there is no guarantee I will not feel afraid because of them.
My imagination is vivid and active, just ask my wife! This is a great blessing when attempting to write or tell stories, but it can be quite crippling when mixed with a depressed mood. Several years ago I was going through my mental checklist of all the events and tasks and projects our ministry had coming up in the months ahead. The list just kept going and going and... I felt this wave of pressure come crashing down on my soul. I wanted to kick and thrash, try my hardest to swim to the surface of this overwhelming ocean. But instead I was frozen, unable to move, suffocating. Fear enveloped me and I felt myself slipping into emotional unconsciousness.
As I experienced the scene above, my mind wandered through a trail of old movies. I love movies, especially those with lots of plot twists. I'm always drawn to stories that have an element of free-spirited living, like in Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins' character refuses to let the walls of prison entrap his sense of wonder and hope, or Eric Liddle in Chariots of Fire, feeling God's pleasure when he ran. Freedom, hope, these wonderful passageways that lead the burdened heart to a place of calm and lightness. But sometimes I feel like these passages are walled off, or constantly moving, requiring more and more searching to find their treasures.
I believe God is not cruel or into playing games with our emotions. I believe He is what His Word says, a loving Father who cares infinitely more for us than all else in His creation. And although I believe this, I still find it a great mystery that God allows His children to suffer, to endure pain and unanswered questions, and even prevent some "thorns" from being removed. This mystery doesn't cause me to abandon my faith, but it is puzzling nonetheless. I really don't want to struggle with depression, yet it lingers. I want to feel at peace, unburdened, able to breath, but the seasons come in which I taste nothing, see nothing, feel nothing. Is God uncaring? Absent? Busy?
Ironically, it has been through my depression that my love for God has deepened. I'm not saying I would have chosen this method, but this has been my journey. I often picture God as an endless ocean. His richest treasures are not found washed up on the shore, but deep in the depths of the waters miles and miles away from all that is safe and "firm." The more I venture into those "unsafe" waters the more my weaknesses are exposed -- and experienced! I flounder, sink, gag. But then something unexpected happens. In certain moments I'm enveloped not by my weakness, but by the majesty, power, and grace of God. The waves of my depression that sought to crush my soul are replaced by waves of God's steadfast love and tender heart. And although the power and force of just one cresting wave in the ocean of God could completely destroy me, instead it refines me, instructs me, moves me, heals me.
I still don't like feeling depressed. And I don't always manage my fear of it very well. But for the moments God reveals to me how His power is made perfect in weakness, I will press on. I will not give up. I will confess my frailty, acknowledging my complete emptiness apart from Christ. Then, and only then, do I know what it means, "When I am weak, then I am strong."
Are you wrestling with God over your weaknesses? If not, I hope you will. Not because I think you'll win. No, I hope you will wrestle over them because sometimes it's the only way to get into deep enough water to see the rich treasures of God. That's a sight worth seeing, and something I believe God only reveals to the truly broken; even the depressed...
The Cry of the Soul
by Dan Allender
Order on Amazon.com