Monday, December 14, 2015

Blue Christmas

The holidays are fickle. 

As we celebrate Advent, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve, we are stressed, broke, exhausted, overbooked, and anxious. We attend church and celebrate, and when we go home, we are reminded that we still need to go Christmas shopping and arrange our holiday travel. After a decadent and delicious meal with loved ones, we promise ourselves that going forward, we'll finally watch what we eat and cut back on wine. 

We begin imagining our ideal selves, which will somehow materialize in the new year. It's a lot of pressure. We're only human, and yet, we say, "I made mistakes and failed in 2015, but 2016 is going to be different. That's going to be my year. In 2016, I am going to spend more time with family, eat right, and quit my vices. I'm finally going to muster up the courage to take a risk and move past what's been holding me back. Then, I'll be happy." 

We think this way, and in doing so, we set ourselves up to be disappointed. 


Our feelings of inadequacy are only amplified by the spirit of the season. The holidays are a time for gratitude, celebration, and love. So why is it that a group of angelic kids singing a Christmas carol makes us downright resentful of ourselves? "What's wrong with me?" we wonder. 

We don't know the full extent of others' struggles and demons; we only know our own. We look around and see people who seem to have it together--way more than us, anyway--and we wonder why we can't get our lives in order. "Why can't I be healthy like Jason? Why can't I afford to go on vacation like Amanda? Why does Eric's family seem so stable?" 

Of course, when we do this, we are comparing our actual, flawed selves to others' superficial selves. It's the same thing we do every day on Facebook. We have a rough week, perhaps filled with heartbreak and sadness, and we log into Facebook, only to see that our attractive, successful, and insufferably kind friend has taken yet another vacation to Spain, and it's just not fair. 

What we don't take into account is that our friend is recently divorced and feeling lost. They're dealing with the death of a parent. They've been trying to have kids for years, and it's just not working. 


"I think that tree is making me feel better!"
It's tempting to avoid all of this nastiness during the holidays. Who wants to bum everyone out at the office holiday party? Who wants to expose themselves for the messed-up, insecure human they actually are? Why would you want to reveal to your kids that it was a huge struggle to purchase them modest gifts this year, for reasons they wouldn't understand? 

But to avoid confronting these realities is to further magnify our perceived feelings of failure. 

The better thing to do is to name it. It won't make our problems go away, but it opens up the door for honesty and empathy. I guarantee you that, if you told any one of your friends that you were having a tough time this holiday season, they'd be able to share with you that they, too, were feeling overwhelmed or sad or empty. 

When we call our fears and shortcomings out, we take away their power. We make them commonplace and manageable and unmysterious. When we hold them in, they become big scary secrets that thrive in a vacuum. Admitting them makes them normal--almost boring. 

Wrong kind.
Our wise and loving churches and pastors know all this. Your pastor would be the first to tell you that during the holidays, the number of people who need extra pastoral care skyrockets. Our churches aren't in the business of assuring and downplaying; they're in the business of naming and discussing. And a number of churches are taking it one step further. 

If you are especially in need of God's light during a bleak holiday season, consider attending your church's Blue Christmas service. If they're not holding one this year, consider asking them to put it on the list for next year. Consider driving to a nearby church that is holding one of these services. If nothing else, consider talking to your pastor. Send them an email or drop by their office. Through empathizing and opening up with one another, the light grows brighter within ourselves. 

This holiday season, consider cutting yourself some slack; consider loving yourself, flaws and all, instead of trying to be perfect. It's not your job, and it never will be. Do your best, and take solace in the fact that you are loved. 





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