God didn’t create humans to live in isolation, but rather, in healthy communities that encourage, love, and celebrate one another. I think that’s why the holidays produce nostalgia for so many—festivities, scented candles, a change in local scenery all bring us together.
We belong to Team Pumpkin Spice or Team Yes, I’m Playing Christmas Music in October. Niches naturally form and we feel a sense of belonging that’s coupled with twinkling lights and cozy sweaters.
Cue the fireplace and apple cider, right?
Actually, wrong—for lots of people. The holidays aren’t always jolly. Loss, heavy memories, and loneliness hurt many people this time of year, but there’s little room to mention anything sad when there are pumpkins to carve and Christmas trees to decorate, right?
As Christians, we are called to embrace empathy, no matter the personal cost to our bustling shopping lists and parties to host. Romans 12:15 says we are called to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Maybe I’m wrong, and by no means am I stepping on Paul’s toes, but I would’ve swapped the subjects here, presenting more of a “Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice.” Why? Because I believe we are meant to sit in the sadness, in the ash, with others, but then, we are called to help blaze a trail that leads the hurting toward healing. We’re called to stick around long enough to rejoice on the other side of another’s pain.
Whether you’re the person trudging through a hard season, or the family member or friend unsure of what to do, check out these three ways to spend the holidays, even in the face of a hard life season:
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Marc Wiegelmann
1. Recognize unique serotonin.
Serotonin is the chemical in your brain that stimulates happiness. As someone who’s been diagnosed with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, I’ve discovered that my mental disorder prohibits my brain from maximizing serotonin. In fact, OCD destroys serotonin, so I understand how happiness, even joy, can feel forced amidst the holidays. It’s an awkward beginning, mandating a false sense of glee, but your brain will take note of the constant effort and follow suit.
For me, Bath & Body Works’ Leaves-scented candle is instant serotonin for me. It reminds me of fall memories back home in Georgia, so on hard days, when my husband is gone for work and I’m quietly trying to “get in the holiday spirit,” I light my Leaves candle. It's simple, and you’d think something so small wouldn’t work, but instantly, I feel better. I feel prepped to enjoy the season.
When you’re facing a lonely, hard season, you don’t always want to bust through the doors of your neighbor’s costume party. And you definitely don’t want to don a tacky Christmas sweater—and that’s okay. But maybe it’s time to call a trusted friend, or be that trusted friend, and grab a pumpkin spiced latte and take a quiet, thoughtful walk outdoors. Maybe it’s “Monster Mash” music or the dog-barking version of “Jingle Bells” that perks you up, or maybe you enjoy taking a drive through the local neighborhood decorations.
Take time to recognize your unique serotonin boosts and don’t underestimate the simplicity, but strong sense of joy it can bring.
2. Acknowledge the hurt.
It’s okay to admit that it’s not “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for you. In fact, it’s not only okay, but it’s necessary. Grief is part of the healing cycle. It’s a way to honor what was lost and rediscover what’s next.
Josh’s job as a pilot has kept us apart for days, weeks, and even months. We’ve lived in separate states twice in our short 3.5 years of marriage. I know what it’s like to hang up ornaments alone, to close my doors on Halloween, afraid of passing out candy by myself. But, the second I stepped foot in a Christian therapist’s office, I gained a new understanding of my hurt, and it led me to enjoy seasons that I was sure would crush my spirit.
Loneliness, mixed with OCD, is tough, but because I acknowledged this dark part of my reality, because I sought therapy, started taking Zoloft, I was able to step back and see hurt as a way to grow, as a way to see the warmth and cheeriness of this season through the eyes of caring friends and family, of thoughtful neighbors who fill the cracks and crannies solitude carved.
I’m not saying you have to go to therapy, or even consider medication, but take that first big step in acknowledging the reality of your hurt. It’ll create a fresh perspective, a launching pad for healing that opens new doors for being thankful this festive season.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/tommaso79
3. Don’t fear asking.
Our culture has created a tragic habit of replacing community with checklists. If we drop off those jackets at the church’s coat closet, swing by the shelter and toss some cookies on the dinner display table, and don’t forget to pick the kids up from Christmas play practice, we’ve done enough good for the day.
I’m not negating donations—and I’m a strong proponent of not leaving your kids alone at the church overnight, but the life-changing power comes through connections, by opening ourselves up to looking in the eyes of those who are cold and need a coat, by sitting with someone over a cup of cocoa while they spill their hurt. It’s in opening doors and offering love that the checklist never made room for.
If you’re the friend or family member of someone who is hurting, SLOW DOWN. Take note of who’s in need. If you’re the one wrestling with a difficult season this time of year, don’t fear asking for others to love on you. You always have a seat at the table of love. To true, God-fearing friends, your presence, despite your baggage, is never a hinderance. Rather, it’s a blessing. It’s filling its own void for others in ways you can’t see.
Even in your loneliness, understand that you could be exactly what someone else needs too. Never negate your worth despite the weight you carry.
As a pilot’s wife, I understand loneliness. As a grandpa's girl who lost the flannel love of her life only two days after Thanksgiving in 2015, I understand grief amidst a season meant for thanks. As an OCD fighter, my brain constantly fights the fear of being misunderstood, too much of a burden, to belong anywhere.
But what if our own definitions, spawned by dark, hard seasons, are a lie? What if our hurt is meant to offer someone else a simple, “I’m not alone in this either?” What if your presence fills an empty seat at the Christmas dinner table? What if your hurt is the gateway to healing for not only you, but others?
I’m no theologian, no biblical scholar, but what I do know of God is that He’s quite obsessed with the mending of hearts, with the embracing of souls, and He’s never counted you out because you’re caught in a tornado of hurt you never anticipated.
He’s too kind, too gentle, too intentional, too in love with you for loneliness to win.
Embrace His goodness. Embrace others. Let others embrace you. And that, my friends, will produce a Spirit-filled serotonin your brain could never concoct on its own.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Comstock
Originally published Thursday, 14 October 2021.