Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
It is now November, and that simple change in month means that so many of us are starting to think about the holidays—planning and buying gifts and decorating. And I know a lot of people are buying gifts early, not knowing how long shipping might take or if what they want to get is even going to be available in a month or two, and so they are snagging it now.
But for some of us, holidays also bring along a bit of sadness or stress. Holidays can be hard for numerous reasons. It could be that a loved one has passed during the year, and so it’s our first time celebrating without them. It could be that we are unable to gather with our family or friends, and being alone doesn’t really feel like much of a reason to celebrate.
Yet Thanksgiving and Christmas are great opportunities for us to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to give thanks for all that God has given us. We need those annual reminders, just like the Israelites had their annual feasts and festivals. Each one had its own purpose.
- The weekly Sabbath provided an opportunity to rest.
- The Feast of Trumpets was a period of ten days set aside for repentance.
- The Day of Atonement was the day when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place to make a sacrifice on behalf of the Israelites.
- The Feast of Tabernacles was a time to gather as a people and rest and rejoice in the Lord, remembering how they lived in tents in the wilderness.
- The Passover was designed to remind them of how God delivered them from the Egyptians.
- The Feast of First Fruits was to for the Israelites to thank God for providing for them and demonstrate how they trusted Him to bring in the rest of the harvest.
Our holidays are no different. They are invitations from God to draw close to Him in celebration, remembrance, and thankfulness.
But the question is, is it even possible to celebrate and give thanks when you are grieving? I believe you can. And that’s why I want to offer you three truths today that I want you to remember as we head into this holiday season.
It’s Okay to Celebrate When You’re Sad
First, it’s okay to celebrate when you’re sad.
A lot of us think that you’re either happy or sad, but the truth is, you can hold two opposing emotions at the same time. You can be happy and sad. You can be scared and excited. You can be grateful and anxious.
Perhaps “bittersweet” is the best word to use here. As the dictionary describes it, it is “being at once bitter and sweet” or “pleasant, but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret.”
And it’s common during the holidays to experience all kinds of feelings: stress, wonder, excitement, nervousness, joy. And to experience all of these things at the same time.
What can cause you to feel sad over the holidays? Losing your job, not being able to gather together, not being able to celebrate the way that you want to.
Perhaps grief is the biggest reason that we feel sad this time of year. Losing a loved one is never easy, and when it comes to holidays and celebrations, their presence is especially missed.
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to miss them. It’s okay to be sad for a while. But it’s also okay to celebrate without them.
As Ecclesiastes 3:4 (NLT) says, there is “A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.”
I know it’s hard. You might feel guilty for celebrating when they aren’t there. Try to find a way that feels right to you–that acknowledges the grief and heartache, and yet still celebrates the joy in the season.
What might that look like for you? Here are some ideas.
Maybe you set aside the night before Thanksgiving or Christmas to be alone and grieve… remember the person you lost, look through photos, talk to God about the hurt of not having them there with you anymore. And that enables you to be fully present with the rest of your family the following day when you’re all gathered together (even if some tears are still present).
Maybe you attend a Blue Christmas service in your community that acknowledges the tension of a holiday filled with both grief and celebration. (I’ll be talking about Blue Christmas services more in a few weeks.)
Maybe you buy a special ornament or memento to remember them this holiday season. Our Tear Bottle has become our best-seller, something small you can gift to someone who is grieving or going through a difficult season. And they can be turned into Christmas ornaments; just request that in your note to me. We love to help people remember their loved ones in this way. If you can to see those, just go to our shop at lovedoesthat.org/shop.
Whatever you decide to do, know that it’s okay to celebrate even in the midst of sadness.
It’s Okay to Celebrate Differently
Second, it’s okay to celebrate differently.
Holidays change as we get older. As a child, we might have woken up early in anticipation to see what was under the Christmas tree. As an adult, maybe we prefer to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast before heading to the gifts.
But holidays can also change when we face transitions of our own–moving away from family and friends, welcoming a baby into the family, getting married, or starting a new job.
Change is okay. Even though it’s sometimes hard.
Thanksgiving or Christmas might look a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to give it up altogether.
How can you find ways to celebrate in the season that you’re in?Consider this a good time to think about how you want to celebrate the holidays—not just celebrating the way you always have just because that’s the way you’ve always done it. But asking yourself what would be meaningful to you.Is there a new tradition you can start? Something you’ve always wanted to try? What would work well with your values, with your personality?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Volunteer to serve at a local non-profit if you can’t be around family or friends.
- Play games or watch movies together instead of exchanging gifts.
- Fix one dish of the holiday meal instead of the entire thing, and let others contribute their food, too.
- Donate what you would normally spend on gifts to a special charity that means a lot to you.
- Celebrate on a different day, especially if that means your family can all get together instead of just a few of you.
- Let kids open one present every day leading up to Christmas—this spreads out the fun and allows them to play with something before tossing it aside and getting distracted by something else.
Some Things are Just for a Season
Third, realize that some things are just for a season.
While the loss of a loved one or a major move requires a bit of change in the way you celebrate, sometimes, the change is just for a season.
Our son was born on a major holiday, which meant that we didn’t get to visit with the family that had gathered. We didn’t even get to see our older daughter that much. Instead, we were confined to our hospital room. That day obviously looked different to us than most holidays did. My parents brought us some of the leftovers and we enjoyed a little celebration of our own in our little room.
But that was just one year. Similarly, this year might be “just the one year” when things look a little different for you.
Instead of being disgruntled about the whole thing, try to keep the big picture in mind. It’s just one year. Next year, things might be back to normal.
Try to embrace the season you’re in and enjoy it. Be present. Don’t let circumstances steal the joy and cheer of the holidays.
How can you stay focused on the purpose of Thanksgiving and Christmas? How can you keep your heart from being bitter or resentful because you didn’t get your normal holiday?
Again, here are some ideas for you to consider:
- Keep a gratitude journal where you list your blessings or things you are thankful for.
- Stay in the Word. Reading the Bible helps keep us connected with God and focused on Him. You can even read about those feasts and festivals the Israelites celebrated and learn more about them.
- Find ways to bless others. It doesn’t have to be big. A hand-written note, phone call, or small gift could be just what they need to feel special and loved.
I know holidays can be hard. They can be lonely. They might not measure up to what you had hoped. But, that doesn’t mean we have to forsake them altogether.
Remember, it’s okay to celebrate when you’re sad. It’s okay to celebrate in a different way than you have before. And some things are just for a season.
If this holiday season is feeling especially difficult for you, I invite you to consider spiritual direction with me. I’d be honored to walk through these next three months with you, to help you discover where and how God is working in your life and how He is inviting you to remember Him over the holidays and into the New Year. You can get started at lovedoesthat.org/spiritualdirection.
As we end, I want to share a prayer with you written by Ted Loder, found in his book Guerillas of Grace:
O God of all seasons and senses,
grant us the sense of your timing
to submit gracefully and rejoice quietly in the turn of the seasons.
In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach us the lessons of endings;
children growing, friends leaving, loved ones dying,
O God, grant us a sense of your timing.
In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach us the lessons of beginnings;
that such waitings and endings may be the starting place,
a planting of seeds which bring to birth what is ready to be born—
something right and just and different,
a new song, a deeper relationship, a fuller love—
in the fullness of your time.
O God, grant us the sense of your timing.
Okay, that is all for today, my friends. Thank you so much for being here with me. Until next time…
DON’T WANT TO GO THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS ALONE?
I’d be honored to walk with you through a difficult holiday season and help you attune yourself to God’s presence and work in your life.
- “A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 NLT)
- Learn more about feasts and festivals in Leviticus 23 and 25.