When the Holidays Hurt
Hospitals don’t close for the holidays.
I’ve been reminded of this fact lately as I visit the sick in our church each week. I walk the halls and look into the rooms, realizing that pain and suffering never take a day off. Not even Christmas.
As the holiday season rolls around each year, I become more and more keenly aware that for some people, this time of the year is hard. Which is a sad irony. Many people love this time of year and count down the days until Christmas, while others dread it. We try so hard to make it the most wonderful time of the year, but for many, the forced joy makes the sting of pain worse.
I think the emphasis on “holiday cheer” sometimes serves to compound the pain. It becomes a glaring reminder that all isn’t merry or bright. The weakness and fragility of life becomes simply undeniable when you’re in pain during the biggest celebration of the year.
Christmas cards and social media posts show smiling families and create the illusion that you are alone in your pain. Everone is doing great except you. Everyone is smiling except you.
“Why can’t you just fake it?” The world seems to say. After all, the antagonist of every Christmas story is the one who refuses to sing the songs and drink the punch. From the Grinch to Mr. Scrooge, those who are unhappy during the holidays are traitors of the season. They need to fall in line and act the part.
Now, I don’t think folks are trying to intentionally multiply the pain of others. We just want to spread holiday cheer, right? In fact, there’s a lot of good done this time of year as well. Charitable giving increases, while angel trees and shoeboxes fill offices and churches. We are helping the hurting!
But the cynic in me wonders if even the charitable acts are just ways to make us feel better about ourselves. I’m writing to myself here too. Does the donation to the kids on the other side of the world or on the other side of town serve as blinders to the people hurting right beside me? Does it ease the guilt as I consume food, gifts, and entertainment and spend the season focused on myself?
Rather than stick our heads in the sand (or piles of food and wrapping paper), this season can be a great opportunity to bring hope to the hurting around us.
It starts with noticing. Slowing down, taking the time to really see the people around you. Looking for those who may withdraw this time of year. Leaning in to hear what’s not being said. We need to look past the lights and decor to notice the people around us.
Who in your life might be most susceptible this time of year to loneliness, depression, stress, regret, etc.? Who might be spending their first Christmas after a death in the family or after moving to a new place or after a broken family situation? Who might be longing for relief from chronic pain or financial struggles or emotional exhaustion?
Once we stop and notice a hurt, then we can apply the hope.
The message of the advent season really is one of hope. Just as the people of God hoped for the promise of Genesis 3:15 to be fulfilled, for the Rescuer to come, we too hope for rescue. Just as they waited thousands of years for a Savior, we too wait for our Savior to come back. Just as the first disciples witnessed Jesus inaugurate the kingdom of God, we too will witness him consummate that same kingdom and make all things right again.
This life is full of pain. But the pain we experience has an expiration date. It cannot compare to the glory that is coming (Romans 8:18). Every moment of hurt that we endure is one moment closer to being healed by Jesus. Totally and completely. Forever.
That’s our hope.
So we wait. Through tears and prayers, we wait. And in the meantime, we fight for hope. Not just for ourselves, but for the hopeless all around us.
For those that hurt during the holidays, what greater gift could we give them than hope?