How To Be Happy When Unhappy During the Holidays
Norman Rockwell-like pictures. Movies that glow with fun and family. Children wide-eyed with wonder. Families basking in love and closeness. Christmas lights. The world assumes that holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas is a wonderful time for everybody, but for some people they are not.
If we are hurting, the inevitable questions and comments of the season may annoy and hurt us.
Being a Christian does not mean we are happy, smily faces who don't feel anger, pain, and grief or suffer from serious illnesses.
Holidays are tough times if we are suffering. We have to face "merry" people who expect us to share their joyful bubbling. If we are realistic and give an honest answer beyond the polite "yes" or "no," our responses may be something like this:
"Is your family visiting this year?"
"No. They haven't spoken to me since the fight we had last Thanksgiving."
"They aren't speaking to me since mom's funeral because mom left certain things to me in her will."
"Have you done your Christmas shopping yet?"
"After being unemployed for so long, I don't have any money for presents."
"I don't have anyone to shop for - my son wants cash."
"My son has been abusing drugs and alcohol, so the only thing I want to get him is a space in rehab."
“Merry? I'm alone instead of married for the first time in twenty-two years."
"Try a few rounds of chemo and see how merry you are."
"I am so depressed I just want to sleep through it."
"Did you have a good Christmas?"
" I spent it in a mental health ward because my mother had a nervous breakdown - fun!"
"Santa skipped my house this year."
" My family fought non-stop about who would host New Years."
"My alcoholic father was verbally abusive the whole time and knocked over the Christmas tree."
And so it goes on. Life sucks. Life hurts. Some of us enter the holiday season miserably unhappy and ready to punch the next person who glows at us with Christmas spirit, whatever that is. I myself have just spent several miserable Christmases as a breast cancer survivor. On the first Christmas, I had to face the possibility that I had terminal bone cancer (later tests showed I didn't). Other Christmases, I was bald and sick because of chemo and other drugs, or in pain from breast cancer-related surgery. With my immune system so low, I got bronchitis twice (fun on Christmas Day) and every bug around.
At this time of year, there is a lot of talk about happiness, hope, and peace. It is hard to endure all this happiness when we are hurting inside. We feel guilty because the world expects us to be bubbling with joy and anticipation. It is tempting to just put a happy mask on but that doesn't resolve the problem of inner pain.
We shouldn't feel guilty because we are in a state of unhappiness. It is natural to feel sad at times, as David reveals in the many psalms such as Psalm 31. David openly admitted he felt distressed, grieved and was in a state of emotional anguish. His mental state affected his physical health as well. This state, however, was only temporary. David praised God because He restored and healed him.
Remember a song from the 1960s, “Turn, Turn, Turn?” It is based on Ecclesiates 3:1-8. It says that there is a season for every activity, and in the long list, a time to weep and a time to laugh, to mourn and a time to dance, a time to tear and a time to mend. Life has ups and downs, peaks and valleys. So where to we go from here?
Prayer: There are a number of keys to surviving the dark periods in life. First, we should take our burdens to God in prayer. Jesus understands our weaknesses because He was human and experienced temptation like us. We can approach God's throne of grace with confidence to find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Bible reading and study: God gave us the scriptures to help us find our way out and comfort us on our journey. Sections like Philippians 4:6-7 tell us not to be anxious about anything, but to pray with a spirit of thanksgiving so that we can be assured that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.
Accepting the trial: We need to accept that there are times when we will be scared, depressed and feel burdened. In the meantime, God uses our trials to test our faith and produces the ability to persevere (James 1:1-4). James encourages us to allow our trials to finish their work in us so that we can be mature and complete.
Practice contentment: The apostle Paul himself experienced times when he was in need and times he had plenty. He had been shipwrecked, imprisoned, persecuted, and stoned and left for dead. He learned how to be content no matter what situation he found himself in through a strength that came from God (Philippians 4:10).
Maintain a spirit of thanksgiving: In times of trouble, we can be flooded with negative thoughts and a bleak outlook. We can counter that with another survival tool, a spirit of thanksgiving. When we make a list of all the blessings in our lives instead of focusing on our complaints, it changes our perspective. We focus on the good things we have that are blessings from God - things that are true, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
Faith: Faith is the survival tool that will take us to the end. With faith, we can go forward in a hope that is in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season.
We may suffer trials for a short time, but a genuine faith worth far more than gold and will lead to praise, glory and honor when Jesus comes. (1 Peter 1:6). If we walk in faith, the joy, peace and contentment of the Christmas season will come to us naturally.
Encourage friendships and positive relationships: Friends are another survival tool. They are there for us when we need to unload our pain and need to receive an encouraging word. We need to be careful who we choose, however. The last thing we need at this point is a phony "keep your chin up" speech, meaningless Christian cliches, or to be accused of being a Scrooge.
Our sorrow is just a temporary thing, and joy is around the corner if we seek it (Psalm 30:5). I am still struggling with side effects of cancer medications that give me arthritis-like symptoms and recent surgery. I am determined, however, to enjoy this wonderful time of year with joy and renewed hope for better things to come.
© 2013 Carola Finch