What if, for you, it’s actually NOT the most wonderful time of year?
What if it’s your first Christmas (or your 51st) without your beloved?
What if you’re fighting physical, mental, or emotional illness?
Or what if you are so financially strapped that every holiday message just seems to remind you of what you are not able to buy for your loved ones?
Hearts might not be glowing
In the United States, we put high expectations on each other during the holidays. The truth is, if you don’t watch out, if you do in fact pout, you’ll be labeled Ebenezer Scrooge faster than you can say, “Falalalala.” Our culture demands that we be jolly, happy souls, listening for sleigh bells and roasting chestnuts from December 1st through the 26th! It can be exhausting.
Seriously, it’s hard to maintain Whoville-level bliss. Consider the pervasive commercialism of the US and the 24-hour news with its incessant reports of violence and tragedy. Plus, there is the relentless covid pandemic and its rising costs: lost work, postponed dreams, and beloveds gone too soon. And these are just the public, communal difficulties; private struggles are often even more paralyzing.
Good cheer might be hard to achieve
If we encounter a person experiencing a blue Christmas, we have a chance to lessen the burden, if only for a moment. So, what should we do? Here are a few suggestions that could help you make a positive impact on someone’s day.
- If you know someone who has lost a loved one—especially in the last 12 months—know that pain is not increased when the dearly departed is mentioned. The reverse is actually true: people who are grieving often fear that you and everyone else have forgotten the person who meant so much to them. By remembering, you offer momentary comfort. Mention the deceased by name; maybe even share a personal memory or two. Your thoughtfulness will be a blessing to the bereaved.
- Remember that grief doesn’t expire. For the fatherless child or the childless mother; for the brother who no longer has a sister, the friend missing a trusted confidant, the wife who never wanted to be a widow . . . heartache never misses a holiday. The good news is that comfort can be new every morning. Send a note, make a visit, or turn a chance encounter into an opportunity to reminisce about the one who has died. To the person grappling with grief, your words will be a welcome reminder that they are not alone.
- Blessed with an overabundance of Christmas cheer? Consider taking up the slack for someone who can’t seem to muster up any of their own. It is difficult to deck the halls or bring figgy puddings when coping with illness or caring for someone who is. Help decorate, bake a meal, run an errand, do a chore. But, and this is key, don’t expect people to ask you for this help or even to accept it at first. Just be persistent and determined. Your efforts matter.
- Know people with financial difficulties? You don’t have to be insulting or judgmental in order to offer real help. Slip an anonymous gift card into their belongings. Do they have children? Offer to babysit. Like to cook (or pick up take-out)? Deliver a meal and be sure to take enough so leftovers can stretch one meal into two. But be a friend, not a rescue worker. Nobody wants to be a project.
- Most importantly, watch your language. Avoid platitudes like, “Cheer up! It’s Christmas!” No one has ever responded to such advice by saying, “Well okay! Thanks so much for telling me that! I’ll cheer right up now!” Likewise, the statement, “There are plenty of people who have it worse than you.” I mean, so what? That reality doesn’t alter the pain being experienced in the moment. Validate the speaker with words of support and understanding, not nagging criticism and worthless advice.
- Don’t expect a complete and instant turnaround. Healing takes time; you may not see any evidence that your ministry has been a blessing. Trust God. Your gifts will draw interest over time.
This year let’s try to remember that not everyone is feeling joyful. We don’t have to be irritated by a lack of holiday spirit. Instead, we can offer compassion and love. Afterall, Love is the whole reason for the season anyway.
*An earlier version of this piece was first published on December 14, 2015 by Baptist News Global. baptistnews.com.