Are you listening to Christmas music in your car, if you have one, or in your home? I love that moment around Thanksgiving when I find the Christmas channels and begin to drive around to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and other seasonal songs! But it took a while for me to feel that way again after my father died on Dec. 18, ten years ago, one week before Christmas. And, that was after having him in the hospital and then hospice for a number of weeks. The Christmas songs on the radio became associated with driving back and forth from the motel to see him and with overcoming the grief and stress of those days. It all mingled together in what should be the happiest time of year.
The Season of Grief will Pass
He died after I had to fly back home. One or both of my sisters was still there. For several years after, to listen to the Christmas music in my car would put me right back on the road to the hospital in my mind, sitting in his room, experiencing all the sights and smells, his ups and downs, and his final descent. And, additionally, my mother passed away ten months later. I almost didn’t want to listen to the music of the season for several years.
But, as one who follows Jesus, I put my hope in heaven, that my father, who believed too, is with the Lord.
I can say now that I love to listen to Christmas songs once again as early on in the season as possible! My heart and mind have healed. And now, though I remember those days, I cannot feel them. The “sting” is gone from the memories. And that’s the good news for those who are feeling some sort of loss this year. Your grief will heal and God takes the pain out of memories so that we can move forward into new life and into the capacity to have joy again. It gets better.
What’s the first step in overcoming holiday sadness?
I think the very first thing to do, if grief and stress are your companions in the holidays, is to live out the feelings you are having. Be real about them. I am known as someone who writes and speaks about gaining strength and resilience through faith in Christ. I am what you call “a tough cookie.” Ha! Walking with the Lord has made me know “I CAN do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) I have learned to pray fierce healing prayers, declare God’s goodness with scriptures, and to call out the devil’s trickery wherever it happens. The devil is always working to discourage and demoralize us. In the Lord, we are greater!
But, along the way, I have also learned and am learning to have tenderness for myself and for others. Sometimes we truly need to weep because things are very hard. We need to give time to our pain, not mask or attempt to bury it. The Bible speaks about this need to feel our feelings and to comfort the feelings of others:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)
Sadness, stress, and depression are real things, so acknowledge your feelings. And don’t allow others to brush your feelings aside.
“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25:20)
We just need time to feel what we feel and to be real with ourselves and with trusted others. “There is a time to weep.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
Engage in Uplifting Spiritual Practices
However, to remain in grief endlessly robs us of life and others of our presence. To find healing for our heaviness, we need to engage in uplifting spiritual practices. Whether we’re sad, when we’re happy, at every moment, our best choice is to draw near to God. As it says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Nothing soothes hearts more than to feel the unconditional love of God. He cares so much about every detail of our lives, particularly about those things that weigh us down and make us sad. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your cares upon God for He cares for you.” He really, really does!
Reading the Bible, praying, listening to music full of grace, power, and love; these things lift our hearts, and help us in overcoming grief and stress, particularly during holiday times.
I read the words of a friend who lost a loved one several months ago. She said, “It is hard just to get out of bed in the morning. I want to sleep, and sleep, and sleep.” Those are the words of one who is depressed and weighted down by grief. You feel, at such times, joyless, sluggish, tired, lonely. But her antidote for herself was to get up and press into helping others. She ministers to those in recovery who can particularly struggle at this time of year. It is amazing how helping someone else can help you in overcoming grief and stress during the holiday times.
Change Traditions and Lessen Expectations
Though you may be grieving you may still have an expectation of yourself that you need to “get everything done that you usually do for Christmas.” Though it is good to get up and moving because depression slows us down and makes us not want to do anything, you can still go easier on yourself. Allow yourself to leave out some of the things you always do in order not to feel pushed and pressured. And it may be that you need to start a new tradition, one that will especially soothe and comfort you.
I just interviewed an author, Jennifer Elwood, about her book, Counting Up to Christmas: 24 Gifts from the Gospel of Luke for my podcast, Rooted by the Stream. Jennifer said that she began the practice of reading the Gospel of Luke before Christmas a few years ago and the effect of reading a chapter a day leading up to Christmas was that it gave her incredible peace as she arrived at Christmas. It was the peace that passes all understanding that is supernatural. Taking on that sort of a new tradition could be the road to healing from the heartache you may feel at this time.
Self-Care When Feeling Grief and Stress
You may be well aware of the physical things you need to do when depressed, stressed, or experiencing grief, but it is good to remind ourselves of what helps relieve the stress we can feel in the holidays:
- Physical activity – Exercising is so helpful to relieve stress and anxiety. It is even possible to find exercise classes that are designated for relieving stress. Just walking in the fresh air can remove the tension or the lethargy we feel when experiencing difficult feelings during the holidays.
- Eating right – It’s tempting to eat junk food, nothing, or too much when feeling blue. We have to make a real effort to self-care in this area because the right nutrients aid our brain and body in healing. They even fight inflammation.
- Sleep – Of course, it’s hard to sleep when feeling grief and stress during the holidays. Some may sleep too much as a way of escape. But, many will have trouble unwinding, getting into deep sleep, staying asleep. So, do all you can to keep a routine, to wind down at bedtime, and to keep the room conditions comfortable for sleep.
- Stay involved – As stated above, our tendency when blue is to wind down and stop participating in life. But even when it seems incredibly hard, getting up and doing what needs to be done (without putting excessive pressure on ourselves as stated above) and helping others can greatly release tension in us.
- Stay connected – Reach out to others and let them reach for you as best you can, especially friends with whom you can really be yourself.
Overcoming Grief and Stress in 2020
This year adds a particular kind of grief. You may be going through it too. It is the grief of separation due to the national health situation in which we find ourselves. My daughter and her husband and children were due to arrive here tomorrow and stay three weeks with us. I have toys and crafts, games and surprises for them all sitting up on a high shelf. The trip has been cancelled.
I find myself thinking about so many other Christmases where the little ones (grandkids 2 to 9) have run around the house; we’ve gone to Christmas programs, had hot chocolate, watched Christmas movies and so on. We will not have that in the same way this year. Two of our granddaughters live near us, but we’re used to the house being full! Yes, I am sad.
The Choice to Rejoice – in Jesus
I have a choice – to dwell on it – or to find other ways to rejoice in this season. We will talk with the kids online but I want to find joy in the midst of this disappointment. I do not want to say yes to grief over the change or invite stress from sad feelings.
So, I turn back to the stable, to the Nativity scene, for the good news that Christ is born in Bethlehem. I think about the dark, forbidding world into which Jesus came. “Herod is seeking to kill The Child,” Matthew’s gospel tells us. (Matthew 2:13) “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus told us when a grown man, “but in me you will have peace.” (John 16:33)
I cannot make the losses go away. They are real. And so are yours. But we can dwell on Jesus Christ who came into the world that we might have life and have it abundantly. We can ask Him to soothe our aching hearts and help us to find brightness and reasons for joy in this season.
We can worship and draw near to the Lord where we will find escape from sorrow. Psalm 16:11 says
“You make known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
Jesus can be your peace, your eye of the storm, the place of refuge from grief and stress. Your joy, when it makes no sense to have joy. Open your heart. “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Stay focused on Him. He will raise you up. Blessed Christmas! I pray this song will lift your heart, yet again, to beautiful and eternal things:
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