When the holidays are hard

Thirteen years ago my father-in-law died unexpectedly days before Christmas. The funeral was on the 23rd and the burial on the 27th, with sickness and chaos in between. That, a whole lot of responsibilities, and an aversion to the sentimentality of many Christmas traditions makes the season, well, not my favorite. 

For many the holidays are hard. When you’re estranged from your family or members of your family are struggling, when death has made a gaping hole in your life, when you’re alone for whatever reason, when your health is failing, when age has robbed you of enjoyment, or when the holidays are just too much work, the month of December can be a cruel joke.  

The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Temptations are plentiful when you struggle through the holidays. It’s easy to forget integrity and find comfort in overeating, overdrinking, or in another means of temporary enjoyment. It’s hard not to seethe with jealousy or fall into despair and lose sight of God’s providence and omniscience. It’s easy to complain . . . as if God’s grace is not sufficient. 

Try instead to lean into God during this season, knowing it is hard and you don’t do well. And be honest with those around you. Very likely you will find others who struggle too.   

Jesus’ half brother, who wrote the book of James, advised us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1:2).

Pure joy can only happen when we put our unmet expectations of the season in God’s capable hands. They are the same hands that guided a young wife in labor through crowded streets to a cattle shed, and the same hands that filled the skies with angelic host who couldn’t keep from singing of the glory of God. The same hands later guided men from a distance to the very house where Jesus was. They are the same hands that wove everything together so every prophecy was fulfilled and every punishment paid when Jesus’ hands were pierced.  

When the season is hard, it is a reminder of the longing for more. It is the reminder that we are not in our eternal home, but in the shadow of things to come. That longing is met in Christ. He alone can give you the joy to sing “Joy to the World” because he has come to your heart. “God with us” is with you and me and walks with us through the trials. 

This season, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Amber Albee Swenson is a writer, speaker, and blogger. Her husband and four children keep life exciting and give her lots to write and pray about. Mother, wife, and author are treasured positions, but child of God is her identity.


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