Un-Happy Holidays: What To Do When You Feel More Miserable than Merry

Two years post-divorce I celebrated my first Christmas without my children. I awoke early that morning, but not to the sounds of excited whispers and scampering feet as I had for the twelve years prior.

I made my way to the kitchen, but not before passing our Christmas tree. It stood solemnly – unlit, without a gift nestled below it. Coffee in hand, I peered out at the neighborhood children gleefully tossing handfuls of snow at each other. It had snowed lightly the night before, leaving behind the surprise of a rare, Tennessee white Christmas morning.

How stark and still my home seemed that morning, especially considering the merriment going on all around me. My thoughts wandered.

I wonder what my kids are up to. They must be so excited. I bet they are going to have blast with all this snow.”

I eased into my overstuffed armchair and collapsed under the weight of silence. Then, I tried to escape into worship music, but still felt the draw toward something more seasonal. I found myself comforted unexpectedly by the lullaby of Christmas music. Suddenly, I wept as the words washed over me.

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

As I wrestled with the emotions of the morning, never in my life had the meaning of Christmas been more tangible. In my sorrow, I realized that Jesus did not come for presents and pancake breakfasts and picture-perfect celebrations.

No, He came for the weak and worn out, for the sin-battered and abandoned – He’d come for people like me. And in my grief grew hope, in knowing this broken world is not my home. This is not all there is.

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

But still, the suffering of my present reality suffocated me. I cried to God, “It’s not supposed to be this way!” Gently, He received me, and tended to my broken heart. He knew it was not supposed to be this way.

That’s why He came for us. In the ache of sorrow, the Holy Spirit brought a balm of peace, which did not replace the sorrow, but rather sat alongside it.

Joyful and triumphant.

As I worshiped in solitude, I was both painfully and joyfully aware that my experiences were but a picture of what God would have us understand about Christ’s coming in the view of eternity. And though we have been rescued, while we are in this place, we will have grief and hope, sorrow and peace – side by side.

What the Bible Says about Hurt and Hope for the Holidays

Those closest to Jesus understood the gravity of what it means to experience both joy and sorrow simultaneously in this life. Explore the following examples from the Bible to find hope for the holidays.

The Mother of Jesus

Consider Mary. After Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph bring Him to the temple to be presented. During the occasion, a man named Simeon prophecies over the young Christ and His mother. He says:

“‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too’” (Luke 2:34-35).

That last line is so striking: “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” To this point, Mary had been told that her child would be the Son of God. However, the specifics had not quite been as clearly described until now.

We can only imagine the joy and sorrow that she must have felt as He grew up, each moment of His young life viewed through the lens of this ominous prophecy.

Jesus’ Disciples

Jesus’s disciples struggled to come to terms with His impending crucifixion as well. Immediately after revealing Himself as Messiah, Jesus foretells of His eventual death.

Matthew 16:22 says, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!’”

Sometimes having to hold joy and sorrow together leads to the denial of one experience or the other. But both are valid, and worthy of attention.

The Last Supper

Finally, at the Last Supper, Jesus consoles His bewildered followers just prior to his death.

In John 16:20-22, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy”.

Jesus compares our grief to the pain of childbirth. We may be grieving while everyone around us is celebrating, but our grief is not meaningless. Through our grief, Jesus promises great joy will come to us. What’s more, He will not permit us to experience suffering in this life without the covering of His tender compassion to see us through. As we experience His presence in the midst of our heartache, Heaven comes down to us and gives us a glimpse of the hope of eternal life where things will finally be exactly as they are meant to be.

I know it doesn’t exactly look like the “kids playing in the snow” kind of joy we all expect and hope for. But God’s way always leads to something greater, something deeper, something long lasting; a joy that can never be lost regardless of our present circumstances. It’s a joy that confidently defies the suffering we are experiencing now, and gives the courage to embrace what is good in the here and now, however grief-ridden it may be.

The journey to that joy is an arduous one. But my dear friend, it is worth it.

Jesus ends His encouragement to the disciples saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Jesus showed us what it means to be fully alive in this life – Trouble and peace. Hurt and hope. Together. And while He promises it won’t always be this way (and I can tell you with Him, it does get easier), there is great sorrow and strength in admitting that at least for today, things are not as they should be.

Nurturing Hope in the Midst of Hurt

At times, the holidays can feel like a special season to bask in the hope that is ours in Christ. But other times, they are a painful reminder of the sufferings we must endure in this life on the way there.

Both are meaningful and appropriate expressions of our natural experiences. As you prepare for your observance of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year, consider how God might be calling you to experience Him this season.

Tend to Your Heart

Whenever you feel overwhelmed with emotion, take a few minutes by yourself and experience God’s presence. Try deep breathing practices as you sit in the awareness of the presence of God. As you rest, you might talk with God about what you are going through.

You might also consider how you can sense God’s comfort through your senses; you might try wrapping yourself in a weighted blanket or dabbing essential oils on your skin. As you do, sense the Holy Spirit tending to you through your mind, body, and spirit, wrapping you with compassion, comfort, and security.

Helping Your Kids Cope

Often our kids may be struggling with their emotions as well, but it comes out in ways that are not always quite so obvious. Perhaps you have a child who is being especially defiant, or another who is more clingy than normal. Some children will act out more when they are struggling, while others will become more compliant or withdrawn.

Often kids cannot always explain or pinpoint what they are feeling. However, when we as parents are in tune with our own emotions, it is easier for us to help our children navigate the process.

First, engage with your child compassionately by trying the deep breathing and sensory exercises described above. As they are ready, you might then ask open-ended questions, or use a feelings chart to help them label their feelings. As they do, demonstrate understanding with expressions like, “I could see why you’d feel that way with everything that is going on. Would you tell me more?”

Some children will take you up on the invitation while others will not. Don’t feel compelled to force a conversation; you’re simply opening the door to let your child know they are received and loved, big emotions and all.

Meditate on Scripture

The traditions and trimmings of the holidays are often a reminder of what we’ve lost, or what we never had. It’s easy for our minds to go down the rabbit hole of what could have been but doing so usually compounds our grief.

When you need help taking your thoughts captive, consider having a couple of go-to Scriptures to “change the channel” in your mind, and instead usher in God’s compassionate presence. A couple of my favorites are “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Slow Down

Let’s face it- the holiday season is full of emotional triggers. Experiencing triggers does not mean you are weak; it means you’re at your limit. You may be tempted to fight through, ignore, numb out, or escape.

And while these are temporary fixes, they’ll contribute to a greater meltdown in the future. During the holidays, placing boundaries around your time is an important way to stave off being overwhelmed. Consider saying “no” to certain gatherings or events, keeping your schedule light, and getting to bed earlier.

Your experience with the holidays may change from year to year. Relieve the pressure to do things as you’ve always done them, and lean into the Lord’s plan for you this season.

This post originally appeared at FocusontheFamily.com, but has been modified from the original version.

Michelle Donnelly

Michelle Donnelly is the President and CEO of PlusONE Parents, a ministry devoted to helping single parents overcome overwhelming situations to rebuild God-empowered lives and raise up a new generation. A mother of three, Michelle is also the host of The Christian Single Moms Podcast and author of Seen: Hope & Healing for Single Moms as well as Safe Haven: A Devotional for the Abused and Abandoned.

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