How do you celebrate Christmas when life isn’t merry and bright? When you’re in and out of the hospital for treatments, or staring down a financial future you didn’t see coming, or missing someone so bad it hurts?
I remember facing my first Christmas as a new widow and single mom to seven. I could barely get feet to floor, I was crushed by sadness and overwhelmed at all the new I was navigating. I couldn’t imagine pulling off a merry Christmas for my kids.
Yet we needed joy more than ever.
There are practical steps we can take to help when grieving at Christmas: let go of traditions that are too hard, switch up where you spend Christmas, let go of perfectionism, and give yourself permission to rest or stay home when needed.
But you need more than to survive Christmas when you’re grieving. You need to rekindle real joy.
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The secret to a merry Christmas when you’re hurting is two-fold.
First, focus on others.
When we’re grieving or going through difficulty, we become self-absorbed as we’re preoccupied with decisions, grappling with unexpected circumstances, processing our emotions. We’re often getting the attention of sympathy and help from others. All of that is needed and right, but it can also lead us to become too self-focused.
But blessing someone else, lifts our own spirit. It refocuses our attention from our pain to see others’ pain and need.
That first Christmas after Dan died, we started the Days of Joy Project. Each day, we looked for a way to bless someone else. I didn’t plan out 25 days of to-do’s. I didn’t have that kind of energy or margin.
Instead, I simply looked for easy ways to extend joy to someone else. On trash day, we set out a cooler with drinks and a homemade Merry Christmas sign. One night after church, we picked up doughnuts and delivered them to the fire station near our home. We donated coats from our closets to a church collection.
We stuffed Operation Christmas Child boxes, bought someone’s McDonald’s meal in line behind us and packed blessing bags to give out to the homeless downtown. I don’t remember all the ways we extended kindness that year, but I remember the warmth seeping into my pain each time.
I discovered that making someone else’s day better elevated my own. That this new Christmas tradition helped me savor the season way more than shopping ever did. And that I couldn’t keep from smiling when someone else smiled wide at an unexpected kindness.
But there’s an even bigger secret to a merry Christmas when you’re hurting.
Focus on Jesus.
December is a distracting month of festivities and to-do’s. Despite our best intentions, we can let the Hallmark channel or shopping lists obscure why we celebrate.
The message of this season is not “let us shop” or “let us decorate” but let us adore Him.
Focusing on the real Christmas story renews the wonder that God did not stay far off from a hurting world but left heaven to be with us in it. When Jesus took on flesh, Jesus took on suffering. He knows the sting of rejection, betrayal, grief, loss and weariness. He endured unimaginable physical pain and isolation and He has cried tears just as you and I have.
Jesus comforts us because He is present with us in it.
In deep grief and loss, adoration lifts the darkness because Jesus secured not only our heavenly hope but abundant life this side of heaven.
This season, you can do more than survive. Crank the praise music. Find an Advent devotional to get into the Word every day. Fill up on preaching and worship with your local church community. Write the names of God on cards and put them on your mirror and fridge.
Christmas is merry because we have Jesus, our Savior, our Redeemer and Restorer, our Good Shepherd, our Prince of Peace, our God with us.
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What would it mean to you and your family to savor the season with the richness of scripture? Countdown to Christmas is an Advent devotional for the whole family. Unwrap the real Christmas story for as you match the scriptures of Christmas to one piece of your Nativity you build over 15 days. Yes! This Advent family devotion is 15 days so you have margin while making meaningful traditions.
Find out more about Countdown to Christmas here.
Get Countdown to Christmas here.