Does the Christmas season bring up the best memories for you?
I got all the good memories when it comes to Christmas: the excitement of going into the attic for our artificial tree (seriously, a great memory!!) being a part of countless Christmas musicals, and of course Christmas morning with my family and the excitement knowing that it would be a “good Christmas” since my dad had had those extra overtime shifts. I’ll never forget the big gift in seventh grade: the very fancy hi-tech word-processing typewriter with a digital screen!! I loved that thing and I know the smile on my parents’ faces was just as big as mine!!
Or is Christmas just a magnifying glass reminding you of all you lost?
Joe’s memories of Christmas was pretty much the opposite of mine. Most of the time he didn’t know where he’d even be at Christmas, gifts were pretty rare and on the chance he’d get one, it was often lost since he was moved around so much. Hopelessness, brokenness, abuse. So Christmas was no bundle of happy memories but more of a nightmare he’d rather forget.
When Joe and I got married, I didn’t always get why he wasn’t more excited and full of Christmas spirit! Why he was more distant during the holidays. I knew he didn’t have the best holidays growing up, but the holidays could be good for us! C’mon babe let’s go buy our first Christmas tree together, it’ll be fun!
But it wouldn’t be that clear cut. Now that we were a happy family, it didn’t mean that all of our happy memories would just replace the bad ones.
Christmas might be complicated.
Do you ever feel like you want Christmas to be good, but you just can’t get there? Maybe you see the joy around you and you don’t want to bring others down. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense. It’s like you don’t belong. The sadness is still very real. It can leave you feel lonely.
As the years have gone by for us, the holidays can feel complicated. There are so many blessings Joe and I enjoy now. We’ve had many, many great years celebrating Christmas through the eyes of our children. But amidst the joy, Joe still struggles with the pain and could-have-beens from his own childhood. Celebrating all that God has given us right now, yet also mourning all that he didn’t have as a child. It’s possible to feel joy and sadness at the same time. Together, we can walk in that mess and trust God that He knows it’s not easy. We have a similar struggle around Mother’s Day. Accepting that these seasons come has made a big difference in keeping our marriage strong through the holidays!
Talk about it.
Even when it’s may be difficult to articulate. Joe can’t always put his finger on what’s bugging him so when he shares I don’t always get details. That’s okay. What we try to do is cultivate an environment where we can be vulnerable and there’s no shame in not feeling the right feelings.
Be other-centered and full of grace.
I’m working on being more aware of where Joe is at during the holidays and offering more grace. Maybe asking him how he is doing a little more often than usual. In a time when you’re encouraged to share Jesus’ love, you can start with the people you share a home with! Check in on your spouse if you know this is a hard season for him. Joe has learned as well to also be sensitive to where I was coming from as well.
Be flexible with holiday plans.
Our holiday season became easier when Joe and I were clearer with our expectations. When we could talk honestly about what we expected or hoped for. We shared what holiday traditions meant the most to us. When we take the pressure off and work as a team, everything seems less stressful. You have permission to build the traditions that are the most meaningful to you!
Holidays may not get easier but there is hope.
If the holidays are just about a tradition, or family, and good memories- then if you don’t have those things, you might feel have nothing to celebrate. But if Christmas is celebrating Jesus as the light and hope of the world, then struggling is okay. We desperately need the hope of the Savior because the world is filled with so much sin and darkness. True joy will never be found in the lights and laughter and music. It’s found in the One that we’re celebrating,
If you’re struggling this season you are not alone. Nothing is wrong with you. Reach out to a friend and don’t isolate yourself! Don’t just celebrate Jesus with Christmas lights and holiday traditions: you can also celebrate Jesus by bringing him into your brokenness.
All this will be because the mercy of our God is very tender, and heaven’s dawn is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, and to guide us to the path of peace.” Luke 1:78-79 NLT