It’s a time when you’re supposed to be happy, but a nightmare when you’re not. Feeling alone at Christmas is the worst feeling in the world.
Or at least it’s definitely up there.
Christmas is a time where there are many images of joy displayed throughout the world, bombarded into our eyes and minds from every conceivable angle. Smiling children, singing carolers, joyous gift recipients and very content and full feast goers. The colours are bright, the music is upbeat, and the mood is entirely festive.
All this can be quite hard when you don’t feel any of that on the inside.
It’s cool to hate on this year, but is 2020 the worst year ever? Here’s my annual review of the year that was – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
With a final few weeks to go until the start of a new year (seriously!!), the excitement is palpable. All the memes are out in force to pretend 2020 never existed, to flush it out of our lives, to be the year that never happened. A lot of things went wrong in the world this year, and it’s hard to blame a lot of people for feeling this way. I think that’s why everyone’s singing January, February, Quarantine, December.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but a lot of holiday movies deserve a lump of coal. Here are 10 Christmas movies that are actually great.
We watched the new Lego Star Wars Holiday Special last night and it was a decently amusing love letter to Star Wars. Of course, it’s also 3000 times better than the original Star Wars Holiday Special which even George Lucas may or may not have said he would take a hammer and destroy every last copy of it. That said, the original did actually give us Boba Fett and result in the events leading to the creation of the currently brilliant The Mandalorian, so good job, Star Wars Holiday Special. You get a Baby Yoda toy for Christmas this year.
Too emotional? Too commercialized? Too “Jesus is my Boyfriend”? Here is my problem with modern worship songs.
Probably worth mentioning from the start that this post is a bit more targeted towards readers of a Christian faith, but you’re welcome to keep reading no matter what walk of life you’re from.
Ah, the modern worship song. Few things stir more controversy in the hearts of the faithful. Whether it be a rock and roll upbeat anthem or a melancholic ballad, it seems the singing aspect of church services is under constant scrutiny.
I’m usually not the type to despair, but sometimes I do. Here is the thing that fills my heart with sorrow.
Our world is in one of its most trying times in existence. International borders closed, families and friends kept physically isolated for extended periods of time, bushfires and hurricanes, unknown and highly contagious diseases, injustice and violent protest. You’ve gotta wonder, what on earth could happen next? You hope for it to get better, but it’s very likely things will only continue to get worse.
If music tells you a lot about a person, get ready to learn a lot about me – here are five bands that have shaped my life and gotten me through the ups and downs of life.
If you appreciate music, are looking for some new tunes to check out, or just like people being reflective, give this one a read.
Everyone’s being super reflective at the moment. Being an INFJ super reflective type at most times, I’ve definitely appreciated seeing people taking stock and sharing about themselves in a more intimate fashion. I love hearing people’s dreams and their life journeys and so loving to see the innermost machinations of people’s hearts and minds being put to writing at a time when the world needs it most. Good job, world.
With the need to be physically distant from others in this season, it can be a very trying time for human connection. Here are 8 ways to be physically distant but stay socially connected.
A positive look at our great opportunity during this trying time.
I’m writing this in the midst of a world in chaos. COVID-19 AKA Coronavirus is ripping through the world and destroying much of the societal norms that have existed to this point. Affecting China for several months at this point, the spread of the virus has become fairly widespread. As a result, governments everywhere are making necessary decisions with far reaching consequences – closing borders, reimbursing small businesses, and mandating that most social gathering and large scale events not occur, or occur within certain sizing limits.
One of the deepest questions of this season isn’t around presents, lights, carols or shops – it’s this: When will Christmas be happy?
Christmas really is one of the most unique times of the year. I’m walking around Australian shops in 40 degree heat and our country is currently facing a huge bushfire crisis, but at the same time, all the songs playing are about winter wonderlands and letting it snow and the carol of the winter bells… and everyone seems to find it completely normal. Shops are open later providing more opportunities to shop, and yet they’ve still been always full. Our politically correct world all of a sudden has no issue with religious figures or making comments about fat men with white beards.
It’s a time of feasting, presents, toys, traditions, big family
get togethers, lights, classic movies, and love. Or at least that’s what we
feel it should be. When Christmas is working, it works great, and the magic of
what Christmas could be is indeed alive and well. But when it’s not working so
well, you’re left wondering when will Christmas be happy.
Christmas brings with it a darker side every year. As with
anything that repeats every year, Christmas brings with it a magnifying glass
on the areas of your life that are less than you want them to be. It reminds
you of where you were this time last year and the years before that. Check out
some of these lesser known facts on how happy Christmas actually is for people:
Relationships Australia studies report that Christmas is in the top six stressful experiences in life, up there with moving house, divorce and changing jobs. About a third of respondents to their 2016 survey reported family relationships highly negatively affected by work-life balance and financial pressures of the season
A study by Age UK carried up in the leadup to Christmas found hundreds of thousands of older people who found themselves alone on Christmas day, and also who had not seen a single friend in over a month
The pressures of the upcoming holiday make December 11 the most likely day to break up
I think one of the most telling indicators of the loneliness and stress of Christmas are a few of the stories that get repeated every year. The third most popular Christmas song according to the Spotify numbers is Wham’s Last Christmas – a song of remorse and pain about the loss of love in the previous year. We have the story of the Grinch, a child who is rejected at Christmas and for every Christmas, so much so to the point that the only way he can handle the pain is by tearing down the happiness of others. And of course we have Ebenezer Scrooge, a man with a similar story – left alone at Christmas time, with breaks up with the love of his life at Christmas, spending his life angry at the world for what Christmas did to him.
I’ve always liked the movie Four Holidays (also known as Four
Christmases) which is a bit of a humourous depiction on the real state of
relationships at the time of Christmas. It’s about two people dating each other
who both come from broken homes and need to travel to four different places to
celebrate with everyone. It’s funny but surprisingly profound in presenting
what life’s reality is like for many people – family breakdown, relationships
that are unreconciled or have unaddressed issues, holiday-induced childhood
trauma, painful memories, how little we actually know about each other,
disparate dreams and goals – all thrown in the pressure cooker of the Christmas
When will Christmas be happy? When you look at the stats and the stories that resonate with people this time of the year, you can see why so many people are asking this question.
For me, Christmas has been a bit of a mixed bag. Some years have been really wonderful – others have been really hard. Some Christmases I remember laughing so hard I cried. Another Christmas comes to mind where I spent a few hours crying into the carpet in my living room, lying there overwhelmed with what was going on. The magnifying glass on relationships and where you are with your goals and dreams is often a challenging one to confront, especially when the key message of the season is to celebrate with joy. Sometimes, that can be furthest from the truth. Some years would be as blissful as a 90s Christmas movie. Others would be reminders of bad relationship breakdowns, of struggles to move forward in life, of wondering when it will be my turn, of wondering if certain things would ever be different.
I think it’s hard because all of us want to be happy. We want the holiday to be a time of celebration. We want the joy that we’ve been told our whole lives we should have at this time of the year. Even beyond the holiday season, we want our lives to look and be a certain way. I even recently wrote about that challenge of expectations vs. reality in my 2019 In Review post. When you want your life to look a certain way, when you’re single and you want to be married, when you’re heartbroken and you want to be whole, when you’re lonely and you want to be celebrated, when you want your broken relationships to be reconciled, when you have people and situations in your life that refuse to change – that’s when Christmas gets hard.
And all those things add up and start to prompt some of the
deepest and darkest concerns of the heart. If only someone would celebrate me.
If only someone would think me worth the effort. If only someone would give be
their best when I feel like I give others my best. If only the love I give
could be returned to be. If only…
If only we could see that this is what the Christmas message
Lost in commercialism, we forget a little child in a manger, born
to prove every insecurity I feel about myself is incorrect. In a world where I
may feel overlooked or unseen, Christmas proves that I am completely seen, that
I am worthy of the ultimate effort, that someone cares enough about me to reach
out to me and repair and restore what’s been broken. It tells me that I’m
loved, I’m worthwhile… Christmas shows me that I matter. You don’t need to do
anything for acceptance, but you can live a life from acceptance
We think this message is dated and irrelevant. We relegate it to
baby ceramic Jesus on the coffee table or in the Myer catalogue. Perhaps that’s
why we remain so unhappy. Perhaps that’s why I still think I’m unloved or
alone. Perhaps that’s why we can become like the Grinch or Scrooge and cope
with our pain by trying to blame or ruin the joy of others.
The true joy of Christmas is that I am celebrated and loved beyond
measure. A child born to die for the chance that I might live, and truly
Maybe that message doesn’t take away the bad things that have
happened in your life, the rejection you’ve faced, the painful things that
still exist in your life today. I think it’s important that we take the time to
face and process those feelings at Christmas time. Perhaps Christmas wouldn’t
be so painful if we took the time to process things properly throughout the
year rather than spending our lives avoiding them or trying to work around
them. We blame Christmas for reminding us of the things we’re trying to forget,
but maybe running from our problems isn’t going to bring us the peace we need.
Even amidst our challenges, what the message of Christmas does for
me is it shows me I never have to face anything alone. That Emmanuel isn’t just
a pretty name, but a reality that God is with us… if I’ll let him.
Have you ever had someone in your life who has refused you?
Rejected you? Taken your best and wasted it? Given your heart but the very next
day, they gave it away? Imagine if you were to do that to someone who cared for
you. This Christmas, don’t miss this gift. You are loved and desired more than
you could ever know.
I hope this Christmas that you don’t find yourself asking (or
asking again), “When will Christmas be happy?”. In the midst of what
you may have faced in your life, I hope that this holiday season you find to be
a time of restoration, of reconciliation, of new hopes and dreams. See the love
that surrounds you this season and indeed through every season of life.
“And I celebrate the day that you were born to die, that I
could one day pray for you to save my life.”
It might not mean much to you, but it means everything to me – here is the story of how Easter changed my life.
Easter is a contentious time around the world. It’s a holiday
perpetuated because the Christian world hijacked an existing pagan festival
around the time of the equinox. Because so much of Western civilization is
built on Judeo-Christian beliefs, from our legal system to our constitutions,
we all get that awesome holiday that occurs sporadically across March and April
each year. As society increasingly moves towards a secularised worldview and
looks to remove religious symbolism and ideology from life, it seems Easter is
now simply about a holiday in the first half of the year where we have a chance
to get away and relax. The celebration is met with renewed debate about the
role of religion in society, and whether or not faith is dead based on how much
the world now knows about how the universe works.
My wife and I were at K-Mart the other day where we were behind a couple that bought $177 worth of Easter eggs, presumably for the kids. For those who don’t know, K-Mart is known for its low prices, so we’re talking kilograms of chocolate here. I’m sure those kids will be having a good morning on Sunday. Some friends have been telling me about a great trip away they’ve organized, and Easter will be a great time for them. I know of many people ramping up on Marvel movies in preparation for Avengers: Endgame, and also those who are rewatching the Star Wars Episode IX trailer on repeat for the entire weekend.
The downtime and the chance to have a break are always nice and something I welcome, carrying a lot of good memories of good times. But for me, Easter will always carry a significance that no other time of the year can match. This is the story about how Easter changed my life.
People often say to me, “Matt, for such a smart guy, we can’t believe that you think that faith stuff is real”. It’s a pretty common train of thought. I remember watching a video from noted atheist Penn Jillette where he stated that he couldn’t understand how so many intellectual, grounded, successful people he knew could profess faith in God. He thought the notion of God speaking to people must be a code word that he didn’t understand and was not included in the loop, like it was some secret saying that actually meant something else. I have been hearing such conjecture my entire life, particularly being a person who went into the logical field of IT. I’ve always been a nerd and always been surrounded by great thinkers who would routinely debate me on the relevance and reality of faith, or lack thereof.
I grew up in a Christian home. My grandparents are Roman Catholic and I was similarly christened in the Catholic Church. As I got a bit older, we started going to another type of church, what would be referred to as “Pentecostal”. We would go multiple times a weekend without fail. Church was a priority above anything else really, and we’d be the first people there, connecting with and talking with everybody, and the last to leave.
In 1994, when I was 5 years old, our preacher was talking about the story of Easter, and also how if you believed in your heart that Jesus died and rose again and confessed with your mouth who Jesus is, it would mean that you could get to know God. In the little mind inside my little 1950s haircut head, I thought, “wow! I could get to know God!”, and went down the front and decided to become a Christian. Of course being 5 I didn’t and couldn’t fully understand everything, but I knew that that was what I wanted.
As I got older, I kept going along to church several times a weekend. I got involved in the kids ministry program, decided to get water baptised at age 11, then eventually was involved as a leader in the program. I read a book by a mentor figure you would’ve seen quoted several times across my blog by Doctor John C. Maxwell called “Leading From The Lockers” that really set me up to have a sense of purpose and direction with my life, even from a younger age. Our family then moved over to another similar type of church where I really got cemented and was able to be an active member of the youth program and youth leadership initiatives.
Outside of my church world, I was a teenager in high school, and I had some very new experiences along the way. I had never really had a time away from church, and still haven’t to this point of my life, and I didn’t really find myself questioning what had already become somewhat of a conviction in my life. But what I was presented with during high school was a large number of people who I saw were questioning things, having something missing in their life that I had never felt was missing in my own. That, and the arguments being presented to me didn’t seem to make logical sense.
They were searching, and they had some brilliant and very real questions along the way. It was at this time in my life where I really branched out into the intellectual and historical backgrounds of Christianity, and saw that fact and logic aligned with what I had already believed. I learned more about the origins of Scripture, about the 24000 copies of the New Testament manuscripts copied over the span of 300 years allowing for great precision in assessing any deviations, and the documents by other historians and authors that confirmed what Scripture described as having occurred. I learned about the fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament, such as the rise and fall of Alexander the Great being chartered in detail 250 years before his birth by the prophet Daniel. And I learned how logical faith really was by consulting the wisdom of great theologians across modern and formative eras of the faith.
More than anything, I had reinforced in my heart that what I believed was true, and what was even better was that I got to see others in my high school and surrounding connections begin their faith journey as well. I saw the dramatic transformation in their life, the areas of brokenness that found healing, the physical torment that found supernatural resolution, and a sense of purpose and direction that did not have any other explanation than the divine.
That may make it sound like I had a fairytale of a life and a purely blissful faith experience. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but by the time I’d finished high school, there were several challenges awaiting me in my young adult years. I was close to several people that I knew from multiple different arenas who became very sick or had great crises of faith or life struggle all at the same time. And I remember praying and asking God where everyone was in all this, and I remember being taken by the hand as I walked to the bus one day, and filled with a comfort that my heart will never forget.
I have seen many miracles in my life and in the lives of others. As an active part of the key leadership team at my church, I had the privilege of meeting people every week who were discovering the answers that Jesus provided. They came from all sorts of backgrounds – agnostic, atheist, Muslim, non-practising, even Christians who had fallen away and were now trying to come back and get their lives and hearts sorted out, business men and women, young professionals, students, parents, sinners and saints – and all of them finding the same freedom and truth in their lives. I watched drug addicts recover in record time. I watched lonely people find family and friendship within the community of faith. I watched broken hearts reconciled, aimless people find direction, bodies physically healed, and dreams restored on a scale that could never be explained away by mass hypnosis, groupthink, brain washing or otherwise. This continues to this day where I see this happen every week, and am so encouraged by the family of faith and the power of the Christian message.
It’s a message that you belong. That you’re safe. That you’re accepted. It’s a message that takes a reality check and highlights just how far off the mark we are in life, unashamedly calling out the poor decisions we make in life, but despite what we’ve done, it shows us the way back home. You remain a son or a daughter despite the path you’ve deliberately chosen. It’s a message that shows us what I believe and have seen to be the greatest way to live, and it simply couldn’t be disputed the undeniable change that I’ve seen God and the advice and teaching of Scripture enacts in people’s lives.
Out of the many miracles that have happened, I’d like to share two that always stand out to me. One was a time when I had had a really difficult and painful conversation with someone late one evening, and really felt distraught and unsure of what to do next. I didn’t sleep very well and felt physically exhausted. One of my friends sent a text around the next afternoon asking who wanted to go see X-Men: First Class at the movies. I was feeling pretty awful and I knew I needed to get out of the house, and so I went to see it. When I got to the movies, my friend began to laugh his head off for some reason. Earlier that day, they had been out praying for people, and then one of them started drawing a picture. My friend thought it was so funny so he started drawing 5 o’clock shadow and a scar on the picture, and then they had a sense that this drawing was significant and someone who was associated with it needed prayer and encouragement. They walked around and couldn’t find such a person, until 6 hours later when I decided to put on the t-shirt they had drawn (also, beardless Matt alert):
I actually had another shirt ready to go for the day, and picked that one just as I was about to head out. Sonic’s face is faded in the same way the 5 o’clock shadow made it look, and my friend drew a scar on, not above, Sonic’s eye, in the same way that my shirt had a scratch. My friend prayed for me and gave me exactly the encouragement I needed to hear, beyond what he could have known on his own.
The second was a more recent occurrence. I had a pretty hard conversation again with a few people a few months ago and was feeling pretty low in life. I just had no idea what to do. At our church at Citipointe, we always take some time in our church services to pray for people, and I put my hand up for prayer. In that moment, I heard God speak to me – “this is your family”. One of my good friends took a photo of that moment and sent it to me an hour later, saying “I don’t usually take photos of people like this, but I thought I needed to – this is family”. This was the photo above. It was a powerful and emphatic reminder of the great support all around me.
That’s only two of hundreds of such occurrences in my own life, and thousands upon thousands I’ve been witness to in the lives of others.
I know I haven’t attempted to address logical questions or much about the state of physical evidence for the existence of God. Perhaps these are questions you wrestle with in your own life, and you’re not really sure where you stand on matters of faith. I would encourage you this Easter that those questions are important, and there are answers available. It doesn’t take very long to realize that not all truth that exists out there can be true since they’re all so contradictory, so I implore you to explore and to reason out and to search out the questions you have. Or perhaps you’ve felt distant from God, unsure, or confused – check some of the related links at the bottom of the page and throughout the blog in general, such as making sure not to miss the point of doing life with others. I think life presents us with some huge questions and I think it’s so important that we find the answers we need to those. This blog is an exploration of my own dealings with these.
And if you’re thinking of making a routine visit this Easter to a church in your area, I’d encourage you to do so with an open heart and mind. If you’re in Brisbane, our church called Citipointe has a fantastic, world class Easter production at all our different locations around the city. We attend the one in Carindale so you’re welcome to drop in and say hello!
So there you have it. The story of how Easter changed my life. The biggest decision I ever made, and one I continue to see the rich reward of every day of my life.