It’s the best and the worst part of the festive season – Christmas reminds you what you wish life was like.
Well, here we are again. It’s Christmas season, the shops have been craaaaaaaaaazy this year, the Carols are blaring, and all those December movies are in full swing.
And amidst all the idealism and the feeling of perfect portrayals when it comes to friends, love, family and generosity, it brings with it a sucker punch of a reality check unlike no other time of year.
The stats don’t lie – this time of great joy is also marked with heightened levels of seasonal anxiety and depression, an increase of domestic violence, and divorce rates and breakups up higher than any time of the year (December 11 is the most common date to break up of the year).
What is it about Christmas that makes life so hard for so many of us?
It’s that Christmas, its message, its imagery and its childlike wonder remind you what you wish life was like.
I think it’s absolutely great how much society puts forward taking it easy over the holidays and not being too hard on yourself. I’ve seen so many great posts from mental health organisations, support services and friends with timely reminders and tips on negotiating the strong negative feelings that can dominate at this time of year for many people. In fact this was an inspiration for the topic for my annual Christmas post this year.
Perhaps we have gone too far the other way though, as Christmas represents a time of heightened self awareness and the ultimate reminder of the dreams you hold so closely to your heart. If we miss this moment, we might miss our ultimate opportunity to make the changes that heal and matter.
Yes, it’s really hard to face a lot of these things.
Christmas bombards us with strong imagery of ideal families, blissful marriages, joy-filled friendships, high levels of satisfaction with life, and the hope that every dream inside your heart can come true. When reality is the opposite to some or all of these, the holiday season becomes very difficult indeed.
If you’ve been single for a long time with a strong desire to get married, Christmas can remind you of how much you want to be like those other couples you see in the movies or in social feeds.
If you’ve got an unhappy marriage or frayed relationships with family and extended family, Christmas can remind you of your desire for peace in your home and interactions with those you love.
If you’re not satisfied with life in your work, fulfilling your life goals, feeling significant in what you contribute, Christmas can remind you of how much more you want to be doing, or the frustrating distance between where you are and where you would like to be.
If you’ve lost someone, whether to death or to distance or to decision, Christmas can remind you of the joy you used to have this time of year, and what you wish life was like in December.
You have a strong set of views on what you wish life was like – so do I. All of us are in this boat. And here comes Christmas with its tinsel covered sledgehammer to give us a smash hit in the place it hurts the most – the heart.
Ironically, the joy of Christmas brings with it a painfully sharp reminder of how fundamentally broken our world is.
We say we’re good people all year, but Christmas reminds us so harshly of the times we aren’t, and the consequences of that. We say that we live in a progressive society, but Christmas pulls out a fat highlighter and underscores how our society and even our own lives are regressive, selfish, conceited and intentionally destructive. We say things are going well but Christmas has such a bright set of ideals that we find out how seriously we believe our own words when we talk about how our life is going.
Some of these we can’t do anything about. When someone’s died, or rejected us in a permanent way that feels as bad as death, or moved away, when we’ve lost work with a shifting economy, when we’ve been locked down by government mandates… there are things well beyond or means to do anything about.
And Christmas keeps taunting us. All the joy it says we should have, all the happiness we see in families online, in person, in the shops, all the presents and family get-togethers and catchups that are supposed to be happy.
Christmas reminds you what you wish life was like for you.
And into that frustration, unto us, a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.
Into the fundamentally broken nature of our fallen world, the greatest gift was given. Not to ignore all the problems on a global or even an individual scale. Not to help us pretend like we don’t have things that we want to be different. Not to sugarcoat just how freaking bad life can be.
But exactly for the reason to reconcile us to God, and to each other.
It is precisely because the world is so broken that Christmas has come. We blame it for causing so much angst when really it is a targeted reminder of how much better life can be, and even more than that – that a better life is possible.
We have to be confronted with how ideal and how good life can really be against our current reality in order for us to be motivated enough to change it.
Three reminders that Christmas can give you as you look at your life and be reminded what you wish life was like this December.
I can receive. The truth is life often stretches us beyond our means. Dealing with loss, angst, hurt, confusion, anger, destructive behaviour (ours and others), imbalance, injustice, and a lack of sufficiency – all of these and more, can make us feel utterly spent. But…
We can receive love. We can receive forgiveness. We can receive freedom and mercy. It’s such a struggle trying to give any and all of those things out when we don’t feel like we have anything left within ourselves. But this Christmas, we can receive all we need to be the people we are called to be.
Just take a moment and allow yourself to receive those things right now. Joy for despair, strength for weakness, love for desolation. Let your heart be filled with mercy, truth, grace and hope where you need it.
I can celebrate. The famous stories of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch are timeless caricatures of a very real state of mind and being that is only amplified by the Christmas season – the feeling that you have nothing in your life worth enjoying.
But even for all that you’ve lost or the way you wish life was like, you still have so much more. To varying degrees, if you’re reading this – you have opportunity, you have family, you have friends, you have relationships, you have dreams, you have your house, your finances, your health. Not all the way you want it maybe, but you do have enough and indeed more than enough to be grateful for.
And if I can’t celebrate myself, I’m going to celebrate someone else. To make them feel amazing. To give them the best end to the year they’ve ever had. If you make it happen for someone else, it’s going to come back to you. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.
I can change. So you’re single – you can do something about it. So you’re always hurting the ones you love – you can treat them differently. So you don’t like the place you are in your career or how much you’ve been fulfilling your dreams – you can move and grow and seek the right opportunities. So you’re alone again this year because you keep pushing people away – it doesn’t have to be this way.
This is the time. We are always within our own control, even if we can’t control anything else.
Instead of running from the pressure that Christmas has been putting on those areas, use it as motiviation to change. Time to stop ignoring your love life and saying no to every guy or girl who comes up as potential. Time to learn how to treat your husband, your wife, your children, your family with the respect and love they deserve. Time to learn and develop those giftings in your life, to stop being distracted from your true purpose, and make the time to get it done. Time to make and develop some real friendships beyond those Timon and Pumbaa friends who have enabled you to make your worst decisions.
And even though we’ve lost and been hurt beyond our control, what is within our control is the decision to heal. If we don’t heal, we become the monster in someone else’s story. The TV show WandaVision was a seriously great look at this this year.
History shows us that every single time a person does not resolve or face the pain in their own life, they will pass it on to someone else. You don’t have to repeat the cycle, you don’t have to stay all alone and feeling defeated – you can get help and move forward with your life.
If we run the other way this year, if we don’t embrace what Christmas is screaming at us, we’ll just be here again next year. And the next. And the next.
But you’ve done that at Christmas time for enough years already, haven’t you?
Do you remember the person you always wanted to be? Do you remember the sort of marriage you dreamed of? Do you remember when you were a parent you could be proud of? Do you remember when you were whole and generous and living on track?
You still can be that person. Christmas is here to remind you of that immensely powerful person inside who has so much more to give the world, and so much more to receive in turn.
Merry Christmas to you and yours this year. I hope you enjoy all the great Christmas movies (here are some of my suggestions and go-tos) and get to reap in a harvest of great joy this December and beyond.