The song says it should be the most wonderful time, but for many, Christmas is the most difficult time of the year.
Can you believe the year is almost over? How amazing is that. If you’ve already read my Year in Review, you’ll already know that I felt like I lived a whole lifetime in this year. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but I’m glad I am where I am finishing this year.
Here comes Christmas. It’s a time of lots of presents, increased financial pressure, a few extra days off from work (or a few weeks if you’ve taken more time or work in education), and the worst drivers on the road all out there at the same time. Seriously, every day this week on the way into the office I have been behind multiple people who have been drifting between lanes on the highway or at dangerous merging locations. Must be on the nog a bit too early.
Those things are kind of guarantees at Christmas. Then there’s the things that Christmas is “supposed” to be the time for. Laughter. Food. Good memories. Bubbly drinks and roast dinners. Celebrating accomplishments. Gratitude.
Unfortunately, for a large percentage of people, even reading a sentence like that brings up a deep sting. Because for many people, the idea of what Christmas should be is painfully marred against its reality.
There is one big summary word to describe the joy and the pain of Christmas.
If you know me, you know I’m big on relationships. People call me the relationship guy. I write frequently on the topic.
And something I have observed every year is that the reason for the pain at Christmas is that it reminds us of multiple relationships in our lives.
Christmas, like New Year’s Eve and your birthday, is a yearly occurrence, and it reminds you of the same time last year. It reminds you of how far you’ve come, or conversely, how much you feel like nothing has changed.
It can be a reminder of painful moments from the previous year. It can also represent a culmination of all the negative events of the year.
But I think Christmas presents a unique opportunity. Rather than being overwhelmed by the year that was or disheartened by a lack of progress, it can be a good time to reflect in a more constructive way on the relationships in our lives. Here are the relationships of Christmas that can make it the most difficult time of the year.
They say blood is thicker than water, but Christmas time is the time that you realise just how much water there really is. We’ve all seen the movies that parody and highlight the perils of the family Christmas. One that I always enjoy is the movie Four Holidays (even though I’m not a huge Vince fan) for its portrayal of the complexities of modern families.
Of course, since that movie was made, family dynamics seem to have become even more complex. There can be all sorts of levels of disappointments, from memories of events that may have happened years earlier, to the emotional distance between the people involved.
I think as we get older we should probably recognise that every family is dysfunctional to some extreme. The main reason for this is that people are dysfunctional. We can all be entirely selfish or closed off. We can hold on to grudges for far too long. As much as we blame others for not being or providing what we want or need, we fail to recognise how we’ve fallen short in different areas for others.
Family aren’t the people you’ve chosen – they’re the people you were born into. As such, you don’t really have a choice about who they are or the challenges you all may face as a unit.
But you do have a choice about your own behaviour and response.
This Christmas, why not give some structured thought to how you impact your family and on how your family impacts you? We tend to allow a mess of thoughts to sweep over us this time of year, but really, all that does is to destroy and muddy the waters of what can be improved. At the same time, it’s a time to have an honest look at how your own life exists within the halls of your family unit.
If you don’t have the family situation you want, you have two options. You either work with the one you have (and this requires multiple people to contribute and own, not just one or a few), or you keep in mind the things you’ll bring into your new one. You need to balance being fair on the people in the family, but also at the same time, being fair on yourself.
Don’t allow your heart to be overwhelmed in the area of family this Christmas.
Family may not be the people you chose, but the one you love is. Or the one you wished you loved. Or the one you wished loved you back.
I have heard Wham’s Last Christmas so many times over the past number of years, and decades later, it is still a song that resonates deeply with people at Christmas. Because Christmas for many is a reminder of the love you don’t have, or of the missing companionship in your life.
I find that so many people find that special relationship with the opposite sex to be the greatest source of frustration and the greatest obstacle in their life. Especially people who say it’s not something important to them, whilst their life remains seemingly in limbo for direction or meaning. I have met very few (probably less than 10) people who are genuinely not relationship people. I have met many, many people who have been frustrated by the love they don’t have, and even more by the love they do.
There is a reason that porn sites tell us that Christmas time is the time of year they receive the most traffic. There are reasons why people look at mistletoe in pain or frustration. There are reasons why many counsellors and even local police are put on alert with regards to the challenges, abuse and hurt that gets inflicted or reignited this time of year. Christmas is here yet again to remind you that you’re alone, or that you were left alone, or that the love that you have in your life isn’t what it once was.
It’s hard when love isn’t what you wished it was.
I can certainly relate to Christmas being a time of difficult or broken romantic relationships. Many of my previous relationships ended or had major blow-ups just before the holiday season. It can really suck. Merry Christmas, here’s a broken heart.
It can also really suck when the expectation you have of the love in your life doesn’t marry up with your perception of your current reality. This can feel like an absolute prison.
Once again, Christmas is a time where reflection is almost forced upon you, but it is also a time when some very healthy decisions can be made in this area.
If you have someone in your life, I would urge you this Christmas to really see the greatness in this person in your life. Greatness in them? Really? For some people, this will be a no brainer. For others, this will require you to pull out the shovel and go digging for gold. How lucky and blessed we are when we have someone who has chosen to stick with us through hell and high water. It can be a time where we are reminded that our love has grown cold, but through a simple moment of gratitude, we can turn our relationships around and even make great ones even better.
Why not write down ten things (or more if you want, but at least ten) that you love or admire about your special someone? No matter how cold or challenging your love may have become, you’ll be amazed just how quickly your desire and motivation return.
Bonus challenge: share your list with the one you love. It’s amazing how much a little gratitude can do for two hearts.
And if you don’t have a special someone, Christmas is a great time to take stock. How did you treat your last relationship? Your last potential relationship? Has this been an area you’ve been avoiding? I find that the love of a significant other is such a deep desire in so many hearts that the frustration of it becomes something they try to bury. I wrote a lot more about this when writing about My Problem With How We Worship Being Single. The magic of Christmas is that your heart knows it wants and was made for something more. Why not let that thought open up again?
Who is in your life already who compliments you? Who is that person waiting in the wings that maybe you just haven’t given enough of a chance to? Might be worth exploring that one early next year, huh?
And if you don’t have any/many friends with the opposite sex, how can you position yourself to be open to love? I think many people approach relationships as if they are going to win a gold medal in the Olympics just because they’re an athlete. They miss the part about training, preparing, registering, competing in preliminaries, being consistent, continually building, flying to the right venue, timing their race with others… Love is built and developed, it won’t fall into your lap. And even if it does, it doesn’t stay there by accident. Put the work in to see the results you want.
Christmas is the time of year for the obligatory church visit for many people. People near and far come to pay their respects as the world does seem to know that the Christmas story is about the birth that split history into two halves, that made the blind see and the dead live again.
And this Christmas a group of people I have on my heart see those who feel far away from God. You feel like the things you’ve done wrong have disqualified you from grace. You’ve drifted so far away from who you used to be, you don’t even recognise yourself any more. You used to be so involved, but the disappointments of life have deterred your path this year, or perhaps for many years.
It’s time to come home.
I have known so many people who were so passionate about their faith and so fully persuaded about their future that they would have done anything God asked them to do. And yet after many years and pains, the relationship that once lit up their life has become a memory. Yet I still know that in your heart, my friend, you know the truth, and you know that you are more than what you have become.
It’s time to open your heart again. It’s time to let the truest love possible flood your heart and fill your eyes with the grand mastery that is grace. You haven’t been forgotten. You’re not far away. All you need to do is stop and let Him in.
I’ve left friends out this time as I’ve written quite a bit about friendships lately, and I find friendships, while important, are not the main triggers of Christmas time. The above three definitely are.
So, has Christmas been the most difficult time of the year for you? I know I’ve had many difficult Christmas years, and in truth, this year my Christmas is looking really bright and joyful, which I am very grateful for. My hope is that it would also be so for you, dear friend.
Don’t let this Christmas go by in a mess or a blur. Let it happen. Let your heart be restored. Let your reflection be intentional and productive. Let it be one that produces life in your soul and give you ideas and hope for a new year.
If you’re in Brisbane, I’d love to see you around at a Hillsong or Citipointe service this year. But if not, I wish you good health and a great time.
And may Christmas develop in your life into what it really should be – the most wonderful time of the year.
Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year!