Back in December 2014 when I first wrote this post, I was just starting to recognize how hard the holidays can be — how isolating, how anxiety-producing, how uncomfortable. I’ve always loved Christmas, but I’ve had a taste of how celebration can feel during a season of grief. I’ve begun to understand how difficult it can be to be with family and friends — even when you love them. And I’ve been learning a new way.
We spend a lot of time and money getting ready for the holidays. Over the last month many of us have attended parties, dinners, and gift exchanges with family, friends, and coworkers. We have cooked special foods, decorated our homes, and dressed in finery in order to celebrate.
We celebrate the love of family. We celebrate that we get time off from work. We celebrate our friendships. We celebrate the birth of a Savior.
We celebrate by eating, drinking, laughing, and sharing. We celebrate by giving and receiving gifts, by sending Christmas cards, by calling those we love, and by worshipping with our church families.
But there are many among us who just can’t celebrate. And they probably aren’t telling you about it. They may decline invitations, bow out early, or just refuse to answer your calls. It’s not that they don’t want to be there. They really do want to be there. They just can’t.
It would be easy if they had a contagious disease, were recovering from surgery, or had a compromised immune system that prohibited them from joining in the festivities. Then you would understand. “Oh, too bad Bobby can’t be here, you know he just had that surgery, and he’s recovering in the hospital.” Everybody gets that. In fact, many of us would load up our gifts and drive over to the hospital to bring the celebration to Bobby because we love him and don’t want him to be left out.
But some people can’t celebrate and it’s because of something that you can’t see — something you may not understand.
Kay Warren, wife of well-known pastor, Rick Warren, who lost a son to suicide in 2013, recently posted on Facebook and then wrote in Christianity Today about the pain she has endured over the last two Christmases as well-meaning friends and acquaintances have sent Christmas cards filled with photos of smiling families and newsletters proclaiming all the good stuff that has happened for them over the year. She received these celebratory cards and letters and got angry. She couldn’t possibly celebrate. How could she, knowing that her son had taken his own life? Even if she believed that Jesus was born in a manger to save the world from their sins, even if she trusted Him and believed that He held her in the palm of His hand, she couldn’t possibly smile, or laugh, or rejoice.
She’s not alone, guys. While we deck the halls and kiss under the mistletoe, many around us can’t fathom the “oh what fun it is”. Not today. Not yesterday. Not Christmas Day.
They’ve lost a child. They are in the middle of a divorce. A loved one has cancer. They just lost their job and can’t pay the mortgage. Their father is on life-support. They have experienced pain that they can’t even talk about. And the idea of joining you or me in our merriment, knowing the pain that they know, is unconscionable. It just can’t be.
So they stay home, miserably wishing they could be there, wishing they could celebrate, wishing they could be part of the joy. Angry that you can be.
Moving forward, I’m going to spend less time and money getting ready for the holidays. I’m going to try to shift my focus to the here and now — to little moments that I can be with those I love — in their tears, in their laughter, in their anger. And if we get glimpses of celebration, we will seize them — we won’t wait for Christmas.
And, if they happen to come at Christmas, well then, we’ll be all the merrier.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”Matthew 5:4