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Blue Christmas (What to Do When the Holidays Hurt)

‘Tis the season …

For many people, these are days of magic and wonder, a time when hope rises and peace falls and where miracles begin to feel commonplace. They are moments of joyous reunions and fierce embraces and boisterous laughter and crowded tables, all accompanied by waves of easy gratitude. Christmas is, for lots of folks, a time when Goodness has the run of the house in their hearts. To them, it is sweet and possible and glittering with promise.

But you are not one of those people, and that’s what makes this season so much more difficult to endure. Your days are not merry and bright, in a time when the rest of the world’s seem to be, and so the normal cavern between you and everyone around you feels wider than usual, the isolation more severe, the disconnect greater. You seem to find estrangement everywhere you look.

Christmas is here—and Christmas hurts.

Maybe it’s because of the chairs that will be empty or the calls that won’t come or the welcome you won’t receive. Maybe it’s the way the sentimental songs amplify your loneliness or the way the picture-perfect images of blissful homes prick your tender insides or the way your shrinking family gatherings highlight the attrition you’ve experienced. It might be the effect the shorter, colder, darker days have on your fragile emotional equilibrium. Whatever the reason, a heavy yuletide melancholy has taken hold and you don’t know how to snap out of it.


For many of us, depression, grief and sadness hover in the background on even the most ordinary of days and we get used to battling to keep them all at bay on a regular basis. But there’s nothing quite like the holiday season to ratchet up the pressure we feel, not only to have it all together, but to wrap it in lights and tinsel and broadcast it in a heavily filtered Instagram pic. We feel more compelled than ever to feel good, and more guilty than ever to admit that we don’t.

Christmas lulls us into a parade of false comparisons. We find ourselves looking at other people’s lives from afar and using them to measure our own from up close; whether the lights on our houses or the trees adorning our living rooms, or our bank accounts or marriages or bodies or careers or families. Viewing others in the soft, flattering glow that distance yields while seeing ourselves in the raking light of close proximity means we always come up short—we always feel lacking and less than.

If you happen to be hurting this holiday season …

Let it hurt. Make peace with your pain and allow it to come fully without alteration. Life is difficult and you aren’t OK, and you shouldn’t waste precious energy and time trying to pretend this isn’t so. Let grief and sadness do the necessary, invasive work in you that they need to do. There’s no defeat in feeling defeated right now.

Don’t hide it. Give people close to you the most authentic version of yourself you are able to give. Those deserving of you will not be pushed away by your woundedness or intimidated by your honesty. Allow people who love you to bear your burdens and sit in solidarity with you. Let them see you, not some sanitized, edited version you think they can handle.

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I am a father of two, (Noah and Selah), and husband of one (Jennifer); a 17-year ministry veteran, specializing in rabble-rousing, engineering mayhem, and generally trying to live-out the red letters of Jesus.