When Holidays Are Painful
Nov 06, 2016 04:00AM
● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
It was a dreary, overcast day when I pulled into the parking lot at the counseling center in New Hampshire. I had made the 40-minute trip so many times before, almost on autopilot, but this time it had been about eight weeks since my last visit. I knew we were approaching November, the month that shook me down—several times in my life, actually. Around this time last year, I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life in fetal position crying out to God from under the covers; the devastation of loss and grieving without a funeral where family could gather to comfort one another almost did me in.
So I walked into the nurse’s office, sat down, and must have looked very tired. She asked me how I was and kept staring intently as if she didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well.
“It’s closing in on the first anniversary of your father’s death, you know. How are you preparing for that?”
Um, yeah, so I’m not, really. I’ve done everything I can to push it out of my head. As Thanksgiving approaches and I remember how shut out I felt this time last year from holding his hand one last time as he lost consciousness, I just want to skip past all holidays and land on January 1, 2017. (I wouldn't mind skipping Election Day either. Let’s just try again this time next year, shall we? Restart?)
You see, November and I go way back.
We got off to a good start when I started dating my husband (now of 23 years) on November 18, 1990.
Almost two decades later, circumstances derailed me. In the midst of significant depression, I almost took my own life in November 2008 while living on a remote island in the South Pacific.
In November 2013, my youngest son, then 7 years old, started spiraling into depression. We couldn’t get him out of it for months. It was as if he was locked in a cage without a key.
The weekend before Thanksgiving last year, my father received hospice care after decades of an on-again, off-again relationship with multiple cancers. His passing soon followed.
So, when the nurse at the counseling center posed that question to me, I wasn’t feeling it, ya know? I didn’t want to look ahead. I was secretly hoping we would just slip into 2017 without much drama.
“You should schedule to come in a few times over the holidays.”
Because it’s on my record, they have to keep a close eye on me ever since 2008—and I want them to. But as I was sitting there, I realized that I initially ended up in this office to help my son deal with his anxiety and depression two years back. To help me process his struggles, I started seeing my own counselor just months before Dad died. I find that so interesting: God prepared a safe, soft place for me to fall into, knowing what was ahead of me.
Did you know He does that in relationship with you? If you look back over your life, do you see it? (It may not look the same as mine does.)
Philippians 4:19, ESV, Apostle Paul speaking
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
So how does that relate to how we get through difficult holidays or seasons of life?
How will I not only live out November and December this year but actually live it well? Is joy too tall of an order?I don’t think so. I don’t have to feel it to know it’s there:
- It’s there in the sweet smile my teenage daughter cracks at breakfast because, despite sleepy attitudes, we made a connection over a silly joke, and in the world of raising teenagers, that means a lot.
- It’s there in the bounce of my resident redheaded Tigger (sometimes succumbing to more Eeyore-like behavior because of serotonin variances), who wants to be a superhero and help the underdog—even on his worst days.
- It’s there in the six-feet-tall junior in high school playing his trombone in the worship service and displaying his gentle leadership as an assistant teaching Sunday School.
- It’s there in the husband returning from travel to complete our family of five once again, all under one roof for the time being.
- It’s there in the breath in front of me, knowing I exhaled and caused a shift in the air around me—because I’m still here.
As for our suffering, Jesus felt everything we felt.
He was abandoned, mistreated, lost people He loved, saw the suffering of mankind firsthand, and knew grief and a burden so heavy that He sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And yet, at the end of the day, His cry remained:
Luke 22:42, ESV, Jesus speaking
…“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
His trust was in His Father in heaven, the giver of good things, to supply every need—even the strength to get to the cross.
Jesus still had to die on the cross. That was not taken from Him, despite His prayer.
Our holidays after a loss or trauma can be very challenging. Our love for Christ isn’t a magic wand that waves away the pain.
But He does supply every need. And we build endurance placing our hands in His hands and walking the hard path, facing the tough stuff of life.
What’s more, we can celebrate what we’ve already come through—and where it has taken us:
- HOPE: I am still walking this planet enjoying the good moments and weathering the bad. My life did not stop in November 2008.
- JOY: My son is not in a spiral. In fact, he grows in coping skills more each year. He has learned to really embrace the good days.
- PEACE: My father, though no longer with us, knows the peace of Christ and has gone on to his eternal reward.
Nothing will ever be exactly the same in a new chapter without a loved one, but it can still be hopeful, joyful, and peaceful.
To those facing the holidays when loss or trauma of any kind is still fresh, regardless of how much time has passed since your “event,” this is a new chapter. It’s okay to grieve the old one, but it’s also okay to trust God to lead you into the next one.
I’m going to make new memories this year, taking a moment to revisit our family’s loss and honor it. And yes, I’m admittedly a little afraid of the emotions that flood me at this time of year. You might be fearful of your own. But grief and struggles carry us along to the shoreline eventually, where the arms of our mighty, loving Savior are strong enough to lift us safe to shore, supplying where there is lack.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5, ESV, Apostle Paul speaking
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
Psalm 147:3, ESV, unknown psalmist
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Psalm 34:18, ESV, David singing
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.