When You’re in Pain: How to Make Holidays More Joyful, Part 1
Nov 13, 2016 03:28AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Last week, I dove straight into some of the reasons my own holidays can be painful. Since I know many people struggle this time of year, I thought it might be nice to turn the pain around and find ways to make this season better.
Next week I will address holiday celebration more directly, but for now, here are some basic non-festive suggestions to ease the pain.
1. If you can be
around a pet of any kind, do it.
Seriously, pet therapy is so healing. If you have resident furballs already, you know what I’m talking about. I have two Shih Tzus who love to hang out on our laps, but during my darkest hours last winter, I enjoyed my friend’s Golden Retriever and Yellow Lab. They sensed my sadness and immediately came to me. The Golden maintained a protective stance and leaned into me the entire time. The mere weight of that was comforting and ministered to me.
Is it any wonder that animals are so good for the soul? They were created by God, and He “knows” them.
Psalm 50:10-11, ESV
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.
God uses animals to describe the coming peace that Christ (root of Jesse) will bring. Isn’t that beautiful?
Isaiah 11:6-10, ESV
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples--of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
If you are allergic to pets, try cultivating a houseplant. I was given one when my father passed, and I’ve really enjoyed taking care of it and watching it grow. My younger son and I also grow a sunflower every summer. Working the ground is always good, so planting bulbs is possible this time of year—but hurry, Baby, it’s cold outside!
2. Nature watch.
I am the last person on earth who ever wanted to be outside, stopped to notice the beautiful colors of bird feathers, or even enjoyed a hike. I’m neither athletic nor love the great outdoors.
But last year changed all that. I started sitting in my backyard and praying. I took in the scents of the pine trees (after swallowing some allergy meds). I bought seed for our bird feeder and placed it by our bay window. I marveled at dog, deer, and fox tracks in our snow accumulation.
God’s creation is healing even from a visual perspective alone. Nature teaches us about God, and in marveling over His creative works, we understand and know Him better. That always brings peace.
Job 12:7-10, ESV
"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
Task-pray? What on earth is that?
I had a hard time achieving stillness after loss. Well, actually, at first shock almost forced a slow-motion version of living. But after that, being still was more deliberate. My mind could wander to so many feelings, that to rein it in, I would incorporate prayer into several of these tasks:
- Doing a jigsaw puzzle
- Cleaning the kitchen
- Folding laundry
- Sewing or knitting
- Fixing something in the house
- Reducing clutter
- Wrapping gifts
I’m a doer by nature. Relaxing is something I tense up to do, haha. I just can’t focus on one thing at a time, and so I’ve learned some of my most focused prayer times are during other activities that I can do on autopilot.
Along these lines, while of course you are praying for your own needs, try covering the entire ACTS prayer system.
A = Adoration
Give praise to God.
C = Confession
Confess and repent.
T = Thanksgiving
Offer thanks for what He has blessed you with and done in your life.
S = Supplication
Ask for needs on behalf of yourself and others. Surrender to Him. Give Him control of your struggles, trials, and worries.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
4. Serve others.
I know when you’re in pain, there is not a lot of emotional energy to go around. I had to greatly limit emotional needs in my life at the time because of my own anxiety levels and weariness.
I found out that physical and spiritual needs were easier to meet. It was a simple task to pick up some groceries for a sick neighbor, make a meal for a new mom, bring a salad to a homeless ministry, or pray with someone who needed to be reminded of God’s goodness.
You know what happened? Not only did my focus shift away from the never-ending pit of sadness I could live in for a good long while if I wanted to, but it forced me to get out in short spurts and watch someone receive a blessing. (I’m an introvert with reclusive tendencies by nature as it is.)
If it’s easier for you emotionally not to engage in anything one-on-one at the moment, then start with a charity like Operation Christmas Child and fill a box or two with school supplies, small toys, and hygiene items for children around the world in impoverished countries. (Collection is this week, by the way!)
Proverbs 19:17, ESV
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.
And how’s this for another good reason? I want my light to rise into the darkness and my gloom to dispel. So awesome!
Isaiah 58:10, ESV
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
5. Dwell on goodness.
Okay, that sounds a bit too simplistic, doesn't it? And honestly, in the painful places, it can be very hard to do. I hear you. But I also know that when I started to ask God to open my eyes to what were blessings, answers, and small windows into His goodness all around me, He did.
I began to appreciate:
- The incredible gift of intimate friendship
- People who “hold space” for us while we heal (God’s gifts of unexpected relationships that reach into our darkness)
- Strengths (maturity points) in my kids
- Areas of provision
Little by little, I started to exchange my sackcloth for gladness.
I am watching a friend do this right now, and it’s so inspiring. She strengthens my faith as she walks her wilderness acknowledging the goodness of the LORD in the middle of it.
Psalm 27:13, KJV
[I had fainted], unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Next week we’ll look at more festive ways to approach the holidays.
I wish you the peace of Christ and the comfort and strength to endure.
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.