It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so the song goes. But it can also be a time when our bruised hearts feel especially tender. On a day often filled with meaning and emotion, the question for some of us is this: How to find Christmas joy when your heart is hurting?
For me, it happens every Christmas day when I watch my three kids drive off to have Christmas dinner with their dad and his new family. Never mind that we have just enjoyed Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together. A lovely Christmas Eve church service with carols and candles. A laughter-filled Christmas morning ripping off wrapping paper and gobbling up our traditional monkey bread breakfast. These things fade and my throat tightens with tears as I walk back inside an empty house.
The feeling passes more quickly now. Not like in the early years when I felt frantic to find something to take my mind off the hours stretching out ahead of me. I’ve discovered there are things I can do to fill these hours with the joy of Christmas, even though my heart is hurting. And so can you.
Like Mary, treasure up the day in your heart.
Mary’s Christmas day was filled with a mishmash of good and bad news. The birth of her baby boy. The coming of a King, the Messiah. Good reasons to celebrate! But in the discomfort of a smelly, cold barn. Interrupted by visiting strangers bringing news that seemed to foreshadow suffering. Her day was something like ours. A mixture of bitter and sweet. What did she do? “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Follow her example and take time to examine what you are holding onto in your heart. And like Mary, trust God to help you understand as it all unfolds.
Keep things in perspective.
This is just one day. One moment in time. Let go of the significance we sometimes demand from a date on the calendar and instead make all the moments surrounding the holiday count for you and your loved ones. Christmas gifts and other traditions don’t have to happen on December 25. They can happen whenever you decide to celebrate Christmas together. Make a Christmas party on whatever day and time that works best for you. And create some new memories with your untraditional approach.
Find something to do that gets you out. Outside. Out of the moment. Out of your own head.
Sitting around alone watching Christmas movies in your pajamas, eating Christmas cookies and raiding the stockings for candy might sound like a good idea, but trust me – it’s not. At least not all day. (And yes, I AM speaking from experience!) Give yourself a minute to throw a pity party if you must, but then get moving. Go for a hike. Take a drive. Do something for yourself that you don’t normally have time to do. Or something nice for someone else who might be feeling low or lonely.
Remember why we celebrate.
If your heart is hurting this Christmas, know this: What is true on Christmas day, is true every day. God loves you!
God sent His Son into a broken world to heal us and bandage up our wounds. (Isaiah 61:1) He has come to set us free. This is the joy of Christmas. Not a holiday that looks like a Hallmark greeting card or sounds like Handel’s Messiah. But the joy of a coming Savior.
Trust Him with your hurting heart this Christmas. And His joy and peace will find you.
Merry Christmas sweet friends!