It’s that time of the year!
The seasonal Peppermint Mocha and the Red Holiday Cups are back at Starbucks. Christmas is quickly coming, which means Winter Break is right over the mountain of final exams and all-nighters.
This is an exciting time when everyone is experiencing Holiday Cheer… right?
Well, maybe not for everyone.
The Holiday Season can be a weird and confusing time for some of us. There’s a pressure to feel “merry”, when we actually feel stressed, anxious, and depressed. It’s a time spent with family and loved ones, but we’re painfully reminded of strained relationships from the past or that some of our loved ones aren’t here with us today. We attend holiday parties with our ugly sweaters and spend meaningful time with others, but somehow, we still have this strange feeling of loneliness.
The holidays are all about joy and hope, but sometimes it’s hard to reconcile feeling joy with how we’re really feeling at the moment. If you are struggling this season, I’m praying that the following can at least provide some sort of help to lead you to encouragement, joy, and hope:
Be real with your painMany of us do not cope with pain in a healthy or positive way. Perhaps that’s why this meme has become so popular. We find ourselves empathizing with this cartoon dog because we disregard our pain and deceive ourselves into thinking that everything’s just fine and dandy. Many of us turn to things such as junk food, Netflix, retail therapy, alcohol, or pornography to help make us feel better about ourselves and/or our problems. Although it may help us forget the pain for a little while, we’re immediately brought back to the reality that our problems still persist. This type of coping avoids addressing the real issue of directly confronting and reconciling our hidden pains.
Being real with your pain means to acknowledge and confront it. We have to learn how to grieve and mourn while seeking help from others to process our pain. Striving toward sharing your pain with people you trust and asking for their support is a great way to create a healthy environment for yourself. Expressing your pain and being raw before God through prayer allows you to meet a Father who desires to meet you where you’re at and invites you to be honest with Him.
Don’t give into self-victimization
In confronting our pain, it is very easy to fall into an unhealthy cycle of self-pity and self-victimization. This isn’t to say that your pain is illegitimate or insignificant, but that there’s a danger in overemphasizing our pain and making it the main focus.
Have you ever heard of Murphy’s Law? It’s a saying that states: “Anything that can go wrong WILL go wrong.” There was a moment in my life where I thought I was experiencing this exact phenomenon. My friends and I called it the “Season of L’s”.
During this rough season, I was going through a series of painful events. Although some of these events were a result of a myriad of poor decisions I made, I failed to take ownership of my consequences and labeled myself as the victim in every situation that went wrong in my life. This led me to believe that I was not responsible for my problems in life (lack of self-awareness), that my problems are greater than the problems of others (lack of empathy), and that things will continue to fail (lack of hope).
Here’s what I didn’t realize while I was playing the victim card:
- God was stripping away my reliance on idols
- God was training me to have a greater appetite for Him
- God has provided rich and refreshing times of prayer, deepening my relationship with Him
- God was sharpening my character
- God has surrounded me with a community of loving brothers and sisters to bear my burden and walk with me as I struggle
- God was showing me the precise type of love that I needed, not wanted
Self-victimization causes us to miss out on the evidences of grace and blessings in our lives. There’s a temptation to disregard anything that has the hint of ‘good’, when all we expect is doom and gloom.
Never give up on hope
We must learn the discipline of acknowledging our pain in a healthy way while simultaneously remaining hopeful. Overemphasizing our pain by making it the defining mark of our lives cheapens the beauty and the glory of Gospel. The Gospel shows us that God can use any type of pain for our good and that he can transform any ugly brokenness into something of beauty.
Yes, the Christian life is marked with suffering, but it is ultimately defined by hope! The Gospel points forward to a time where God will renew and restore all things (Rev. 21:5). There is future glory waiting for us, so we’re called to persevere. As Paul writes,
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18)
Whether you feel like it or not, you are not alone. The season of Advent teaches us the powerful truth of “Immanuel”, that God is WITH us. Take heart, brother/sister. God is with you in every season and chapter in life. God is so faithful, that He will never forsake you. God is so patient, that His love for you will never run out. God is so wise, that none of your pain and struggles will be wasted, but rather used to make you more Christlike for His glory.
Randy serves on Steering Core as Campus Director and is the Associate Pastor at the Exchange Church in Orange County.