I sat with my friend at the hospital this week while her son underwent a battery of tests. Thankfully, the tests did not reveal anything life threatening, but this is not my friend’s first time in the hospital at Christmastime—over the past few years she has lost her husband, her mother, and her sister, all around the holidays. Life is full of hardship and sadness and it doesn’t take time out for Christmas. In fact, the holidays usually throw our sadness into stark relief, making this a painful time for many.
How do we deal with grief and sadness at Christmastime? How do we celebrate when we feel only pain or fear? Our emotions feel trapped in a kind of no-mans-land where neither sadness nor happiness feel at home.
And yet as Christians living in a fallen world, we can learn what Peter means by “rejoicing in suffering” (2 Cor. 6:10).
These are, as Tim Keller points out, “two present tenses:”
Peter does not pit these things against each other. He does not say that we can either rejoice in Christ or wail and cry out in pain, but that we can do both. No, not only can we do both, we must do both if we are to grow through our suffering rather than be wrecked by it.
To ‘rejoice’ in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what he has done for us. Sometimes our emotions respond and follow when we do this, and sometimes they do not. But therefore we must not define rejoicing as something that precludes feelings of grief, or doubt, weakness, and pain. Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.
Rejoicing at Christmastime is not to deny the pain we feel, but to choose to remember, in the midst of the pain, what Christ has done for us. God sent his son into a pain-filled world to redeem us from our sins.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them a light has shone…
For unto us a child is born,
To us a son is given…”
(Isaiah 9:2, 6)
Amidst the revelry of the season, we may be full of sorrow; and within our sorrow, we can rejoice.
“What God did when he sent his Son into the world is an absolute guarantee that he will do everything he has ever promised to do. Look at it in a personal sense: ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’—that is a promise—‘to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Rom. 8:28, KJV). ‘But how can I know that is true for me?’ asks someone. The answer is the incarnation. God has given the final proof that all his promises are sure, that he is faithful to everything he has ever said. So that promise is sure for you. Whatever your state or condition may be, whatever may happen to you, he has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ (Heb. 13:5, KJV)—and he will not. He has said so, and we have absolute proof that he fulfills his promises. He does not always do it immediately in the way that we think. No, no! But he does it! And he will never fail to do it.” ~Martyn Lloyd-Jones
It wasn’t until after dinner on December 1 that I finally went out to the garage in search of our large, wooden, Advent calendar. All I found was an old, used, cardboard calendar. My search for the traditional Advent candles was equally fruitless, so I grabbed a small, misshapen candle from my bedroom dresser. Let the Advent season begin.
As if the holidays aren’t crazy enough, this year my husband and I are fixing up an old farmhouse and moving in (God-willing) by the middle of December. Right now, we are living in between two houses, making packing lists, carpenter checklists, and Christmas lists all at the same time. Which is why I can’t find my Advent stuff, or anything else for that matter.
You don’t have to be moving to feel like the pressure of the holidays is putting the squeeze on your emotions. We all want to experience the peace and joy of this time of year, but things are so busy. And the busier we get, the more anxious and stressed we feel.
“Your life is so intense right now” my mom sympathized “and that’s just reality. The work isn’t going away. You are, as Paul describes the married woman in 1 Corinthians 7, ‘anxious about worldly things’ (v. 37).”
Then she asked me this question:
“How can you simplify your day so that you can carve out a couple of minutes to contemplate the incarnation?”
Each day, as you make your to-do list, ask yourself this question. What is one task you can eliminate or one tradition you can simplify? How can you turn that extra five minutes or half an hour into time well-spent, focusing on the truth of Immanuel, God with us.
“This is what will make you happy,” Mom reminded me, “contemplating the good news of the gospel.”
She followed her advice with this thought from Martin Luther:
“We must both read and meditate upon the nativity….There is such richness and goodness in this nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy.”
The other night, after I had collected our rather pathetic Advent supplies, we gathered our children around the table, turned off the lights (hiding all the dirt and boxes), and lit our solitary candle. Everyone was quiet as my husband helped our youngest, Sophie, read from Luke 2:11:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
One simple verse, packed with richness and goodness. One tired mom, dissolved in perpetual joy.
2014 at 10:13 am | by Janelle Bradshaw
The Cyber Monday sale is happening today over at the 52home store! Take 20% off all 52home prints, posters, and products and our most popular wood signs. Just enter the code “Christmas20” at checkout. The sale ends tonight at midnight.
2014 at 5:09 pm | by Janelle Bradshaw
The 52home store will be having its annual Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales this weekend.
On Black Friday we’re offering a sale on the 52home calendars. For every calendar you buy, you get the second one 50% off. The sale begins at midnight on November 27th and ends at midnight on November 28th.
On Cyber Monday we are offering 20% off on all 52home products and our most popular wood signs. That sale begins at midnight on November 30th and ends at midnight on December 1st.
Give friends and family the gift of 52home this year!
The small town in Kentucky where we live grew up about 150 years ago around a train station. Trains still rumble through all day, to the delight of my children who try to count the cars and guess what’s inside.
The other night, though, we came upon an ugly scene. The train had collided with a huge white semi, which lay twisted on the track, illuminated by the glow of emergency vehicles. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was a dramatic sight.
For some of us, this is where our emotions are headed this Thanksgiving. We are a train wreck waiting to happen.
Maybe we sense a crash ahead. Things haven’t been great with the family lately and a holiday conflict is in the offing. Or we are tense and irritable, unhappy about a lot of things in our life: we’re speeding into the holiday with no emotional brakes.
But maybe we’re totally unaware a semi is ahead on the tracks. We’re happy because the Thanksgiving table will be full this year. We’re energized by all the dinner preparations.
All of us, the excited and the anxious, must consider the source of our emotions this Thanksgiving. Can our happiness be taken away if things suddenly go wrong this Thursday? Is a peaceful holiday or some change of circumstances the only thing that will make us happy?
Tim Keller has a few words of wisdom for the holiday:
Most contemporary people base their inner life on their outward circumstances. Their inner peace is based on other people’s valuation of them, and on their social status, prosperity, and performance. Christians do this as much as anyone. Paul is teaching that (in Eph. 1:15-19 and especially verse 17), for believers, it should be the other way around. Otherwise we will be whiplashed by how things are going in the world.
If our holiday happiness is dependent on what the people we spend Thanksgiving with think about us, or how our children behave, or whether the gravy thickens, we’re headed for an emotional crash. We’ll get whiplashed by how things go.
But Paul wrote in Philippians (4:10-13), that he had learned to avoid such collisions. He had learned the secret to being content (happy!) whatever the circumstances. The strength of his joy was in his Savior.
If we set our joy in God at the beginning of this week, our happiness will be unassailable. It won’t be ruffled by a family member’s put-down or burnt with the rolls.
You know what? We do not need the approval of our family or success in our job or a feeling of significance. We don’t even need to have a conflict-free holiday in order to be happy. Our happiness can really be, as we’ve quoted often here at girltalk, “out of the reach” of all these things. That’s because for those of us who are Christians, our joy is safely and securely in Jesus Christ.
When you can honestly say, “My worst fears about this holiday may come true, or it may be the best holiday ever, but either way, I know I will be happy this Thanksgiving” you know you’ve discovered Paul’s secret. Here’s praying we all will find it.