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.