For Those Who Hurt at Christmastime

Every year, at around this time, I post a message very similar to this one.  I just have a sense that it’s a message worth repeating.

angelThe  Christmas holiday season is certainly an exciting time. Shopping, baking, decorating, parties, and visiting are just some of the things that many of us enjoy this time of year.  But, there are many – very many – who cannot avoid a deeply seeded pain that this season brings to them.  If you are numbered among those who hurt this time of year, than the thoughts that follow are for you.

There are many reasons why Christmas stirs up pain.  For some it is a subtle reminder that things are no longer what they used to be. We remember the days of our youth, and long for that simpler time when Christmas was pure, joyful, and unhurried.  As the season approaches we feel the tug at our heart telling us that yesterday is behind us; never to be re-lived. Therefore, Christmas can bring a sadness to our hearts.

For others, it isn’t just a subtle ache – it’s a painful jab – a soul-felt burden in the pit of our stomach that turns over with each decoration we hang, song we hear, and evergreen we smell.  The pain may come for different reasons.  For some, the pain is there because they cannot be home and surrounded by their loved ones.  They long to feel the connection that comes from being gathered with those they love the most – but they simply cannot.  Instead, they celebrate the best they can from afar – and it hurts.

Others still feel the pang of Christmas because we would love to give more, or do more for family and friends. But our circumstances simply won’t permit such luxuries.  We feel trapped by life; trapped by circumstances.  We feel so woefully and overwhelmingly trapped that Christmas brings anxiety.  We see those in need around us and we feel unable to respond; unable to give; unable to provide – and it hurts.

For others the hurt comes because Christmas reminds them of the loss of close friends and family.  Perhaps this is the first Christmas they will celebrate without someone very special at the table beside them.  Someone dear to them as departed this life, and now Christmas brings a solemn reminder of a hollowness that they are trying to deal with.  Or, perhaps it has been many years since they’ve seen them – but the reminders just won’t go away. They miss someone so badly – and this time of year stirs that hurt, which always lies just beneath the surface.

Still, for others Christmas simply stands as a sign post telling them that their life is not picture perfect. They open greeting card after greeting card and stare at the soft images of a baby lamb, a silent star, or softly falling snow, and are reminded that their own lives bear little resemblance to these perfect images.  Instead, their lives are wrecked and hurting.  Their homes are divided, loud, and chaotic.  Their families are dysfunctional, and their relationships are difficult.  If they are brutally honest, they feel anger – maybe even hatred – over these Christmas cards because they project a scenario that is anything but reality.  Then, they feel tremendous guilt for hating a Christmas card sent innocently by a friend. And it just adds to the hurt.

Christmas, therefore, can become a real battleground for those whose lives are less than perfect; less than whole; less than normal. And it hurts.

Am I writing to make everyone feel depressed? Absolutely not. Instead, I am first trying to give voice to the many thoughts that I know people have – because I have had them too.  Finding your own voice being echoed in the words of someone else can be very, very therapeutic.  But, second to that – and more importantly – I am writing to remind you of the hope that Christmas also brings.

Think of that first Christmas night.  Joseph and Mary were forced to make an arduous trip that must have been made even more difficult during the final stages of her pregnancy.  Instead of celebrating the birth of their baby while in the comforts of home, they celebrated while on the road – away from everyone. To make matters worse, they weren’t even in a home – or an inn. The best Joseph could do was to get them a barn – probably not much more than a cave cut out of a hillside.  What kind of provider was Joseph turning out to be?  He couldn’t even provide the barest of necessities for his tiny family on Christmas.  The whole journey must have been fraught with pain, danger, trials, and hardships.

Some Christmas that was turning out to be.

And when the baby was born, there was not even a cradle to lay him.  Instead, Mary had to place him in a feeding trough, where animals – both clean and unclean – came to feed.  As a mother she must have felt pitifully inadequate.  It was anything but a “merry Christmas.”

And who comes that night to celebrate with them?  Were they joined by Bethlehem’s finest? Did the town’s mayor stop by to kiss the Child? Did the town even know it at all?  No, instead some smelly, no-named sheepherders who literally lived in the fields with their charges came stumbling in that night. We know of no gift that they brought, nor would we expect such poor men to be able to offer any help at all.  They burst in and left as suddenly.

And this is how the first Christmas came and went.  Quite unimpressive.  In some ways it was hardly memorable.  It was crazy. It was all mixed up.  In some ways it was pretty dysfunctional.

About 30 years later, as Jesus began His ministry, he announced that He had come “to preach the gospel to the poor … to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.”

It seems Jesus never strayed too far from His roots. He came into this world through a poor, broken family, and never raised His sights higher in terms of whom He cared most about. In fact, He declared that He had come specifically to “heal the brokenhearted” and preach “to the poor.” That was His very purpose.  Those were His people.

So, if you view Christmas as a time of pain and loss, then you are precisely the person to whom Jesus has come. If you are suffering loss at Christmas, then Jesus aches with you.  If you are brokenhearted, then you are in the best possible place to experience a God who rushes to the downtrodden and embraces the hurting.

He has you in mind.

He has a lot in common with you.

His hearts also breaks.

He hears you.

He knows the hurt.

He knows the loss.

Christmas doesn’t come to those who have it altogether. Oh, they may celebrate it, but it isn’t for them.  Instead, Christmas comes to those who are losing – to those who are struggling – to the poor – to the brokenhearted – to those separated by the rough hands of life.

If this is you, then rejoice. You are in the best place possible to encounter Jesus.

Peace,

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.

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