I have always loved the Christmas season and the many traditions that surround it. It’s a time of year that has always brought a familiar joy and excitement as we set up the tree, decorate the house, search for the perfect gifts, and spend time with family. This year, however, Christmas just isn’t the same. With the combination of chronic illness rearing it’s ugly head, the sudden increase in ankle pain which is knocking me off my feet when I need to be mobile, and one of the most painful situations we’ve had to walk through as a family, the Christmas season seems to be heightening what we’ve lost and dulling the usual luster of the season. While we have so much to be thankful for, the burdens on our family have greatly impacted Christmas as we have always known it.
I know that I’m not alone in this struggle as I think of family and friends who are either grieving the fresh loss of a loved one this year, being weighed down by a recent diagnoses, navigating strained relationships, facing difficult decisions, or struggling to make ends meet.
How then do we navigate the Christmas season when it seems more of a reminder of what we’ve lost than it is of celebrations, traditions, gift giving, and memorable family time?
As I’ve been reflecting on and navigating my own struggle with loss this Christmas, the Holy Spirit has been helping me see that Christmas is a season to rejoice, even when it hurts. If you or someone you care about is feeling a heightened sense of loss this season, I’d like to share two thoughts that I hope will encourage you.
Christ was born to redeem what was lost.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9
Jesus Christ left the comforts of heaven and willingly came into a world filled with loss to make a way for us to be forgiven and freed from the painful effects of sin and a fallen world, and one day bring us into his eternal home. His birth, which eventually ushered in his death and resurrection, is a reminder that we have a Savior who knows what it’s like to experience deep loss and pain. And yet, because of his unconditional love for us, he came into this world anyway. If we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, then we can grieve our losses with the confidence that they are only temporary. Whatever sadness or grief this Christmas may stir up in us, we are no longer hopeless. We may feel hopeless in a worldly sense, but for the believer, that should only magnify God’s promise to redeem all that has been lost or broken.
Lord willing, my family will not be under this seemingly never-ending weight of sorrow and struggle. However, the pain that we have endured and the scars that have been left may not be restored or healed this side of heaven. Some who are reading this will not see their loved one again in this lifetime, others may never be the same after an illness or accident has left them with a weak and broken body.
So while this holiday season may be a stark reminder of what we’ve lost, it can also be a season that heightens our gratitude for our redemption and the eternal hope that Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection has ushered in for us. He became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich. Though the pain of earthly loss may still remain, we can find joy in celebrating the truth that, because of Christ, we have the hope and promise of healed wounds and eternal gain.
Our sense of loss can cause us to refocus our eyes back on Christ as the center of Christmas.
“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:10-14
Not long ago, I heard a television interviewer ask people walking by if they knew whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. I was saddened and shocked by the amount of adults and children who had no idea that Christmas was the celebration of Christ’s birth. While that may be an obvious answer to you and me, I wonder how often we celebrate the Christmas season in a way that reflects that truth. Even as Christians, it can be easy to be distracted by the activities, gifts, traditions, parties, and busyness of the Christmas season. While many of those things aren’t necessarily bad things, they can become so distracting that Christ becomes nothing more than a secondary thought.
For me, I have always enjoyed giving Christmas gifts to my family and friends, going to lights festivals, and enjoying fun family traditions. While we are still able to find some creative ways to do a lesser degree of those things, much of it has heightened the reality of the struggles we face and the losses we feel. However, as hard as that’s been, good has come from it as it’s forced us to simplify our lives and re-evaluate where we are seeking our joy. Since many days are so consumed with my lack of energy and bodily discomfort, along with often trying to comfort and help my children who are working through adult-sized challenges, the things that used to feel so important during Christmas – just don’t feel so important anymore. Though the tears come often and some days I have to fight for joy with everything I have, it’s encouraged us to place our focus genuinely on the joy of celebrating the life of Christ and thanking him for the many blessings that we have but often take for granted. Though this season has been painful, it has taught me that if we never felt the true pain of loss in this world, we would never fully understand the immeasurable gain of Christ.
It’s not easy to experience loss, especially during the holidays. However, if it encourages us to place our hope more firmly in what is lasting, rather than what is temporary and fading – then we have reason to celebrate God’s grace and goodness in our life this season.
Friend, if you find yourself with a fresh wound this Christmas and are struggling with the pain of loss, I pray that Christ will help you truthfully acknowledge the heartache and pain while giving you eyes to see His sweet blessings of grace amidst it. Though the pain and loss might remain, I hope that the joy of Christ’s presence will give you a true reason to celebrate the birth of our Savior this season.
To read more on the hope we have in suffering, you can purchase “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here. Or Jeff and Sarah Walton’s marriage book, Together Through the Storms – Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts.