"I'll be home for Christmas...you can count on me..."
The first line of the familiar tune wasn't even finished and the tears had sprung, unbidden. I reached over and pushed the skip button.
I just can't. Not today.
After years of pining to have a Christmas in America with family, we were finally here and able to do just that. So why was it still so hard?
Maybe it was to do with the fact that we were in the middle of major life upheaval and had no real "home" to call our own.
Maybe it was to do with the fact that I was tired and worn before the Christmas season had even begun.
I think, rather, it was more to do with the fact that my beloved father-in-law wasn't here to celebrate with us. He passed a year ago, right before Christmas day, and this is the first year we are doing this all without his booming voice and infectious laughter rattling through the house.
Maybe for you the source of hurt is different. Maybe you just got a phone call from the doctor with the diagnosis - and it's the one you feared.
Maybe the layoffs came at exactly the wrong time.
Maybe, like my family, you've lost a beloved family member and it's hard to see how things will ever be the same; ever feel normal. You wonder if you'll ever feel like celebrating again.
The twinkling lights and jingle bell songs that once brought such joy and contentment to your heart now bring sadness and pain; reminders that Christmas this year just...hurts.
Last year I spent the holiday season alone with our three children in our apartment in Vienna while my husband was with his father here in America.
That Christmas was hard.
My gut instinct - and complete preference - was to stay in bed, hide from the world, and pretend like Christmas didn't even exist. Yet, I had three young, sparkling sets of eyes looking at me. Three precious kids to whom Christmas was still magical; who still needed Christmas to be joyful and reflective and special and sweet.
If you're here, reading articles on The Better Mom, I assume you're in that same boat.
So, what do we do when Christmas is hard but we need Christmas to matter?
1. Recognize the pain, and lay it at Christ's feet. The Lord is near the brokenhearted, and he cares about your heart. Come to Him openly and honestly, laying every hurt and concern before Him no matter how small it may seem. Spend time letting Him love on you and speak goodness over you. Be as tender with yourself as He is with you.
2. Decide what your non-negotiables are, and let the rest go. Do you make special cookies every year with your kids, and its your favorite part of the season? Say yes to it. Make fudge for your neighbors and the thought of it this year makes you want to crawl in a hole and cry? Let it go. What are the things you really want to hold on to and experience with your family this year? Write them down and make a plan to get them done. The rest? Free yourself to say no. The world won't end and there will be other Christmases with which you can go nuts and do all the things.
3. Let your kids talk about it if they need/want to. It can be tempting to brush it all under the rug and act as though nothing is wrong or different. After all, if my kids aren't thinking about it already, I certainly don't want to put the idea into their minds! However, if your kids are like mine, chances are they are thinking about it. So, if and when they bring it up, try not to change the subject or gloss over whatever hurt or confusion they may be feeling. Give them the freedom, and safe place, to talk through their own feelings.
4. Fake it Till You Make It. Once you've laid your pain at His feet, sometimes we need to just leave it there and let ourselves - and our families - have a little fun. We don't want to ignore the issues or live in denial, but for the sake of our kids (and ourselves!) we need to show them that we can have joy because of what Christ has done for us, despite our circumstances. So, sing the silly Christmas songs, light the candles, sit in the glow of the tree lights and marvel at the wonder of it all. You may just find that your heart begins to follow your actions.
Is Christmas hard for you, my friend? Let us lift you up and you lift your cares to the Father.
Have you been in that painful place but are now on the other side of it? What things helped you when the holidays were hard?