Monday, December 1, 2014

The Holidays - A Magnifying Glass for Our Lives

Little pitchers have big ears. That’s a picturesque way of describing children. I was one of them. As December rolled on toward the Christmas season and gatherings of family and friends multiplied, I noticed that one or another of my relatives or family friends was a little distracted or hung around the edges of the conversation or just didn’t seem to be into the season. I would hear one adult whisper to another about the disengaged person: holiday blues. They would nod at each other knowingly and be sure to give the person with the holiday blues enough space.

The holidays are a magnifying glass for our wants, needs and losses: We want everyone home for the holidays, more money for gifts, reconciliation with someone. Maybe we want separation from someone or something. We might need a job, better employment, someone special to love us just for ourselves, a real home. And then there are the losses: our own health or that of a loved one, rejection of our talents, the mixed blessing of retirement. Maybe we feel the loss of  self worth when we stay in a relationship that doesn’t bring life. The remembered loss of innocence is a subtle emotion that may grab us at holiday time, the innocence lost when people, indeed the world at large, was not as accepting, loving, honest as we wanted  it to be.

Finally in this short but potent  list, the death of a loved one is particularly poignant at holiday time. Recent death is freshly on our mind, but not surprisingly, the memory of long-ago deaths sometimes come back with force. Maybe we just plain miss these departed people. But we may also be angry because they left us, angry that we are alone. Maybe someone died and we hadn’t forgiven then or them us. The opportunity is gone.

So many of these situations  are beyond our control. The Christmas music plays endlessly, Santa appears on every corner. How do we cope? Some thoughts:

  • Be adult in choosing how to cope and the follow through. Hints for coping are abundant, in lectures, magazines, sermons and in social media. Decide what you need to do, and if you need help, ask for it.

  • Remember that an emotion is an emotion, which we cannot regulate by wishing it away. Recognize what is honest and true. Don’t deny the holiday blues, but don’t let them chew you up.

  • Hold fast to the realization that God is present in our experiences of pain/loss/fleeting or entrenched misery.

                I am with you always.(Matthew 28.20)

                Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God. Trust in me. (John 14.27)

Even when we are unaware of this truth, our God is with us, above us, behind, us, beneath us, embracing  us, in the person next to us.

                I have called you by your name. You are mine.  (Isaiah 43.1)

How could  God who calls us by name, a God to whom we belong ever leave us to our misery?

“I can’t hear God,” we may complain. But don’t mix up the apparent silence of God with the absence of God. Our God knows our needs, but doesn’t miraculously intervene when the ordinary choices people make or the ordinary course of life takes us where we don’t want to go.

If this sounds familiar, we have only to remember Holy Week, the passion of Jesus on Good Friday and the ecstatic joy of Easter. Christmas, in mysterious ways, is the beginning of Holy Week and Easter. These events in the life of Jesus, our Brother and  Lord , are events in our life as well. We carry them within us. With our God, all the pieces fit together.

  • Finally, accept and enjoy the way life is for you at the moment, and not the way media portrays some other culturally desired way. The food won’t be perfect, the decorations won’t dazzle visitors. Not everyone you want will be at the table. Whose expectations should be important anyway?

No neat answer will dissolve the holiday blues. But our God brings comfort, if we only allow it.
~Joan Sobala, SSJ