I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, yet I haven’t been able to make my words stick. I type… and then I backspace. Writing about this makes me uncomfortable. In fact, I’ve been procrastinating like no other. I have about 10 tabs open on my computer right now so I can keep clicking off my page, distracting myself, and leaving this article behind. I’ve scrapped multiple version of this post already. But I think the piece I’m about to write is so important to put out there, which is why I’m giving you my unfiltered words straight from the heart.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are supposed to be times of celebration and cheer. Except for many of us, the holidays bring up sadness, loneliness, brokenness.
A season that is meant to be merry and bright can feel so far from it.
We’re reminded of family members and friends who we have lost. We’re reminded of how much everything has changed since we’ve grown up, and not always for the better. We’re reminded of the utter imperfection of our lives as we attempt to buy the perfect gifts, to cook the perfect meals, to host the perfect parties, to score the perfect invites, to wear the perfect outfits. We’re faced with a whole lot of mess.
For years, I had an especially hard time around the holiday season. As someone who’s struggled with an eating disorder, being confronted with party after party and feast after feast proved challenging. Think about it: Most celebrations revolve around food in some way. Once I went through recovery, I wanted to make sure family and friends saw that I was doing well and that I could take good care of myself. I would put an inordinate amount of pressure on myself to minimize any sort of scrutiny around my health and my body. That meant eating the right things and wearing the right clothes. I couldn't bear the thought of others gossiping about me or questioning my choices. I couldn't look too thin, or eat too little. At the same time, I would battle the faulty idea in my head that I needed to enjoy everything in moderation and not go overboard just because it’s the holiday season.
That cycle was straight-up exhausting.
It’s not just food that made the holidays tough for me. It was seeing and thinking about the past. Coming home meant thinking about the friendships that have faded and even completely dissolved. It meant driving past the houses of the girls I’d known since age five—the same girls whose falling out with took me literally years to heal from. Coming home served as a stark memory of the person I once was. Home is where I got sick. Home is where life fell apart. Home is where everything changed.
And so for years, I stayed isolated and, even though I loved the idea of Christmas and all it stood for, I felt this nagging sadness around it all.
You may not face the same struggles and sins that I do, but chances are some part of you can relate to what I’m talking about. Maybe you lost your mom and Christmas isn’t the same without her. Maybe you come from a family of divorce. Maybe you face depression or anxiety. Maybe you deal with infertility, and you can’t seem to escape everyone’s babies and pregnancy announcements this time of year. Or maybe you’re just tired of being the only single one at your holiday parties and wondering when it’s going to happen for you. We can easily forget the reason this season is meant to be merry and bright at all.
It doesn't help that the whole world seems to be on go-go-go mode. November hits, and life suddenly feels like a whirlwind. There are happy hours and holiday parties and cookies exchanges. There's shopping, plus cleaning and cooking and traveling. The calendar fills up with event after event. The to-do list grows longer and longer. Every minute feels precious.
We want to give great gifts, ones that don't need a gift receipt because there's no way they are getting returned. We want to score invites to the best events. We want to tell people our calendars are booked and wear busyness as a badge of honor. We want to present ourselves in the best light possible because, darn it, cousin Jane needs to know that I am successful and happy and have the greatest life ever!
Before we know it, January is here, the Christmas tree has come down, and the past two and half months flew by without much thought or concern. In the end, the hustle leaves us feeling empty and lonely. It doesn’t bring joy at all.
But, praise God, the holidays don’t have to feel this way.
It’s taken me a quarter of a century to figure that out. I can finally let out a deep breath at Christmastime. The season feels different to me now. Christmas signifies hope. It means thinking about the girl I used to be and knowing I am someone else now. I have been made anew. I can come back home and think about the girl I once was and know that Jesus has redeemed her. I can drive past the houses of my former best friends and think of the good memories we had together, rather than the hurts and mistakes. I can eat extra Christmas cookies and pie and thank the Lord that I don’t pretend to not want them anymore. Home is where my heart is. I spend time with my family. I sleep in the same twin bed in the same house where I grew up, and I come downstairs on Christmas morning to the same tree I have always loved.
The past doesn’t get to haunt me anymore. My imperfections are part of what make me me. I am offered an undercurrent of joy, and all I have to do is latch onto it. Whatever we face in this season, we are given hope and peace. Our Savior is born! He's come down as a man on this earth to walk among us, to struggle with us, to face the same temptations that we do. Jesus is not just some figurehead. He is God and man, and He gets it. He's born so that one day He can die for us and bring us salvation. If that’s not cause for celebration, then I don’t know what is.
Christ's birth brings true joy into the world.
It's an overflowing kind of joy that won't ever result from a packed social calendar or expensive presents or fun vacations. It's a joy that's available no matter what else changes in our lives. If the holidays are tough for you, it's okay. As my best friend likes to say, it's okay to not be okay. Because you know what? God still accepts us, still redeems us, and still brings everlasting peace, joy, hope, and love. Remember that, and I know the holidays will feel different for you, too. He is the reason for the season. To that, I say amen.