I rested in my recliner, staring at the red, green, yellow, and blue lights hugging the Christmas tree. Tinsel hung like streaks of tears glistening over mismatched ornaments.
Stories hung from the limbs of our artificial fir. Some happy and some that squeezed my tender heart with memories.
This Christmas promised as much pain and joy. I mentally marked the second December we’d be missing my mom, the fourth since a proper diagnosis whisked me into a healing journey riddled with painful procedures, bouts with depression, and dimming hopes of a full recovery.
Personal experiences with emotional and physical pain heightened my awareness of and compassion for the hurting. The ministry God placed under my care trickled encouragement from my recliner to the hearts of readers. But the current flowed both ways.
As I interceded in prayer for others, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ taught me the value of being on the receiving end of God’s loving grace shared through His people.
The support didn’t take the pain away, but knowing there were others who cared and interceded on my behalf rejuvenated my weary spirit and deepened my faith.
Though the hurt, God taught me ten ways I could experience joy and peace on earth when tears blurred the sparkle of the season that brought the hope of Christ into the world.
- Snuggle up with God.
Daily time spent in God’s presence, especially drinking in the truth of His Word, helps keep our focus on who God is and what He’s capable of doing. The peace of His constant and powerful presence combats the fickleness of feelings. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to shift our attention to God and others, instead of self and shaky circumstances.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV)
- Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t do.
It’s tempting to get caught up in a whirlpool of negativity, fussing about the things we wish we could do or griping about the way we think things should be. Instead, we can ask God to give us eyes to notice the blessings we often take for granted. Better yet, we can praise Him for the things He empowers us to do and shower Him with thankfulness.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)
- Ask for intercessory prayer.
God strengthens my faith when I intercede in prayer for others. So, my heart aches when I hear people apologizing when they ask others to pray for them. Jesus, God in the flesh, asked others to pray for Him and promised to intercede for us. When we hold back personal prayer requests we’re stealing a blessing from others whose faith will be deepened as they come alongside us and watch God work in and through our lives.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18, NIV)
- Receive graciously.
Sure, it’s better to give than to receive. Let’s consider that truth the next time we decline help or don’t allow someone to give to us. Rejecting a gift can hurt the giver, especially if they feel God has led them to minister to us.
“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5, NIV)
- Give generously.
When we’re hurting, it can often feel like we have nothing left to give. But there are a few things we can give that actually fill us up during the process. Offering an encouraging word, praying for someone, or doing something simple and kind refreshes our spirit as much as it ministers to the receiver of our gift.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)
- Do things cheerfully and in love, not because of guilt, shame, or compulsion.
The holidays often come attached with invitations that feel more like obligations. Prayerfully considering our options before committing is a healthy and holy part of relationship building. It’s wise for us to be selective in choosing how to give our time, talent, and treasure. Emotionally or physically hurting people must be even more careful in decision making. We can pray for those who have a hard time receiving our no as an act of self-care instead of a personal rejection.
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)
- Be strategic when preparing for the inevitable tough moments.
When we plan for hard days, we’re less likely to be blindsided by our emotions. Considering pain on this side of eternity is temporary, we can rest in the hope of Christ’s constant presence and victory. On this side of eternity, we can consider the things that make us feel better and prioritize events that we want to participate in, planning times for rest and rejuvenation. We can surround ourselves with tools to help rekindle peace and joy that doesn’t depend on circumstances.
My survival kit includes quiet time prayerfully reading Scripture and devotions, worship music, my favorite Christmas movies or TV series on Blue-Ray, quality time with family, cuddling my pup, and friends committed to spontaneous prayer via text or phone call. Writing also helps me feel closer to God. So, finding something we enjoy can actually be a form of therapy.
“I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
- Fall apart when necessary.
When we ask God to help us trust Him completely, He teaches us to surrender to His will. In doing so, we can depend on Him to carry us when we have melt-downs. As long as we don’t camp out in The Land of Negativity, a good cry can actually lead us to raw-emotional prayers through which we can open up to God.
“In my distress, I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Psalm 18:6, NIV)
- Flash those pearly whites.
Fake smiles are not the goal here. When genuine smiles take the place of grumbling, gratitude grows. Once we get into the intentional habit of smiling, we’ll smile more often. Whether we grin a greeting or thank you, an authentic smile has the power to change someone’s day. Those smiles can lead to laughter that massages our souls with hope. And as we experience the joy of spreading joy, God can make those toothy grins and belly laughs contagious.
“I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:12b, NIV)
- Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from getting the help you need.
Though many people won’t have pain sneaking in to squelch their Christmas spirit, there are many others who need to know they are not alone or forgotten. We’ll all experience pain at one time or another in our lives and we’ll all need help. Sometimes professional help is necessary.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls who has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV)
As we learn to extend grace to ourselves and others, God reminds us He is with us. His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in our weakness. He is loving. He is faithful. He is good. He is all-knowing. And He was and is and always will be totally in control.
Lord, when physical or emotional pain tries to pummel our joyful spirit, please keep our minds anchored to Your truth, our hearts steadfast in Your love, and our lives overflowing with the evidence of Your mercy. Help us reach out to others and let them reach out to us. Please, Lord, help us draw nearer to You as we recall that You are the reason every Christmas is merry, no matter what our personal situations or feelings. In Jesus’ name, Amen