To Those Who Are Joyful This Christmas




I have found my Christmas joy again this season.

I haven't shared much about it here, but a few years back I struggled with a bit of postpartum depression.  I always say "a bit", "a little", because it didn't feel severe enough to say it without a qualifier.  I never felt suicidal, or like I wanted to hurt my baby.  I didn't stay in bed all day.  I just cried a lot, and struggled with my purpose, and felt like I was viewing my life through a bubble, without being able to feel enough of the joy.  And I just teared up writing that sentence.  It was just "a little", but it was still devastating in it's own way.

I think my struggle manifested itself most at Christmastime.  For a couple years there, when I was going into depression and coming out of it, Christmas was just about the motions.  I tried to listen to the music in church, to let the preaching reach my heart, to meditate on Christ and what He did by coming to save us.  I tried to conjure up an emotion.  But I was mostly just stressed and waiting for Christmas to be over so I wouldn't feel so behind on my to-do list.  So I wouldn't feel the pressure to feel joyful when I couldn't.

It's been a relief to find that I've finally come fully out of that.  That I can enjoy the beauty and joys of Christmas without the same kind of stress and heaviness pulling me down.

I share all this I suppose just to say that Christmas time isn't always filled with joy for everyone.  And I know people who say that seem like they are being killjoys (quite literally), but I have a point here, just hang in there with me.

The other day I stumbled across a Bible verse while I was looking for something else, but it stopped me in my tracks.  This is the verse:

"Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather, and like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart."  
Proverbs 25:20

I think we can all testify to the truth of this from personal experience.  But I think this verse really stood out to me this time because I've seen this very situation happen recently, right in front of me.  It's a little different seeing it as more an observer than a participant, and I think it grieves me more.  When you are the one with the heavy heart you are absorbed in the emotion, but when you observe this happening more on the outside of yourself, you see the damage.  And it feels like there is nothing you can personally do about it.

But maybe there is.



Today I was driving in the car, listening to a radio program, and I was reminded of that old song.  It's mournful notes are playing in my head now.  "They will know we are Christians by our love..."

I went home and looked up 1 John and read a couple chapters.  The lyrics above aren't actually in the Bible, but there is plenty about loving one another.  The closest verse to that song is when Jesus tells His disciples that "By this everyone you will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another." (John 13:35)

First John expands on the idea of loving each other:

"My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in action and in truth." 
1 John 3:19

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another."  
1 John 4:7-11

I think it's easy to miss that fact that all this talk about love is specifically talking to us as Christians to love our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ.

This stood out to me more this time I read it, I think because we are currently going through a difficult situation at church that is painful in a lot of different ways.  I think in Christian circles today there is a lot of emphasis on loving non-believers, but on the whole I haven't seen as much emphasis on loving the church.  On loving the people in the church.

The thing is, it's a little easier to love people in the world sometimes, trying to point them to Christ (though too often through mere action, without the necessary accompanying words).  And we pat ourselves on the back for following Christ's command to "love one another".

But if we aren't showing that same love to people in our church, we are missing the whole point.  In the context of these passages, that is what we are being told to do.  To not just love the world, but love each other, love our fellow believers.  That's how Christ says they will know we are His disciples.  If we love our fellow believers.

So how are we supposed to do that, specifically this Christmas, when pain feels like it has to be hidden, and maybe those who are joyful have unintentional blinders amidst all the merriment?

1. You have to be in a church, or some gathering of believers.  Preferably a church though.  That's what the church is supposed to be for, for believers to come together to lift each other up, challenge each other to press on, to encourage one another, to care for each other's needs.  You can't do that as well if you aren't gathering regularly with fellow believers.

2.  Stop plastering on a smile.  We don't gather together on Sunday mornings to pretend we are all perfect and joyful and nothing is ever wrong.  We are sinful humans.  We still struggle with sin as believers.  Life is still hard.  We are still going to go through difficult times.  Jesus promised us trouble while we are here (John 16:33).  We still hurt.  We still hurt each other.  It's okay to show you are hurting or need help, so someone else can lift you up.

3.  Take the blinders off.  Maybe we all hide our hurt or stress so much because we've too often had our pain or grief ignored.  If you are blessed enough to not be currently struggling, maybe keep your eye out for someone who is.

4.  Don't sing songs to a heavy heart.  I think this is about paying attention to other's struggles instead of just our own situation.  There are usually little clues if you pay attention, little signals that maybe not everything is well in someone's life.  Often we don't even respond right when our brother's or sister's pain or hardship is glaringly obvious.  But that's a big reason why we are supposed to be gathering together in the first place.  To take care of one another, and lift each other up.  Singing songs to a heavy heart is not the way to lift each other up (it says so right there, in the verse I shared at the beginning).

5.  Practically - just reach out.  I think at this time of year, it's too easy to just ignore the pain of others, inside and outside the church.  There is merriment to be had, after all!  But I think in doing that, we miss the whole point of Christmas.  We are celebrating, after all, how God Himself reached down to rescue us from the death and judgement we deserve because of our sin.  He sent His Son to be the sacrifice, to pay the penalty for our sin, to give eternal life to those who believe in Him!  We ought to be reaching out to offer that hope to those outside the church, and comfort and help to those inside the church.

6. Share in someone's pain.  We are all really good at rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly), but I think mourning with those who mourn is even more important.  You can be happy by yourself and be just fine, but mourning by yourself is a terrible burden.  And maybe we reflect the truth of Christmas best when we are willing to reach a hand down to someone else.  Not just in generic, good-deed, pat-yourself-on-the-back ways, but with a heart to share in someone's pain.  It's harder to do that.  It costs more to feel someone's pain with them.  But it's also the way we can maybe lift them a little bit out of it.

The main point is: if you are rejoicing this Christmas, don't forget those who are mourning, even (or especially) those in the church - and take a little time to reach out to them with the love of Christ.  I think that is one of the best ways we could celebrate Christmas.

Have you ever had a Christmas where it was hard to feel joy?

I hope and pray that someone in the body of Christ reached out to you when you needed it.

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