With everyone so filled with “cheer” at this time of year, we might feel left out or just completely wrong to cry once in a while. One of my previous blogs was about consuming a holiday diet of goodness, so I do understand the spirit of the season and the need to be positive so as to be joy-filled.
Yet, also at holiday time is sometimes a feeling of melancholy or hint of sadness. Some of us might wish to retreat from some or all of the festive activities.Some people become depressed, and I encourage those who feel very low to seek or continue to work with their medical team. Some people are mourning losses at this time, perhaps for the first holiday season without the beloved spouse, child, friend or other loved one.
I also want to say to those who mourn, are sorrowful remembering Christmases past, or who will be separated from loved ones for the holidays – to each of you, know that you are not truly alone. There are others, too, who share sadness, an experience of loss. And in those times when you feel most alone, it might help to think of them, too, and pray that your heart reach out to them through faith in Our Lord. It might also help to know that, as I probably will at least once between now and the beginning of the New Year, it is all right to cry.
Crying can be physically and spiritually cleansing, releasing the sorrow and loss that we feel so that it does not fester inside. It can leave in its wake a place for us to rebuild and see the treasure that our loved one remains in our heart. It can be a way for us to move, clear-eyed, ahead. And it can be a way to share grieving with others who also mourn.
I have lost many loved ones in my life, and this year saw the loss of more. Many things remind me of my dear brother, other family members, and friends. Song can especially evoke their memories and make me, for a time, sad. At such times, I remind myself of what I’m saying here: It’s all right to cry. Our emotions are as varied as the snowflakes that fall in winter, and when expressed healthfully, they allow us to feel and heal, to mark and move on.
Yes, we might cry at the holidays. But in faith, we know we will not mourn forever, nor do we need to linger on sadness. For God’s love is more powerful than anything that can bring us down. As we dry our tears and look to the manger, we see again that love, and its light brings comfort.
I confess that I really like to watch good holiday movies. They might be “sappy” and they might be oldies during which I could recite upcoming scenes, lines, and action points. But, no matter. They “feel good,” especially when I’m “feeling bad.” And they serve an even more important purpose: They put me on a holiday diet of goodness that feeds my heart, soul, and need for keeping stress at bay.
During this busy time, it’s so easy to have negative influences and stresses ooze into our spirits. Thoughts like, “I’ll never get everything done,” “I’ll probably get sick just in time for the big family meal,” or “I’m going to be over-tired, over-spent, and over-done.” External influences such as, “Better move quickly or you’ll miss out on all the fun-sales-opportunities-church parking spaces!” “The world is completely messed up, and no Christmas cheer can fix it,” or “There’s no room at the ‘inn’ for someone who’s really sick.”
Yes, these and other stressors can really weigh us down. But a holiday diet of goodness can lift us up. Oh, it doesn’t have to be a movie. It can be anything that is truly, health-fully good for you. And it can also be us doing good for others. Wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas,” is a great start, but even a warm smile will do. Just as long as it’s nourishing for the soul and a child-like delight for the heart.
Just as long as it’s good, like the baby Jesus in the manger, the wisemen on the journey, the shepherds in the fields.
Just as long as it’s as good as Christmas itself.
Isn’t that something we could all use more of?
When I’m having a really bad day and the pain won’t let up, I appreciate those doors that open. Perhaps I’ll hear from a reader, whose wisdom inspires me to think beyond my own suffering. Or, I’ll spend time in prayer and new insight will gently rest on my heart. Or, maybe the door opening will be as simple as the realization that, when I wasn’t thinking about it, the flare began to lift, the pain lessen.
Open doors can signify new beginnings or a continuation of a profound and wonderful journey. They might lead to something or someone challenging, or the comfort that we need just at the right time. And when we open the door of our heart, when we sit and invite the Spirit to move within us, inviting God’s love ever deeper inside us, we experience ever more grace-filled faith and steely strength that we can turn to the people and things in our life that need our support and encouragement. An open door brings new air, new breath into our lives, renewing and rejuvenating us.
This year, next week, another door will open. I took the picture accompanying this blog post when I was in Washington D.C. for the papal visit. It shows the Jubilee Door at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It’s a beautiful door, decorated with the flourish of faith, but it was closed. As I stood before it, I felt a sense of stuffiness, of stagnant air in the “before opening” of that door. But I can imagine that, when it opens, fresh air and light will pour through it. Just like what happens with us, when we open the door of our heart to God in fresh supplication, attention, and mercy.
I realize not all those who ready my blog will observe Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas. But if you celebration Christmas, then even without Advent, those weeks between Thanksgiving and December 25 can be full of lots of extra ctivity. And with that activity can come some pitfalls that can seriously derail the Season’s joy.
One of the most obvious pitfalls is being too busy. Yes, there’s finite time for infinite activity – but that’s not the point. The point of Advent and non-Advent-but-still-weeks-before-Christmas is to take time to go more slowly, to allow breathing room, to prepare inside and out for a beautiful Christmas.
Another pitfall is that, with a too-full schedule and stretched budget, we might spend ourselves, well, silly. Yes, we can do serious damage to the budgets of Christmases to come in these few days of December. But we don’t have to. Another point of Advent is that the focus can and should be more on relationships with others, time spent in fellowship, in mending past hurts, and in showing love and appreciation for the human gifts God has given us.
A third pitfall of Advent is that we get caught up in the societal hype around Christmas and forget the roots of the Season, the reason for our celebration. I love that, in Advent, I revisit Luke’s gospel and other narratives of faith, and I always try to learn something new. This time taken in soaking up history helps innoculate me against the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” all around me. Not that the jingles and bells aren’t nice, but I truly enjoy having this time to deepen my faith.
A safe journey through Advent is one that allows time for loved ones, for deepening faith, and for breathing in cooler (perhaps), reviving air that cleanses us and prepares us for the celebration and New Year ahead.
Whether or not you commemorate Advent, I hope that your time between now and Christmas is a safe journey, refreshing, loving, and bright!