What’s your response when you hear this chorus – “it’s the most wonderful time of the year?”
Do you begin smiling, thinking of your favorite traditions, decorations, drinks and desserts?
Do you feel overwhelmed with all of the expectations, the frenetic schedules, and the chaotic busyness everywhere you go?
Or do you…well, try this response on for size.
Fears During Christmas
The holiday season strikes right at the heart of our fears.
“I’m never going to get over this.”
“What I’m doing doesn’t matter.”
“No one really cares about me.
“My best days are in the past.”
“If I keep dreaming, I’m just going to be disappointed.”
Our fears seek to argue us into submission, defeat and despair.
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Fear says, “Your work doesn’t matter”
For me, the fear that hit me recently was that I wasn’t making a difference. I had worked really hard on a couple things without really seeing any meaningful response. Fear seemed loud at the end of a long day recently, when I got an email from a friend at my church. He had been meaning to write me for weeks. He went on to tell me how much my content had been meaningful to him this fall. He even went so far as to refer to me as a “mentor.”
He and I are not very close. We had only spent one-on-one time together one time and it had been 3 1/2 years since that lunch appointment. And up until this point, I didn’t even know I was making an impact on him. But when he used the M word (“mentor”), I was shocked!
I think it so important that we leave room for the possible and the unknown in our lives. We simply do not know the kind of impact any of us are having. Occasionally, we get into a conversation with someone or receive a random email, giving us a glimpse into how we’re helping others. Most of the time, we have to move forward with faith and hope, from confirmation to confirmation.
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Fear and Mother Theresa
In her memoir, Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa vulnerably shared via private letters how she spent most of her life living in darkness, feeling as if God were absent from and silent with her.
Consider that for a moment.
One of the most noteworthy servants and prophetic voices of the twentieth century, considered by the Catholic Church and many beyond to be a saint, Mother Teresa struggled with fear, doubt, despair and rarely sensed God speaking to her.
How did she do her work in this scenario? How did she serve the sick, dying and severely marginalized in the slums of Calcutta, India? In the book, she writes how she lived “from light to light”, walking in the darkness based upon the last moment of light. When she heard God speak, she would hold on to that word until she heard God speak again. She trusted in the darkness what she discovered in the light.
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With as many lights as we accumulate, put up and plug in during the month of December, this can be an incredibly dark time. In the words of Matthew Paul Turner, “for some of us, the most wonderful time of the year – the holiday season – hurts like hell.”
Navigating the Darkness
How do we navigate this darkness until we stumble into the light?
-Acknowledge the hurt.
It doesn’t do us or others any good to fake our way through this season. Yes, there are some people who cannot handle someone who is hurting. Some folks would rather us fake it rather than be real and struggle. But that’s because they’re uncomfortable and selfish. We cannot discover light or be healed from hurts we refuse to face much less acknowledge to others.
-Come together with others.
I don’t know about you, but fear is loudest in my head when I’m alone. I believe the lies of fear the most when I don’t have any other voices to contradict fear’s untruths. As busy as our calendars are this season, there are surprising moments of solitude and silence. When fear’s voice is loudest, come together with other people who can shine light into your heart.
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-Study our story to discover periods of light.
We tend to forget the periods of light when we’ve been in darkness for a while. As a follower of Jesus, I often forget the last words I heard God speak when I feel stuck in a period of silence. We must be experts at our own stories, even the most difficult parts.
-Hold onto the light while darkness remains.
What would happen if you and I mined our stories for those periods of light and rooted ourselves in those truths until we received the next moment of clarity and revelation? Like Mother Teresa, the light we’ve received is enough to guide us through the darkness we’ve encountered.
-Seek good from the pain.
I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ve found these words to be true. “If you don’t transform your pain, you will transfer it.” We cannot control if we will get hurt, but we can determine whether we hurt other people as a result. The discipline of gratitude enables us to discover gifts to be thankful for, even within the soil of a horrific experience. Even if it is only to give us a story to tell to help others who are struggling, there are gifts in the soil of every season of our lives.
-Fight for hope.
I was moved recently when The Voice contestant Jordan Smith performed the song Hallelujah. It’s one of my favorite songs. My favorite line is “love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken hallelujah.” Hope is not whimsical idealism; it is a fierce battle to believe that the future is filled with possibility and opportunity. Fear constantly attacks our sense of hope, seeking to sideline us and take us out. We must struggle to guard our hearts and move forward (even in fits and starts) towards the object of our hope.
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The message of Christmas is simple.
“God loves us. He has come near to us. We are not alone. We do not need to be afraid any longer.”
Whether this is the most wonderful time of the year…I’ll let you decide. But I’m praying that you push back against fear, so you can move forward with hope this season. You have special opportunities in front of you. Your life matters. We need you. Keep working, watching and waiting.
Who knows what will happen this Christmas season? There might be surprises…