When Christmas Makes You Sad

As Christmas is hours away, I am reminded that many people are struggling with keeping their joy. My heart breaks for them and I wish it could be different. In the last few days in my world, I’ve received sad news from friends of loss and grief, plans that went sideways and unexpected turn of events.

Sadness can drape over Christmas like a heavy blanket threatening to suffocate the hope and message of Christmas.

As I listened to a friend the other day, I heard the deep overwhelming sadness in between tears of trying to adjust to her new reality and new normal for her life of being a widow for the second time.

Although I am not facing anything close to similar that my friend has had to experience, this Christmas I have my own pockets of sadness. Relationships in my extended family that are struggling. The exhaustion of trying to do the right thing with no results to build bridges with people in my life that matter. Rejection and the realization that I can only control my actions and I can’t make others or even reason with them when they won’t choose to reconcile.

Sadness, our last member from the family of emotions is something we often can’t control and plainly said, it stinks! Or as my boys used to say when they were teenagers..it sucks! Sadness can land on us unexpectedly and submerge our joy. People, events and circumstances can trigger sadness, especially this time of year. Sadness can turn into despair because of very real disappointments and then that can lead to depression.

Some of the reasons people on my FB survey said they were sad around Christmas were because of these reasons…
Not being invited to a holiday event or gathering
Families fighting
Separated from loved ones
Those no longer with us
Tragedies in the world
Traditions no longer celebrated
Not able to give gifts because of lack of resources

Rejection. Deep relational strife. Disappointment. These are the companions of sadness.

Many of what people wrote on my FB wall, made me so sad! Some sent me private messages because they didn’t want to feel judged if they contributed to the survey openly. One single Mom wrote that she was just wishing that she could blink into January and miss Christmas because of all the expectations she couldn’t fulfill for her kids and the expectations of work parties, family and extra gifts she couldn’t afford.

Most of us learn that we can’t control what happens in our life with unmet expectations, grief, sadness or loss. I truly believe that God makes a way for us to not just to get through Christmas but to actually receive the gift of Christmas he wants us to experience…

Unspeakable joy,

Supernatural joy that surrounds us with peace and comfort.

Indulge me for just a minute. Can you think of just one thing that gives you joy at Christmas? Maybe this list will help you get started.

Joy is…
Being together with family and friends
Traditions
Lights and Trees
Sharing with those less fortunate
Christmas songs
Candles
Hot Chocolate
Christmas Baking
Hallmark Movies

I am like a little kid when it comes to Christmas lights and these are the warm fuzzy things that we can pull out of our memory banks. The emotions that lie dormant in our sub-conscious come forward and give us those warm fuzzy feelings and can bring forth a sense of joy and happiness. But it is just that, warm feelings, and they are temporary, they don’t last and it isn’t true joy.

Here is the good news I want to remind us (and myself!) as we are just moments from stepping into Christmas. Joy is more than just a feel-good feeling, it is the result of connection and it is with that little baby in the manger that we are celebrating, Jesus Christ. This is the good news that can helps us manage the sadness we might be experiencing.

The angels reminded the shepherds that holy night,

Listen! I bring good news, news of great JOY, news that will affect all people everywhere. Luke 2:10

The kind of joy that Luke is talking about is the kind that impacts people not from what we conjure up from our memory bank, but joy as a person, Jesus.

Jesus represents hope, love and joy for yes, even the hard things in life.

For the messiness, hurt and brokenness.

For those facing cancer and sickness.

For unmet expectations, and shattered dreams.

Broken relationships and fighting families this Christmas.

He came to bring that relational connection back to Himself. To bring the joy that he created us to experience with Him.

God came down humbly and simply to meet us in our sadness, our mess and muck for one reason, He longs to let us know that He loves us. He is over the moon about you and me. He craves relationship with us. His faithfulness beckons us over and over again despite our imperfections and failures. And yet He still pursues you and I for relationship.

This is where the manger intersects the cross.

Receiving his sacrifice on the cross is where the gift of Christmas begins. And even in the midst of life, the hard and yuck, if we have Jesus we can have joy because He is love. His one true gift has always been love for the redemption of creation.

John 3:16,17, from the Message Bible reminds us of this when it says,

This is how much God loved the world; He gave His Son, his one and only Son. And this is why; so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

Did you hear that? A whole and lasting life, with Him for all of eternity wiping out the sadness and replacing it with Himself, joy, Jesus, Prince of peace, Immanuel, God with Us.

As you finish your last preparations for Christmas whatever that may look like, if you are fighting off being sad and just trying to get through, remember…

The little baby in the manger is your gift,

your joy,

your hope,

your salvation and most of all He is your creator God who loves you.

Special note: I’ve written a short devotional book on my own journey of depression called Under the Broom Tree. You can download it for free when you subscribe to my blog by signing up at cynthiacavanaugh.com. Even if you don’t want to continue receiving blog posts, you can sign up and then unsubscribe later. I’d love for you to be blessed and encouraged, but most of all know that there is hope in the midst of the darkness. Merry Christmas!

When Christmas Makes You Mad

Ever notice the closer we get to Christmas people get a little grumpier? Everything seems on wind-up frenzy as the day grows nearer. Are we ever close! This is Monday, just a breath away before Christmas arrives this weekend. YIKES!

I was at one of my favorite stores, Home Goods, and it was absolute mayhem. I could sense that people were trying their hardest to be jolly and have that most wonderful time of the year attitude, but it seemed a little artificial and controlled. The manager kept coming through the line assuring us we would be helped as soon as possible and that she had every register open for customers. I thought to myself, she is very intuitive and realizes a riot might break out soon.

Christmas can bring up even the ugly emotion of spewed anger as we might get tipped over the edge from exhaustion, overcrowded stores, restaurants, unruly relatives, coffee lines, and well just plain too much and too many people and overwhelming tasks. It’s not pretty to talk about it, but it is a reality.

Back to the FB survey from my earlier post. This is what people said about when asked the question, “What makes you mad about Christmas?”

Christmas makes me mad because there is…

too much work
too many people
too expensive
too much travel
too many people I don’t like
too many dishes
too much shopping and not enough money

These were a few of the most common responses.

Have you ever meet some truly angry people around Christmas? I don’t necessarily mean the grumpy ones we might bump into, I mean the really angry ones that seems they are out to rob everyone’s holiday cheer?

If we stay mad then we might move into looking like the character ANGER from the Disney Movie Inside Out.

Does he make you laugh or bring out a teeny tiny bit of resemblance in your own heart? I’ll be honest, I have felt like my hair was on fire just like in the movie.

These are the things about Christmas according to the survey that can really make our hair on fire…
Kids getting too whiny
Uncle Harry getting drunk
Aunt Hilda gossips
No one says thanks
House gets left a mess
Getting cleaning supplies or a blender as a gift
Having to be a cooking and cleaning always with a smile machine

The emotion of anger can put us over the top to the point of no return without any possibility of recapturing our joy. The anger keeps us padlocked, battened down, dark in the dungeon of our frustrations.

Dr. Caroline Leaf who is a brilliant writer and speaker, says this about our emotions…

Every thought we have has an emotion attached to it. How we react to events and circumstances of life will determine our stress levels, the state of our physical being, how our mind is functioning, how we are coping with life, and how we are expecting to cope with life in the future.

This has been incredibly helpful for me. What I hear her saying is that no matter what, we can control our thoughts and therefore guide our emotions to recapture our joy. Yes, that even means when our tempers flare and anger threatens to set our hair on fire and put us in an over the top stressful state.

Many times I get grumpy around this season and it can move into blow-up anger because of one reason.

I AM OVERTIRED!

AND

I am trying to do TOO MUCH.

It took me years to figure this out. I’ve come a long way, but when I find myself headed down this path I stop and take a breath and ask myself,

Why am I so angry right now?

Then I try to simplify and reorganize AND pray! Praying first is really the best of the best ideas. Let me give you a disclaimer here. This is what I want to do, pray and simplify. But my emotions sometimes get the best of me and I have to regroup and give myself a little grace too!

You’ve heard me say that I am a recovering perfectionist and it’s taken me years to get this one thing,

Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect!

I am creative and love to decorate, give meaningful gifts, set a beautiful table and well, you get the picture.

But it has killed me (and my family) at times and any kind of joyous atmosphere in my home just because I was wanting it all to be “just right.”

I learned the hard way and still am working on simplifying so my joy stays intact.

Christmas before last, we had a houseful of people and lots of little people. I had creative grandiose plans and most of them went out the window because there was just too much chaos.

I had bought a glittered initial for each person to put on the table around their napkin for Christmas dinner. Guess what, in all the commotion, I completely forgot! And the best thing about it was I was okay. I didn’t miss it at all because as I looked around the table, my heart was grateful to have all our children and grandchildren together in one place to share the blessings we have. I simplified in the middle of it all and you know what my children said?

They felt it was one of the best Christmases we have had as a family. I am growing! Yahoo!

Christmas can trigger many emotions for us for a number of reasons and if we let it, unchecked anger can be simmering right under the surface. Anger is a God-given emotion and it isn’t wrong, but it’s what we do with our anger that turns it into ugliness and spews over those we love and others we encounter everyday in our world.

In the Christmas story after Jesus is born, the Wise Men come and visit Jesus. But before they did, they had been summoned to King Herod in Jerusalem. He had gotten the news of Jesus birth and was bubbling with anger because he felt his throne was being threatened by this little baby. He pretended to be interested in worshipping Jesus and sent the Wise Men to Bethlehem to find out exactly where he was, “So, that I too may go and worship him” (Matthew 2:8).

The Wise Men didn’t report back to Herod on their way home and his hair lit on fire with anger to the degree that he gave orders to kill all the baby boys under two years old in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. He tried to destroy Jesus but as the story goes, an angel had warned the young family and they fled to Egypt.

Here is my own personal solution for keeping my anger in check this time of year and so I make space in the busyness and don’t deceive my own heart:

1. Make space in the busyness by spending time each day talking to God and having him sort out my priorities. Don’t cheat my time with God. Keep my heart in the right place.

2. Take a nap! Even if it’s only 10 minutes. If you are a Mom of small kids I get that this might not be possible, but try and carve out a few minutes in the chaos to even just sit down and let those toddlers play around your feet. Get enough sleep and rest, don’t push too hard.

3. I try not to  eat too much sugar. It wreaks mayhem on me and makes me cranky.

4. Simplify the big plans I have in my head. This year, I have too much on my plate so I am not sending out Christmas cards for the second year in a row. It’s okay! I want to bake this year so I made space to make memories baking with my children and grandchildren.

5. Participate in doing something in my community for people who might not otherwise have a Christmas.

Our anger can be destructive if left simmering too long and can take out our joy, I’ve been so guilty of this one too many times and it makes me sad. Ephesians 4:26 has been my saving prayer when I feel those emotions of frustration bubble up.

And don’t sin by letting anger control you.

This is the caveat for me, remembering I can be angry but stopping it in my thoughts before it controls me and leaks. My joy then can be recaptured!

Stay tuned for next emotion up at Christmas…

When You Are Afraid Of Christmas

“I just wish I could blink into January,” a friend who is a single Mom wrote me a personal FB message last year because the season was feeling overwhelming and reminding her of everything she could and couldn’t do because of her limited resources.

The most wonderful time of the year can ramp up emotions such as these as we slip into the week before Christmas and sigh…

ANOTHER CHRISTMAS.

The days of December can cause us to fall into the vortex of losing our Christmas joy rapidly if we aren’t careful. We know in our heads that this should be a celebration of that tiny precious baby coming humbly to a manger to bring hope, peace and love, and yet somehow Jesus and the joy of the celebration gets lost.

We are by nature emotional human beings, and those emotions are more heightened around Christmas, or so it seems. Which brings me to talking about a  movie that I saw last year.

Did you see the movie Disney film, Inside Out? It’s a story of emotional characters taking place inside an 11-year old girl who has to move across the country and all that she experiences. In the story you meet her emotions of fear, anger, sadness, disgust and joy. The story stirred up all kinds of emotions for me and it made me cry, laugh and be sad as I watched.

As we approach December 25th, I’d like to share how each of the emotions that they identified in the movie can impact our feelings about Christmas and how we can recapture the emotion of joy. But first, I want you to know that I did a high-level survey across hundreds of people. Okay, I did a simple FB survey asking women to describe what makes them afraid about Christmas, mad, sad and disgusted.

For starters let’s meet the character FEAR from the film, can you relate?

This is what surfaced about being afraid at Christmas from my FB survey…

People won’t like what I made

People won’t like what I give

I’m afraid of not being enough

Not making people happy

Not having enough

Not going to have time to have a break

Do you know that fear creates exhaustation? According to the experts, fear is learned and shaped by our experiences. Fear can then become control. Did you know that controlling people are driven by fear and in order to stay safe they are driven to control because they are afraid of something? They might lose it!!! Ring any bells in the house? ME…GUILTY!

I am a recovering CONTROL-FREAK around Christmas time. Why? Because of many things I just listed. I felt I needed to control Christmas because of how I thought things should look, taste, feel and experience for my family and my friends. And then the fear caused me to really lose my joy and anger would seep in, but we will talk about that later.

As I write this, according to the xmasclock.com Christmas is 7 days, 15 hours, 50 minutes and 55 seconds away. And with that comes the ramping up of these kind of emotions at least from what I have observed for one specific group…women.

Can I get a witness?

The frantic and frenzy,

the pressure,

the anxiety,

the relatives,

the cooking,

baking,

shopping and more.

So between now and Christmas day, I want to talk about these emotions that can creep up and rob our joy. Instead of dreading it and getting emotional hives because of the pace, I am hoping that by the time Christmas Day comes we can experience and recapture the joy that God intends for us to have. I know we only have a week, but are you up for the challenge?

Back to our first emotion, fear. How do we then overcome the fear of not being enough or the people-pleasing trap we can fall into?

We can take our cue from the shepherds receiving the message in Bethlehem the night they were told about Jesus birth.

But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

God addressed their fear first before He gave them the good news. He told them they didn’t need to be afraid because Jesus had arrived.

He wants to address yours and mine.

We have to acknowledge first that we are afraid. But we have slow down long enough and name it. Grab a piece of paper right now and write down.

What are you afraid of this December?

Get it out, write it down, tell Jesus, tell a friend, ask for prayer.

Ask God to help. Because if we let the emotion of fear take over than our need to control will take-over like a run-away train and we will be miserable. Take it from me; I’ve done it so many times I’ve made not only myself miserable but my family too!

We can’t miss the second part of the announcement. The angels told them what they could find it they let go of their fear.

The angel also told them where they could find JOY. Because JOY is a person, it’s not just the warm fuzzy feelings we might experience over Christmas.

It was in the good news that Jesus the Savior was born in Bethlehem and they decided to go and see. That is joy.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. Luke 2:15.

The next verse said that they hurried to see Jesus. I want to hurry to see Jesus and not hurry to be in a hurry this Christmas season.

My fear this Christmas is that I won’t have enough time to get everything done that I’d like to get finished. I was away for three weeks and just got home December 10th. I was fairly organized before I left and yet I am reminded daily from the intranet, television and the media just how many more days are left until Christmas arrives.  So in order to make sure that doesn’t happen, what I really mean is lose my cookies in the process, I am purposely choosing to simplify a few things this year. Just one example, I did buy Christmas cards before I left for our trip fully intending to do them while I was away. It didn’t happen, I was sick for a week on our trip and I came home and said, “Oh, Oh!” as I opened card after card from the mail. I took a deep breath and said, “It’s not going to happen this year.” I’m okay with it and I’ve let go of some other expectations that I have put on myself and feeling kind of free actually to enjoy more than stress.

As we step into these last few days before Christmas,

let’s name our fears together,

let them go,

and hurry as the shepherds did to spend a few moments to see Jesus.

I believe that our joy will be recaptured.

Saving Christmas

Her deep brown-black eyes and dark curly hair beckoned a second look from me in the store. She was standing all alone holding a book and as soon as her eyes saw mine she called out timidly, “Where’s my Nana?”

My friend and I looked around and didn’t see any adults close by. I leaned down and told this sweet little girl we would help her find her Nana. I offered my hand and she clung to it instantly and followed us to the front of the store. Before we approached the counter she saw her Nana and went running. It was a sweet reunion. She was safe in the arms of the familiar, her Nana.

Nana then encouraged her to say thank you and after a few seconds she said,

“Thank you for saving me,” in her darling three year old voice.

My heart melted as I mulled the phrase, thank you for saving me over and over.

I noticed the store piled with Christmas décor and I couldn’t help but thinking in that moment what “saving” means for me and for you this season. Christmas is coming and it will be here soon, 25 days to be exact.

I pose this question.

What do you need to be saved from as we approach Christmas?

Is it an overly busy schedule with not enough time to get everything done?

Is it finances?

Is it relational heartache that can’t be mended anytime soon?

Is it having to readjust expectations and simplify in order to stay sane?

Is it the news you have been dreading to hear and it has come true?

I know for me as I reflect on the days to come, my heart is broken for a few of my dear friends. One who suddenly lost her husband last month and two dear friends who lost their adult daughters this past year. I’d love to gather them all up and take away the hurt and pain, to save them from the heartache of celebrating with memories instead of holding their loved ones close. Others face sickness, families torn relationally, bills to pay without enough money to cover them and on and on the stories pour in. And yet, Christmas still will come as it does every year regardless of what we are facing, joy or sorrow.

It will come.

Christmas will be on time as usual and as we rummage through the commercialism that shouts to us, we can find peace and hope in the familiar arms of Jesus.

Maybe He isn’t familiar to you, maybe Jesus feels distant and uncaring, maybe you’ve been wounded. But He is the only one who can save us. It might look different, there may still be pain and sorrow, but He can save us with the gift of His unfathomable love. His hand is waiting to lead us to Himself if we let Him.

The little girl in the store had to let me take her to her Nana. She had to will it, even though she was afraid in that moment. Jesus does the same. Not just at Christmas but everyday.

As we surrender to his hand, He saves us.

As we acknowledge we can’t do Christmas without Him, He saves us.

As we realize we can’t take our next breath, He saves us.

As we recognize we can’t make our family behave, He saves us.

As we try to make Christmas a meaningful time for our families with little resources, He saves us.

As we gaze on that child in the nativity scene, he whispers His promise of redemption and…

He saves us.