The Emotions of Christmas ~ Part 4

photoAs 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 today, I heard the deep overwhelming sadness in between tears and sobs of trying to understand a new reality and new normal for her life.

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!

The Emotions of Christmas – Part 3

The xmasclock.com countdown says there is 7 days 14 hours 29 minutes and 47 seconds left before Christmas.

How are you doing? All ready? In a panic?

Let me ask you, do you find yourself as Christmas approaches rolling your eyes, catching random thoughts of cynicism with all the hustle and bustle, and just plain feeling disgusted? I’ve caught myself rolling my eyes a few times, (of course inside my head) when I am out in public. I see the way people behave and the pent up frenzy and it releases that emotion of disgust. Why is that?

Before we answer that, let’s meet Disgust a member of the family of emotions from the film, Inside Out by Disney Pixar, because well reality is that, life gets a little dirty.

What does this little cute green girl and emotion of disgust look like at Christmas? Here’s what the FB survey said….

Christmas…whatever…!!
Why bother, no one says thanks anyway.
I’m just tired of doing it all and having to be Ms. Holly Jolly Christmas.
Why can’t the neighbors put their lights up right?
Who does that anyway?
What’s wrong with people?
Can’t they get it together?
Does all this have to be on one tree?

If we stay frustrated long enough we become cynical…like Mr. Scrooge. I call it the “whatever roll our eyes” attitude. It’s when our anger has turned to frustration and then has captured our joy and locked it up for good and we suffer from the emotion of disgust.

Nothing brings our joy to the surface anymore, not the wide-eyed wonder of little people looking at Christmas lights,

a smile that the bell ringers at the mall beckon to us to remember others,

fresh fallen snow and the dusk of light dancing on it’s surface.

Nothing. Notta…Nothing.

Our hearts become frozen in the slime of disgust.

Disgusted and displaced where we can’t see Christmas in a way that God wants us to experience the good news is not a good place to be. Can you relate? I’ve been at this place too many times! Disgust says there are a lot of gross things out there and can’t see past the yuck of life.

There were a group of people recorded in the gospels that seemed to be always disgusted about something. They were called the Pharisees, the religious rulers of the day. They imposed impossible demands on how to know and understand God, on the Jewish people. They took the law too far and became legalists which they of course were the only perfect ones practicing the law with precision. From the time Jesus stepped on the scene they showed their disgust and sought to discredit who He was and His mission. They projected their rules and rituals on Jesus telling him when he could heal people, what he could say, and shot him down every chance they had. Even one of Jesus early followers said in John 1:45,46 “How can anything good come from a place like Nazareth?”

Many of us have our pristine nativity scenes set up in our homes. There is a few things missing if we wanted to make it truly authentic. We need to add a little manure, some damp smelling hay, a handful of insects and a few unruly animals. Did you find those little disgusting items in the box when you bought your set?

The reality is, that it was probably a pretty disgusting birthing room, and yet Luke 1:16 tells us how the shepherds found the baby, “…they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough.” How disgusting is that? I can’t even fathom lying one of my precious newborn sons in a barn in a trough that animals had been eating out of, saliva drooling from their mouths as they chewed their meal. YUCK!! But that is how God delivered His gift to us. He came, simple and serene in the busyness of Bethlehem in the middle of chaos.

Yes, I get disgusted here and there during the season. But I am trying to remember to see through the lens of determined joy and not lose sight of the baby in the manger swaddled away from the manure and smell and mire.

The good news,

Immanuel.

God with us.

When I narrow my focus, the disgust falls off me and I can see that God came in the chaos for all of us and our mucked up manurey lives. My eyes stop rolling, the random thoughts turn to worship and my heart begans to sing. Even in the midst of the chaos I can embrace the greatest ever gift given for me and for you. But I have to tell you, it just doesn’t happen, I have to be intentional, because truth be told, I have a little Pharisee inside of me too and it shows up in disgust.

So the next time I feel disgusted because someone stole my parking place, or beat me to the nearest register, or cut in line, or an adult is acting like a 5 year old in public, I am going to choose joy over rolling my eyes because of what the shepherds did after they visited the baby in the feeding trough.

The shepherd returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorifed God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted. Luke 2:20.

Of course, Mary gets the award for seeing past the disgusting circumstances of delivering Jesus. Luke says that,

Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.

She experienced the disgust of her surroundings and yet chose to see Jesus, the source of her joy.

I want to be like Mary, this world is a mess, and yet in the mess of the stable of our lives, there lies joy, ready for us to pick up and choose to experience.

Next emotion up…sadness

 

 

The Emotions of Christmas ~ Part 2

Ever notice the closer we get to Christmas people get a little grumpier? Everything seems on wind-up frenzy as the day grows nearer. And today as I am writing this post according to our xmasclock.com countdown, there are 14 days, 15 hours, 31 minutes and 22 seconds left until Christmas. YIKES!

I was at one of my favorite stores the other day (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 earlier last week. 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 from the Disney Movie Inside Out. Check out the introduction on YouTube to meet Mr. Anger.

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 gets 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, cleaning
and love-making machine

This emotion 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.

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.

Last year, 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.

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 came and visited 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 don’t deceive my own heart:

  1. Make sure I am 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! Get enough sleep and rest, don’t push myself too hard and don’t eat too much sugar. It wreaks mayhem on me and makes me cranky.
  3. 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. Last year I cut back how much baking I was going to do but I sent out Christmas cards.
  4. Participate in doing something in my community for people who might not otherwise have a Christmas.

My anger and yours 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, disgust…

 

 

 

The Emotions of Christmas Part 1

photo“I just wish I could blink into January,” a friend who is a single Mom wrote me a personal FB message 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 step into the month of December 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 recent movie that I saw this past 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 a few weeks back asking women to describe what makes them afraid about Christmas, mad, sad and disgusted.

For starters let’s meet 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 19 days, 16 hours, 5 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.

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. 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.

Let’s name our fears together, let them go, and hurry as the shepherds did to spend a few moments to see Jesus and I believe that our joy will be recaptured.