Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God. – Tim KellerThe Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
We need Jesus.
We all know someone who feels down around the holidays. Maybe that person is you. We associate Christmas with joy, and we should, but the dark days of December and January become even darker for individuals who experience the holiday blues. Cling to the Savior and don’t let the holiday blues steal your joy!
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). - Mt 1:21-23
Increased Sadness Around the Holidays
Most of us look to the holiday season thinking we’ve got to achieve a particular level of happiness and satisfaction, and it’s elusive. We set the bar so high that we can never realistically get there. But we still try to pursue it every year and many times, the pursuit itself leads us to the blues. We need to take time out and focus on the birth of Jesus; the hope He brings for both our present and our future. We live in a fallen world where the commercial aspect of Christmas becomes a distractor. We get so caught up in busyness, we skip past the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life (i.e.worship, prayer, Bible reading and study, meditation). Instead, this is a time to be proactive and develop spiritual disciplines further: Memorizing scripture, working through a Bible study, completing an advent devotional, attending a service with carols and scripture. Spiritual disciplines are sustaining and give rhythm to our lives. These disciplines are activities we do, but not for the sake of doing.The disciplines are for the sake of being; being with Jesus and being like Jesus (Luke 4:17-21; Luke 5:16; Matt. 4:2; Matt. 26:30). When we practice these habits, in due time the feelings typically follow.
The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. - Psalm 37:23-24
But how do you do that when you’re struggling with feeling blue? The holiday blues are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season. Focus on the word “temporary” while being obedient to the Scriptures. Recall verses you have read, studied, and meditated on while shopping, tree trimming, attending events, and even when setting the bar for expectations of a good holiday. A few of the many causes for feeling blue are:
- fear of social connection
- tense and awkward family related issues
- unrealistic expectations
- grief and loss
- financial issues
- seasonal affective disorder
Examine Your Expectations
Sometimes people place excessive responsibilities on themselves and when expectations are not met, it affects self-worth. Take time to examine the expectations you have: Are you expecting the impossible from yourself? How much happier would your life be if you approached this season with more realistic expectations? What about the expectations of others? The holiday season means we might not be able to avoid interaction with individuals who have impossible expectations. Are you trying to please self, other people, or God?
The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them. Why? Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions. – Tim KellerThe Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
Negative thoughts are often triggered by random personalities, things, or events but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are made able to take those thoughts captive. Instead of dwelling in the past, think forward to what new memories you can make. Give all your holiday expectations to God. Celebrate the holiday on the Lord, not on people or circumstances.
In my alarm, I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. - Psalm 31:22-24
Seek Help if Sadness Lingers
Let me be clear that there is a profound difference in the holiday blues and clinical depression. If clinical depression is suspected, it is of utmost importance you seek help from a licensed medical professional. Depression can be as mild as mood altering and serious as leaving an individual unable to complete daily self-care. Although there are different levels and severity of depression, there is no “one size fits all,” which leads to additional difficulties during the holidays. The individual who suffers from depression should seek to:
- recruit others to help in areas that might be overwhelming during the holidays
- give time to recharge and re-engage with large groups
- eat regularly and consume healthy meals
- practice good sleep hygiene for optimal rest
- exercise (outdoors if and when possible)
- volunteer or serve in the local church to take focus off self and onto others
If you are struggling with your thoughts and feelings it’s important you do your best to pinpoint their signs, effects, and symptoms. We have complex emotions, and instead of facing them and acknowledging them, many times we try to stuff them down. The advice I’ve offered here is to be in the Word, don’t stray from the rhythms of life, serve others, and then seek appropriate help and support. If it’s just the help of a friend, or family member, just let them know, “Hey, this is a challenging season for me. Will you check in with me and pray for me to be encouraged?”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:13
Focus on Jesus
As Christians, we should always dwell in what is real and true. Evaluate your thoughts about the holidays based on truth, not memories, or wishful thinking. Remember what matters most: Jesus Christ is Immanuel (God with us). May your focus be Jesus and not on all the other hopes and expectations that the world places on the holiday season.
True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings. – Tim KellerThe Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness