From Humbug to Hope

Image result for happy and grumpy

Christmas stinks.
There, I said it.
The thing many, many people are thinking – or at least feeling.
They may not have the courage to say it, even to themselves.
But tons of us battle it.

It comes in degrees.
Some of us just experience the mild letdown when the presents are open, the final celebratory meal is eaten, THE DAY is over.
Others despair to the point of contemplating – or doing – the unthinkable.
And most of us fall somewhere in between.

It also comes in waves.
Some days are good. Maybe even great!
Pretty lights, good food, laughter with friends, anticipating the look on his or her face when they open that “perfect” gift.

And some days are awful.
The movie that shines a light on everything you don’t have.
The bank account that doesn’t allow the buying of any gifts, let alone the perfect one.
The loss that is magnified by every light, every carol, every decoration, every moment.

I used to think that Christmas crankiness, holiday funks and even despair were reserved only for a select few.
Extreme cases.
The Ebenezers of this world. “Bah, humbug!”
Or those in special circumstances.

But spend long enough walking this earth, spend any amount of time pouring into people and you will discover that it is nearly universal.
Again, to degrees.
And in waves.
But almost always present.

And the person who says, “Oh, the holidays never get to me! I love everything about them!” is probably either lying to you or to themselves.

Because we all get weary.
Overwhelmed.
Frustrated.
Depressed.
Anxious.
Sad.

A friend recently said to me, “The holidays basically turn a flashlight on all your issues and stresses.”
I totally agree.
Except that I would replace “flashlight” with “spotlight”. The big one. The one they use in movies for interrogations. Bright. Shiny. And pointing out every painful spot in your life.

So what’s a girl (or guy) to do?

First, you have to start with the heart of the issue – your heart.
If you are reading this and you do not have a relationship with the Living God, it has to start there. Nothing else you do will “work” if you do not have an active friendship with Jesus. This is more than just head knowledge about who He was and what He did. This is a knowing, a commitment, a choosing-to-trust, a surrender to Him. It happens when you tell Him that you know you are a sinner, deserving of punishment and in need of salvation. But it is also an ongoing walk with Him, a relationship where the God of the Universe calls you His own and where you are choosing each day to get to know Him better. Yes, you are saved from hell by that initial commitment. But if you are born into God’s family when you make that commitment and then never choose to grow, you will remain a spiritual baby. And spiritual babies, just like physical ones, do not have what it takes to thrive in this world. Instead they need constant care with the goal of them becoming more and more grown up, more and more able to thrive. So survival of any of the hard things in this world – including surviving Christmas – has to start there. With a living, growing, ongoing relationship with the Living God.

But let me assume that my audience is people who are already trusting Christ, who have already entered that relationship. If that is where you are, then the rest of this is for you. (If that is not you, then the rest of this is just spiritual mumbo-jumbo, not worth reading. But I would love to have a conversation with you about what your life could be in Christ.)

So – let’s get super practical.
We probably cannot change the hard facts of our lives, the things that make Christmas difficult.
If we could change them, we would have already.
So the circumstances are what they are.
And the spotlight is shining.

The only thing I have control over this holiday season – or any day – is me. And here is how I personally get through my own painful places:

I choose to take my eyes off of me. My pain. My feelings. My heart. My circumstances.

I turn the spotlight away from me. And I intentionally strive to do that in a number of ways.

First, I choose to remember that today is not eternity. Today is a blip on the radar screen of real life. And I can choose to live for today – how I feel, what is happening to me, my pain – or I can choose to live for eternity. I can wallow in my present pain – and even take unhealthy steps to self-medicate that pain – or I can remember that heaven is waiting. I can remember that for me, as a Christ-follower, this is the only hell I will ever know. This life is the worst it will ever get. And one day, when God calls me home, this will fade. As Teresa of Avila said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” I am not supposed to choose the day I will meet Him – that is His choice – but I can choose to remember that this life is exceedingly short in light of eternity. And I can choose to trust that if I am here today, there is still a purpose for my life, something He has left for me to do. I choose to live with my feet on earth and my mind in heavenly places.

I choose to remember that God aches with me. As my friend Brent would say, “This is not how it is supposed to be.” God did not create this world with this pain in mind for me or for any of us – but He gave each us free will and with it came consequences. But even in the midst of the consequences of free will, there is hope. God is my vindicator. He is the Righteous Judge. He sees every hurt, every tear, every misunderstanding, every pain. And He is at work in them, for my good and His glory. Even when I cannot see it. Even when the emotions are overwhelming. Even when I doubt Him. He is the God who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)

And then I choose to praise Him. To give thanks in all things. Even when I am not feeling the smallest iota of thankfulness. Remembering only gets me so far – but then acting on what I know is true, what I have remembered, by actively praising Him – well, that is powerful stuff. Setting aside my feelings to choose to DO Philippians 4:8, which says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].” It is an active choice – to turn my thoughts from despair to hope, from grumbling to thankfulness, from pain to praise.

After I wrestle my thoughts into submission (2 Corinthians 10), I look around for ways to actively, intentionally bless others. That may be in a tangible way – serving here, giving there. A note. A small gift. An act of service. A listening ear. Or it may be in a more intangible way – like remembering to pray for others more than I pray about my needs, desires or pain. Taking my eyes off of me. Setting them on “things above”. (Colossians 1). And then seeing the people around me through God’s eyes. Even the annoying ones and the ones causing me pain. Choosing to be His hands and feet. Putting my faith into practice. Making it more than words.

And then, finally, I replace. I love Christmas music – but it doesn’t always lead my heart to worship. Sometimes it leads my heart right back to the wallowing! So I will listen to it sometimes – but I will also replace it. Two years ago I found an Easter CD that I played over and over again in the car instead of listening to the radio. As I belted out, “Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that we can be born again! Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing Christ is risen from the dead!” while driving down the highway, it reminded me that Christmas is just a piece of the redemption story – and that without Easter, Christmas is just another birthday. I still have that CD – but this year I found another great CD of hymns. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but for me, the tunes and the words that were poured into me as a child firmly set my heart in the right place, a place of worship and adoration rather than self-pity and woe-is-me. For you, it may not be the music that needs replacing. It may be your budget for gifts. Or the movies you choose to watch. It may be how you spend your free time. Or what you are reading. They may not be bad things that you are doing – but it may be that you can replace it with something better, something that will draw your heart to God and keep your eyes off you this season.

One last thought. I love Charles Dickens. The man had a way with words. And I love that he chose “Ebenezer” for the name of his main character in “A Christmas Carol”. I don’t know if Charles did it on purpose – I suspect he did. But Ebenezer is a biblical word. It literally means “stone of help”. The prophet Samuel set up a stone of remembrance and named it that in I Samuel 7. The people had turned from the Lord and Samuel challenged them to turn back to Him. When they did, they began to have a praise-fest right there – and their enemies, the Philistines, heard about it and decided it was a great time to attack, while the Israelites were vulnerable. But what the Philistines didn’t understand was that we are at our most powerful when our eyes are off of us and on the One True and Living God. And so God defeated the Philistines – and it was then that Samuel set up the Ebenezer – the stone of help – as a reminder to the people of who God is and what He has done. We, too, have that same Help this Christmas – the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone, who will be our foundation throughout the storms that the holidays may bring. My prayer for you and me this season is that, because we have that Ebenezer, we may truly be able to go from “Humbug!” to hope – not just in our outward appearance but all the way through to the heart.

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