When the “Season of Joy” is a time of sorrow

If you asked me what my favorite holiday or time of year is, chances are I will say Christmas. And it’s true that I do love it, though there have been years when that wasn’t the case. Perhaps it’s my favorite partly because some years I struggle with finding my love for it. Sometimes I find myself drawn into discontentment, wishing my life was more magical, like the films we watch this time of year. Sometimes the traditions seem dry and repetitive and I grapple to connect with the deeper meaning. Sometimes the messages of cheer and joy seem almost aggressive in wanting me to feel a way that I do not; sometimes my heart is heavy and I am grieving. While we would all probably like to say that Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year,” the truth is, it can also be a very hard time of year for people.

Several years ago, I discovered that some churches hold what is often called a“Blue Christmas” service (or sometimes a “Longest Night” service on winter solstice).The purpose of such a service is to create space for those who are grieving in the midst of all the joyousness. Such a thing might seem better suited to a season like Lent; it might sound strange during a season where we continually wish for each other to be merry, jolly, and happy. Even in church we encourage each other to rejoice, particularly in song. A service like this provides a place for heavy-hearted people to acknowledge their sorrow and be met there, in order to move closer to the joy.

Whether or not such a service is available, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is in a place to receive tidings of joy—which is why we can start instead with tidings of comfort. The idea of comfort in times of sadness is not separate from the season of Christmas, nor indeed separate from the very message of scripture. It is woven into the very story itself; the theme of our grief being heard by God, Him meeting us there, and us rejoicing in response can be found throughout the Bible. It is in the Christmas story, too: Jesus’ birth was a long-awaited answer to many grieving prayers, and it is the story of God becoming one of us in order to be among us.

So if you’re struggling with how you feel this season, it’s okay. Take heart. Don’t bottle it up, don’t try to fake it, and don’t give up. Create space to let yourself grieve and let yourself feel whatever is on your heart. And then: remember that Christmas is about the arrival of Emmanuel—God with us. The savior that came into the world to be with us is one who knows grieving, knows pain, knows struggle. He will sit with you inthis season, even if you don’t feel merry.