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When life is hard, the Christmas season has a way of making it even harder.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes we don’t want to cut down a live tree, wrap presents, or sing carols. Sometimes we want to cry. We want to be alone. We want anything but what we’re facing.
I know because I lost my dad one year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He abandoned my family when I was just a boy. We’d recently reconnected and were starting to build a real relationship. And then he was gone. He died of a brain aneurysm at 45. We were shocked.
I remember trying to shop for Christmas and feeling panicked inside. I thought, "How in the world can I walk through Target when my dad just died? Look at all these people bustling around, buying gifts and sipping coffee. And no one—not one person—knows or cares that my dad just died.”
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I felt sick with guilt and anxiety.
Just a few weeks later, on December 18, my wife Holly and I were married. Our first week as husband and wife—our first Christmas together—was full of pain. To say that our honeymoon was bittersweet would be a huge understatement.
On one particular day that week, I stayed by myself all morning and let my wife do her own thing. By the time we met for lunch, I was flooded with guilt over our wrecked honeymoon and grief over the loss of my dad. I felt paralyzed.
Then I looked up to find her blue eyes filled with tears. She said, "I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m sorry so many of your hopes and dreams just got crushed at the same time you were expecting to birth new ones. You don't have to say a word the rest of the trip if you don't want to. Don't worry about me.
And in that moment, I was strengthened. I realized that God in His grace and timing knew this pain was coming and brought me a companion. Maybe you have a friend or family member you can talk to—or better yet, one you can just be near. Or perhaps you can get outside in the beauty of God’s creation for a moment of peace.
It was that moment with Holly that got me through the holidays that year. You see, while pain is often what shapes us, it’s the moments of hope in the midst of pain that sustain us.
Unfortunately the process of pain can rarely be shortened. Even when I longed for my grief to subside and give way to a merry Christmas, the pain remained.
And I know I’m not alone. As a pastor, I’ve walked beside many people struggling to make it through the holidays. All we can do is look for moments of joy and hope.
These are the moments we find in the original Christmas story. A savior born into the world—hope for all mankind—only to grow up and face rejection, betrayal and death. All that we go through, He’s been through. Our hurt and our joy, He knows it. After enduring death on the cross and three days in the grave, our hope rose again.
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Those of you who are hurting deeply this holiday season, I am so sorry. I understand your pain may not go away any time soon. You may not find a job this month. Your home may be strangely quiet at Christmas. You may have to file bankruptcy in January.
I simply pray that in the midst of the pain you find moments of joy. Moments when the pressure on your chest lightens, the knot in your throat eases, anxiety lifts, and hope peeks through.
As you can, look for these moments. You might find them in the beauty of a Christmas tree lighting a darkened room or in the kitchen with your kids icing cookies—when most of the icing goes straight into their little mouths. Maybe you’ll experience a moment of satisfaction enjoying a meal and conversation with loved ones. You may even feel a glimmer of hope at the sound of Christmas carols, the warmth of a fire, or the sight of your child unwrapping gifts. It’s tender moments like these that will sustain you.
And next year, when you’re in a new season, you’ll look back and say, "That pain almost did me in, but because of God's grace there were moments where I saw Him. Those glimpses of joy reminded me of what life could be. It’s because of those moments that I survived."
It's okay to cry and grieve and stay 1,000 miles away from Target. Just don't let pain rob you of God’s small graces. Keep your heart settled on moments and let those moments make your Christmas season.
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A dynamic pastor and speaker, Chris Brown joined the Dave Ramsey team in 2014 to carry the message of stewardship to churches nationwide. Prior to joining the Ramsey organization, Chris spent eight years as a campus pastor and an executive pastor at growing churches in North Carolina and Florida. Find more from Chris on stewardship.com or connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.