When I was a child, I could always count on three things being consistent during the holiday season.
The first was my mother’s delicious turkey roasted her signature way — in a brown grocery sack.
The second was my favorite chunky candy bar nestled deep in the toe of my stocking.
And the third was my mom and my aunt crying when all the festivities were over and it was time for everyone to go home. My little mind could never understand why someone would weep at the happiest time of year.
But now, sadly, I can say I get it.
My mom and aunt lost their mother — my Grandma Elsie, whose birthday was on Christmas Eve — when they were barely into their 30s. In the past two years, I have lost my father; my mother; two cousins; an aunt; two uncles; and my stepmom, who’d been part of my life since I was 13.
The cheer and sparkle of the holidays — with the accompanying “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” sentiment — is in such stark contrast to the chimney-sized hole of heaviness in my heart. Knowing that my loved ones are no longer a part of our celebrations drains my holiday joy.
Lost loved ones aren’t the only reason for lamenting. Maybe you have wayward children, poor health or fractured friendships. Maybe this is the first holiday season spent as a family stung by divorce. Or maybe it’s just a deep, dark loneliness. What do we do when we can’t find any holiday cheer?
Thankfully, our key verse shows us the remedy for our aching emotions. Psalm 94:19 declares: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”
In the original Hebrew language, the meaning of the English phrase “cares of my heart” (v. 19) comes from two words: sarappim and qereb. The first word means anxious and disquieting thoughts. The second term refers to that which is deep within your body, predominantly in your heart. So much of our sorrow at the holidays disquiets us. However, it isn’t always visible to others. It can remain hidden below the surface.
The phrase “cheer my soul” (v. 19) is a tethering of the Hebrew words sha’a’ and nephesh. Taken together, these words imply that God delights our dejected emotions by smearing them over. He takes the raw and tender places of our souls and smooths His healing balm over them, allowing us to be cheered again.
I find this happens through gut-wrenchingly honest prayer and a plea for renewed vision. I tell God how very much I will miss the crazy, Christmas Eve, “white elephant” gift exchange with my dad and stepmom, and I ask God to comfort me and give me hope. He prompts me to host such a gathering with foreign exchange students from church who cannot be home for the holidays.
When I can’t bear the thought of our first holiday season without my mom and her game of “how many chocolate snowman candies are in the jar?” I pray to God for comfort and perspective. He nudges me to keep the tradition going with all her grandkids, with the added action of each child telling one happy memory of Grandma before giving their guesses.
I recall how my own mom always made Christmas a reason to make someone else’s life better, often signing up to serve the less fortunate or offer financial assistance to local charitable organizations. I’m sure helping others helped her to deal with her own fresh grief that resurfaced each year.
Second Corinthians 1:3 refers to God as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (NIV). He comforts us so that we, in turn, can cheer and comfort others. When our hearts feel heavy at the holidays, God stands ready not only to soothe our sorrows but also to help us seek out the discouraged and do something to show them that we care — and He cares.
Maybe, then, the holidays really can be the most wonderful time of the year: a time for cheering others with the love of God, even despite our hurting hearts.
Father, You alone are the source of true cheer and the only giver of real hope. Even in my sorrow, may I seek to impart encouragement to others, pointing them to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
FOR DEEPER STUDY
1 Peter 5:7, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (NLT)
When your heart is hurting, do you tend to first reach out to a friend or pray to God? How can the image of God smearing balm over our raw emotions help you in times of trouble?