When Christmas isn’t the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) 

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year!  Only it’s not.  Not for everyone.  Not when he’s still away at war.  Not when her body is racked with illness.  Not when there’s an empty chair at the table.  Not when you still feel alone in a crowd.  Not when you’re wishing he hadn’t cheated.

Conventional wisdom says Christmas is the time when we express our deepest affections to the ones deserving.  But this inevitably forces us to remember the ones we don’t get to share the moment with – the ones who’ve passed away, moved, or broken our hearts.  And heartbreak, distance, and death (either the death of a loved one or the death of something that was once good in our lives) are reasons that keep us from experiencing peace this Christmas.

And if this year this is you, I am truly sorry for your pain and loss.

My tendency, during an emotional season or crisis, is to turn my blame, frustration, and anger toward God.  Maybe you do too?  When obstacles arise from places beyond our knowledge and death occurs without warning, it’s natural to want to know why:  Why did my mother die?  Why did God give my husband cancer?  Why couldn’t my dad live long enough to walk me down the aisle?  Why? And hear me say, “This is not wrong.”

But what I’m learning (both in my own spiritual journey and being a pastor to others in the midst of theirs) is there aren’t ready-made answers to these questions.  Despite our questioning, we don’t get to know why you had to bury your daughter or why you miscarried.  We don’t get to know why you divorced or why your children moved away.  We don’t get to know.  But maybe that’s the point.

The late John Claypool used to say, “Life isn’t meant to be known in order to be lived, but rather lived in order to be known.”

In other words, we’ll never know enough before starting.  We’ll never have figured out to the point where we can avoid pain or death.  If we want to live, then we have to live in and with the unknown.  We have to walk through the pain, embracing the mystery of life, all the while hoping it gets better.  And when we do, when we choose to move forward despite the hurt, we embrace a hope that says one day peace and grace will arise.

So if you are full of hurt this Christmas and looking for hope, the way out (in my opinion) is to follow Matthew 11:28 and go to God.  Take all that you are and all the pains you incurred and take it to the Lord in prayer.  Ask the questions that come from the deepest parts of who you are.  Let God know where you stand, why you are upset, why you don’t understand.  Plead for God to show you something, give you strength, and open your eyes.

Even though you know there’s no answer worthy of your pain, ask nonetheless.  “There’s more honest faith in an act of questioning than in the act of silent submission, for implicit in the asking is the faith that some light can be given.” John Claypool said this after burying his daughter.

The people who choose to ask God the tough questions, to not settle for what is but have faith that seeks understanding, are the people who move from hurt to hope.  Implicit in their asking is a catharsis that frees them to be in the presence of God — believing and hoping that the God of all things (even the unknown), is loving and gracing them still.

If you are dreading Christmas this year, take my advice and pursue God with your pain and your questions.  For when you do, you’ll settle into the belief that even though you can’t fully know, you can hope.  And hope moves your hurt forward.  Hope allows you to live in order to be known.

This Christmas, I choose hope.

Barrett Owen

Author's Website
About the Author
Barrett Owen is the associate director of admissions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

Read more posts by