A question: what are you looking forward to? Let’s keep it simple: what are you looking forward to today? What’s the plan for the day– are you looking forward to any particular thing this day? I have a concern that I know other pastors have at this time of year as the holidays come. Many people tell me that the holidays are hard for them and that they feel they need to brace themselves for the holidays, especially for Christmas.
Often these days of celebration bring memories that are hard to carry. Wounds seems fresh, losses weigh more heavily, loneliness enlarges. The pressures to be jolly: “You gotta be happy– you just gotta be happy!” can be a further reason for this to be a down time for many people. This may sound like advice – I guess it is advice: keep things simple, and plan some things that you can look forward to.
And if you cannot find something to look forward to in your life, call me up! Or call somebody – or talk to somebody. When we can’t look forward to something happy for ourselves, that’s a sign we’ve lost our hope. We may be depressed, and then it is important to talk.
I am very aware of mental health issues these days, and something occurred to me the other day: because of the attitudes we grow up with, we can talk about physical problems, but we can’t talk so freely about emotional and psychological problems. I am very concerned in this season about people who are grieving, maybe grieving losses from the long past, but losses just as real as any loss can be. I am concerned about people who tend to be depressed, and about how they will be at Christmas and New Year. And I am concerned, too, about people who may not usually be depressed, but who find themselves in psychic pain at the holidays. These things concern me very much as a pastor.
Let me ask you this: if you had a choice, would you rather have a broken arm or be depressed? If you know what depression is, you probably would prefer to have a broken arm. If someone breaks their arm, everyone knows about it. Friends and strangers will console you and tell you about the time they broke their arm, leg, nose, or hip. And they will sign your cast, maybe write a joke on your arm or a smiley
face ☺. And in church we will pray for you.
But if you are depressed, no one will necessarily know; no one will walk up to you on the street and say, “Oh yeah, I was depressed – and this is how it was for me – and this is how things are now,” and put their arms around you. And no one will write their name on your cast, because there is no cast you can put on the heart. And there probably won’t be prayers for you in church, because usually we do not make public such things about ourselves.
We can talk in fine words about hope for the world at Christmas, but those nice words don’t mean much unless there is hope right here today in your life – unless there are in your life things you take joy in and things you look forward to. It is not a selfish thing to want to be happy, to enjoy life. When the joy goes out of life, it’s not a shameful thing to speak – to a friend, a pastor, a listening ear of some kind. People can write their names on your heart, if you let them.
I am saying this in the hope that those of you who have deep inner struggles will be gentle with yourselves this season, and in the hope that you will not suffer alone. And I am raising this concern so that all of us will be mindful of those within our circle – family and friends, church and work – who need friendship, who need heart to heart connection with someone in this season.
There is much work to be done in this world; the church and Christian people individually are called to be about the work of healing and reconciliation and justice. That is true at Christmas, New Year, and the Fourth of July – really these days are no different from any other days. whois . But the Lord’s work is a work of love and work of hope and a work of joy. That is why the mending of the soul is holy work, too, because sometimes we must be mended before we can serve.
So take time – whatever time you can scrape together – for the soul’s needs, for the soul’s healing.
Keep it simple.
If you suffer, don’t suffer alone.
Do not wrap your wounds in silence,
but speak your heart to someone.
And whether you are in happiness and peace or in a hurting place, open your heart to sister and brother; a listening heart is a gift of God we each can share.