The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

By   •   December 14, 2008

Studies show that December through February marks the time of the year when people report the most stress and unhappiness in their lives, and the suicide rate is the highest during these months. For countless people, Christmas is downright depressing.

Many among us this Christmas are grieving the absence of a loved one, recovering from a job loss, or a dealing with fractured relationships.

Holiday cheer can intensify the sense of feeling left out, and the season can bring back painful memories. But it is important to recognize two levels of the holiday blues: feeling depressed versus having depression.

Depression influences a person’s eating and sleeping habits, thoughts, and disposition. And people cannot overcome depression simply through positive thinking or force of will because depression is an illness that involves physical, emotional, and psychological suffering.

If you are failing to get out of bed, feeling sad or hopeless all the time, showing no interest in otherwise enjoyable things, crying often, isolating yourself from others, or experiencing thoughts of suicide, then it is important that you seek professional attention from a doctor or counselor.

Billy Graham says, “Depression (I’m told) is often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain–and when that is the case, it often can be corrected with proper medication. If your doctor believes this is the reason for your problem, I would encourage you to heed his or her advice. If I broke my arm, I’d get the best medical treatment possible–and the same is true if I had an emotional problem.”

On the other hand, simply feeling depressed or heavyhearted during this time of year is a natural consequence of the heightened expectations that the holidays can bring.

On television and in movies, in pictures and on greeting cards, we see happy families, perfectly decorated homes, and piles of gifts; so it’s easy to imagine that everyone’s holiday plans are more fulfilling than ours–or that we are missing out on something in life, such as that supposedly perfect family.

And from these thoughts, guilt can arise for one’s own feelings of hopelessness. Some think that because they are Christians, they should not feel hopeless; but that is unrealistic. The pain of family troubles, unresolved misunderstandings, or ruined relationships can injure anyone.

Remember Christ’s own grief when His dearest friends betrayed and disowned Him. He knew there was more suffering ahead as well and prayed to God, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39).

In Christ’s struggle with suffering and rejection, we see that the cup of grief and loss is a bitter one to hold, even for the strongest of hearts.

Still, people tend to think that they should be able to overcome their holiday gloom on their own. After all, school is out, work is slow, and people have gone out of town, so many of us have a break. But the truth is that we need other people, and that’s one reason why the Church is called the Body of Christ: The Church is His presence in a physical sense.

A church is a body made up of broken people, like the very blood of Christ, which was “poured out for many” (Matthew 26:28).

If you feel “poured out” or are facing an immense loss, then consider joining a group at church where people share grief with one another. Though it seems odd, sorrow is never far away from joy. Oftentimes, it is in our deepest needs that we discover the warmth of friendship, the truth of a praise song, the power of Scripture, or the transformation of a prayer.

You may form your most intimate friendships with those who also are grieving, and you may find your deepest communion with God in your darkest hours. Consider becoming more involved in your church, or if you don’t yet attend church, make sure to find one in your community that you can call your church family.

The very body of Jesus Christ, even in its brokenness, was resurrected to wholeness. And for the Church, that promise is evident every day as Scripture says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

Even after the peace of worship or Christian companionship, the Christmas hustle remains. There’s shopping left to do: wrapping, cooking, preparing, writing, cleaning, and worrying. Debt piles up, and the tasks of the holiday season can bring an almost paralyzing feeling.

The Bible tells a story about a friend of Jesus’ who was caught up in a similar kind of busyness:

“A woman named Martha opened her home to [Jesus]. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (Luke 10:38-40).

Oh, and all those preparations! Anyone who has ever readied his or her home to receive holiday guests understands Martha’s distraction.

Later, when Martha complained to Jesus that her sister Mary was not helping her, Jesus replied, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

That “one thing” that Mary had was her decision, and she chose to spend her time sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ.

If you feel bummed out with the holiday hubbub, then you might take a moment to sit down and face your feelings head-on. Quiet your mind. Bring your thoughts to God in prayer. If it helps you to focus, write down your prayer.

Then take your feelings of dread, loneliness, worry, grief, exhaustion, or resentment, and step over them. Trust that God will help you leave those harmful feelings behind.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).

It might help to turn off the TV, put the gift wrapping away, or say “no” to that next Christmas get-together. The Bible says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

Christ knew his own need to quiet the noises around Him and focus on the Father.

The good news is that the joy of Christmas is not dependent on how we feel. It is joy regardless, and joy is more lasting than happiness.

God came to earth in the form of a child, and He lived among us.

The Bible says, “The angel of the Lord who appeared to Joseph said, ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’–which means, ‘God with us.’ (Matthew 1:23).

As you take joy in the meaning of the season and try to distance yourself from negative feelings, expect your mood to improve gradually. Feeling better takes time.

“I’ve been unemployed for over a year, and I’ve given up even looking for a job. My life seems so hopeless. All I do is sit around the house and watch television while my wife nags me to get a job. How can I get out of this pit?”
Read Billy Graham’s answer »

“I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager. Medicine sometimes helps for a while, but then I’ll start feeling like my life isn’t worth living and that I’ll never get better. I’ve prayed and prayed, but God doesn’t seem to care. What have I done to deserve this?”
Read Billy Graham’s answer »

“Sometimes I feel so depressed in the morning that I can hardly get up. My husband keeps telling me I need to see a doctor, but a friend of mine says that if I just have enough faith in God I’ll get better. Which one is right? What should I do?”
Read Billy Graham’s answer »

“Last week, I was allowed to go home after a month in the state mental hospital. My family had me admitted after I got depressed and tried to commit suicide. I’m better now, but how do I know I won’t slide back into this again? I need God to help me.”
Read Billy Graham’s answer »

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