I don’t know about you, but I’m honestly not really looking forward to Christmas Day. Call me ‘Negative Nancy’ – that’s ok, I can handle it.

It seems like everyone around me is eagerly awaiting December 25th, but I just want to hide under a blanket until the day is over.

I had a sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t the only one feeling a bit anxious about Christmas Day, so I asked around, and it turns out I’m not alone in the struggle. You’re not alone either.

“I hope and pray that you find encouragement within the next few paragraphs.”

As a Christian, I know that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I feel like I should rejoice because of that alone. But I can’t escape the fact that for many of us, our issues and hurts are so real and raw that the Christmas season is tainted with pain and grief.

I hope and pray that you find encouragement within the next few paragraphs.

Mental illness

This is a topic that’s close to home for me. 

Mental illness isn’t dependent on your circumstances. Your outward circumstances can be amazing, and people could think you had every reason to be happy, but you’re not. So even on a day like Christmas, when you’re ‘supposed’ to feel happy, unfortunately when you’re battling a mental illness, that’s not the case.

“…sending scriptures by text message with emoji smiley faces doesn’t quite cut it.” – Teagan Russell

What can we do to help?

Please don’t tell us to just “cheer up!” – that’s one of the worst things you can do, and when you say that, it shows how naive you are regarding mental illness. Also, as well-meaning as it is, sending scriptures by text message with emoji smiley faces don’t quite cut it. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with encouraging someone with scripture (I love the Bible!), but sometimes this feels a bit lazy on the part of my Christian friends.

“These things show real effort, and isn’t that the call of a Christian – to show love in action?” – Teagan

It would mean so much more if they actually showed me their love and care for me in a practical way, like offering to help with an errand, visiting me at my house when I don’t feel like going anywhere, bringing chocolate, sending a card in the mail. These things show real effort, and isn’t that the call of a Christian – to show love in action?

A recent breakup

Also by yours truly. I went through a couple of breakups this year. It hasn’t been fun.

You were so excited about spending Christmas together as a couple. Maybe it was going to be your first one; the time you were going to introduce them to your family. You thought about what you’d buy them, what you’d wear, and what Christmas Day together would be like.

Then it all smashed into a million pieces. And you were left heartbroken, and dreading turning up at Christmas dinner alone. You’re sensitive. You’re moody. You’re hurting.

“…after a breakup your self esteem can be really low.” – Teagan

What can we do to help?

Ask them how they’re going, and say something kind. We all need encouragement, and after a breakup your self esteem can be really low. It’s amazing how much good some kind words can do to build you back up.

Physical touch does wonders, and I recently learned that a 20 second hug releases the bonding hormone and neurotransmitter, oxytocin, which is nature’s antidepressant and anti-anxiety hormone! Pretty cool huh?

Financial Hardship

David Ould is an Anglican Minister at Glenquarie Anglican Church, and works with Break the Cycle, an organisation dedicated to serving those experiencing financial hardship.

“People feel under immense pressure to provide at the same level and suffer greatly from guilt if they can’t.” – David Ould

Christmas is a particularly difficult time for those experiencing financial hardship. There is a real desire to provide a meaningful and enjoyable celebration for loved ones, especially children, which is compounded by seeing extravagant consumption and gift-giving all around. People feel under immense pressure to provide at the same level and suffer greatly from guilt if they can’t.

We also see clients who have no experience in planning their budgets get into a real mess in the New Year having spent all their money on Christmas. Often Christmas purchases are funded using payday lending or consumer leasing arrangements which lock people into longer-term financial hardship.

What can we do to help?

Christians need to know that many who are in financial hardship will make poor financial decisions around the Christmas period not through simple irresponsibility but through a genuine desire to do the very best for those they love but without any of the basic financial education and other wisdom-giving life experiences that many of us have the privilege of having. We need to be quick not to rush to judgement.

“Christmas is a time when we see God’s raw grace in the giving of His Son; what better way to communicate that then by acting generously ourselves?” – David Ould

We ought also to not be afraid of graciously supporting people at this time, despite our own embarrassment or worry about embarrassing them. Christmas is a time when we see God’s raw grace in the giving of His Son; what better way to communicate that then by acting generously ourselves?

Divorced and broken families

Christmas is not all fun family frivolity, and this time of year is often marked by fractured relationships, as tensions boil to the surface and play out across the dinner table. One Eternity reader has bravely offered to share her experience. She has asked to remain anonymous.

Christmas is hard for single parents. It’s all about family and togetherness. The children are often shunted between the divorced parents and the in-laws so they are exhausted. They inevitably end up emotionally used up, and tired and grumpy/angry when they get back to the other parent in the evening. This parent probably won’t get to enjoy Christmas cheer with their children but instead have to manage their children’s emotions and behaviour while also managing their own emotions.

“All manner of ugly feelings can arise on Christmas day.”

Single parents could be resentful that the other parent got the best of the children, got to be the one who sowed positive memories, and the one who [may have] also given more expensive/exciting presents.

All manner of ugly feelings can arise on Christmas day: jealousy, envy, resentment, questioning motives, looking for agendas, regret, and hopelessness, all punctuated by the fact that family will never be the same again.

What can we do to help?

With or without kids, there’s something about occasions like Christmas that bring up memories and remind the divorced person that their partner isn’t there anymore. Even if years have passed, it can still be incredibly difficult.

“…sometimes ignoring the issue makes it feel like they don’t care.”

Be sensitive, and if appropriate, ask them how they’re doing. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that my family members haven’t acknowledged it or asked me how I’m doing in light of everything. This was probably the intention not to stir up hurt, but sometimes ignoring the issue makes it feel like they don’t care. I would love my family and friends to ask me about it, because this shows they are not oblivious to my pain.

Singles

Tania Harris is a pastor, author and the founder of God Conversations. She knows what it means to turn up to Christmas lunch, alone.

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year?’ The clichés roll out endlessly at Christmas time and mostly they reference the picture perfect family of a Norman Rockwell painting. As a single, Christmas can become another glaring reminder of the empty chairs at the table and the extra space under the Christmas tree.

“When we gather at Christmas, let’s not forget to embrace the ones who find themselves alone.” – Tania Harris

It’s ironic that the One we celebrate never met our modern criteria for happy families at Christmas. Our God incarnated as a single man and showed us that the abundant life is possible without the romance of a partner to sing carols by candlelight with or to share a feast of turkey and pudding with on the day. Jesus didn’t limit the ideal of families as we so often do, recognising the power of the Spirit to seal relationships that are just as valuable as traditional ones (Matthew 12:48-50).

What can we do to help?

When we gather at Christmas, let’s not forget to embrace the ones who find themselves alone. Single or married, when we’re surrounded with those we love, it can still be a most wonderful time of the year.

Grief over the loss of a loved one

Tess is writer for us at Eternity, and experienced the loss of a loved one this year.

My step mum passed away in June after a long illness, and honestly, I feel relieved. Our relationship was never straightforward, and realistically, I am grateful to be released from all the plane trips, the hospital visits and the obligation (particularly at a time of year already overflowing with obligation to millions of other people).

I definitely acted in love towards her, but my emotions weren’t always in it, particularly towards the end, which feels like the most insensitive thing I’ve ever thought.

“…wise people keep telling me that there is no ABC of grief…” – Tess Holgate

And in and of itself, I find the feeling of relief quite confusing. I feel guilty that I don’t really miss her. And I worry that I’m a little bit of a sociopath for not tearing up every time I think of her.

But wise people keep telling me that there is no ABC of grief, it just twists and turns and takes its own path, pushing aside whatever stands in its way. People grieve in their own way, and the thing I most often need to hear is, “Tess, you’re not a sociopath for feeling relieved.”

What can we do to help?

Loss is so weird, right? It has no predetermined path, so I guess the most helpful thing to say is that you need to listen to the grieving person to see how they feel at that precise moment. Christmas is stressful enough – grieving people need assurance that their feelings are valid, even when there is a bigger truth that also needs to be told.

Estranged Family Members

Given the sensitivities of family tensions, this Eternity reader has asked to remain anonymous.

I hate Christmas. I mean: I love the tree, the decorations, the music, the tinsel and the presents. But I hate the family lunches. If you were me, you’d probably hate it too.

“It makes me want to run away, take up residence in a cave and become a hermit.” – Anonymous

Two of my siblings are estranged from our family. Honestly, I’m not even sure why. It’s been so long, and I was so young when it happened, and it’s just one of those things we don’t ever talk about. I wonder whether anyone (including the siblings) even remember the reason anymore.

At Christmas, people drink to forget that our family is fractured, irretrievably. And then tempers flare, over disagreements about unimportant things. It makes me want to run away, take up residence in a cave and become a hermit.

I once lived with a girl who was shocked when I said I wasn’t going home for Christmas one year. I wish I’d had the courage to tell her that my family isn’t always restful, and that spending time in that environment is really hard work.

What can we do to help?

“…Christmas around the family dinner table is not always a joyous affair.” – Anonymous

Dear Christian reader, I want you to know, in the most generous sense, that reconciliation is not always possible in these relationships. Sometimes, sin reaches very far into people’s hearts, and apart from prayer, there is nothing anyone can do or say to remedy it. I wish more Christians entered conversations aware that, for some people, Christmas around the family dinner table is not always a joyous affair.

Sick loved ones

Jeff Godwell is a hospital chaplain who sees sickness and injury on a daily basis. Eternity asked him to reflect on the particular challenges of caring for a sick friend or relative during the Christmas season.

Sudden hospitalisation is always disruptive, but when it happens at Christmas, all the normal difficulties are heightened because the patient misses their family, friends and the love they usually experience over Christmas. All the normal happy experiences of Christmas are replaced with pain, sickness, suffering and generally feeling lost, alone and vulnerable.

What can we do to help?

“Isn’t that what Christ did by being born? Isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?” – Jeff Godwell

Like most of us, when someone is sick they need to know that they exist and that we care about them too. It is especially thoughtful and considerate of us when we surrender our needs to care for someone else’s at Christmas. Isn’t that what Christ did by being born? Isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

If you or someone you know needs help please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Email Icon

Email This Story

Why not send this to a friend?

Share

Comments

More