Let’s face it. This is not an easy time of the year for many people. If you’ve lost a loved one, gone through a divorce, suffered through an illness or injury, faced a job loss, lost your home to bankruptcy or foreclosure, or struggled with addictions for yourself or a loved one, it may be difficult for you to feel thankful or to feel warm and fuzzy about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Here are a few tips for you or to share with someone you know, love, or care about:
1. There are no bad feelings, only feelings that make us feel bad.We cannot assign a moral value to our feelings. Our feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are. Try not to run away, repress, or numb what you are feeling.
2. It is O.K. to feel sadness and loss. When we are feeling down, blue, or depressed, we tend to project on to other people that they don’t want to be around a “stick in the mud.” The way the psyche works with this is, “If I don’t want to be with me, why would anyone else want to be with me?” The holiday pressure to be “up” makes it that much more difficult and just another expectation that is going to make us feel like we’ve failed. Don’t pressure others to “snap out of it” or “look at the bright side.” If you find yourself wanting to offer encouragement by using a cliché then don’t. Instead, offer your presence instead of presents.
3. Mobilize Your Feelings. I read an article in the U.S.A. Today about a woman whose daughter was murdered ten years ago and she has now decided to track down those who killed her daughter since the police were unable to do so. One couple I know who’s son committed suicide after battling addictions and depression for a decade established a fund to assist young adults to help provide case workers for those who are transitioning from Halfway houses to independent living arrangements. What can I do to help me take my power back and make a difference rather than to “give in" to the hopelessness and helplessness.
4. Find someone to share how you feel. I read a book many years ago by Jess Lair titled, “I Ain't Well, But I Sure Am Better.” He stated that Montana is known as the "Howdy State." People ride around in their pick-up trucks and wave “Howdy” to each other. Lair pointed out that there are more suicides per capita in Montana than any other state. We need more than "howdy" relationships. Be intentional about building real relationships. A fellow pastor walked into my office one day and said, "We're going to go to lunch today, you seem to be the kind of person that I want to get to know, and I want to be your friend." I’ve never had anyone do that before or since but it worked. We may have to choose who will be our "friends." If not, find a support group, a twelve step group, a spiritual director, a pastor, or a trained counselor.
5. Tell Your Story. We all have a story to tell and a story to share. Your story, where you are from, what you have done, your family and friends, the experiences you’ve had, are all variables that have helped shape your life up until this point. Most of our stories have to do with either joy we have experienced or pain we have suffered. Something happens in the telling and hearing of our story. Joy that is shared becomes a celebration. Pain that we release becomes healing. If we are carrying shame that is accepted by another the power of the shame is diminished and we move one step closer toward wholeness.
6. Discover a sense of community. Much of what we pass off as community is really pseudo-community. We have to get beyond the "howdy" stuff (#4) and the assumption that we are all alike, we agree on everything, or we all believe the same things. We don’t. Pretending like we do make us all operate under the assumption “it is better to be nice than it is to be real.” In real communities we struggle to figure out how to do both. If your church, synagogue, or mosque is just another place where you can be anonymous, you haven’t found a true community.
7. Capture a sense of what it means to be spiritual for you. The essence of the spiritual message of this season is that of hope. No matter how dark the world gets God is entering into our world in the same way we all came. No matter how dark your world may be God is entering to meet you in it.