The holiday season is in full gear and for most people the holidays are a time of family, feasts, and fun. But for a small group of people the holidays aren’t so joyous. For a variety of reasons the holiday season can be quite depressing, reminding people of traumas, loneliness, and loss.  I want to spend just a couple of minutes today to talk about those who struggle during the holidays and how we can encourage them.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m one of those who don’t actually do well during holidays. It’s pretty hard to explain why, but I’ll give it a try. Growing up the holidays were very stressful for me because one of several scenarios played out.

The first scenario would be I would be with my biological family but we were so broke that we could not celebrate as the rest of my friends’ families did. No turkey, no dressing, no presents, no nothing. We were lucky to have electricity and perhaps a meal of some sort. Then if we had a car we would go see my mother who was bedridden in a nursing home that smelled of urine and Pine Sol. Crushingly depressing when you had to leave your mother that day in that place. More embarrassing when you returned to school and the other kids asked what you got for Christmas – nothing.

The second scenario would be living in a foster family which provided all the trappings of the holidays. There was always plenty to eat, lots of presents, and never a threat of being kicked out of your apartment for not paying the rent. Yet those times also seemed a bit hollow – it wasn’t my family, it was the family the State chose for me to live with. Don’t get me wrong, nice people for the most part, but all the festivities could not change the fact that my father was in jail, my mother was in a nursing home, and my sisters and I were separated.

The third scenario was even more bizarre; my dad would have not paid the rent and we would be on the street. He would find someone to take us in (how I don’t know) and we would stay with this person and/or their family for a time. We weren’t friends with them; they were complete strangers, and we really didn’t participate in their family events. While I was living in Chicago this happened three different times. It’s just weird.

Holidays got a little worse for me just after Christmas 1984. It must have been just a day or two after Christmas day and I was hanging out with my buddy Mike Mills. Mike was house sitting for someone and somehow my dad tracked me down there (we didn’t have cell phones back then!). I was told that my mother had died. I don’t remember if it was that morning, the day before or when, but it really put a damper on my future Christmas experiences. I had not seen my mother in two years and the last time I did was Thanksgiving 1982 when I made a trip to Chicago during my freshman year Thanksgiving break. As I began to talk with her she asked me if I knew her son, Tom. She was so far gone she didn’t recognize me anymore. Since then Thanksgiving and Christmas have held some tough memories.

People like to say that time heals all wounds. I disagree and I think those who struggle during the holidays would agree with me. Time gives you the opportunity to find ways to manage your pain but it doesn’t heal it. Only God can heal a broken soul and many, many people have not found God in that sense yet and are really hurting during the holidays.

For me the holidays are still awkward but not as painful as before because God has heard my prayers and the cries of my heart. He helped me understand that while I cannot change the past I don’t have to live there either.

This morning I read a devotional by Charles Swindoll which had one of my favorite verses. If I were to give advice to those hurting this holiday season this is what I would tell them:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. “ Romans 8:28

That has been my experience. By loving God and hanging on to Him when I had nothing else God did indeed work all things for good – including the crappy stuff – for me for His purpose in His time.

Are you someone who struggles during the holidays? Do you know someone who does? Think about this: Your pain is real but so is God’s love. Focus less on the holiday trappings and more on the reason for the holiday. Be thankful on Thanksgiving that the creator of the universe loves you especially and will guide your life if you let Him. Know in your heart that Christmas is not about trees, lights, gifts, and shopping. It’s about a savior who sacrificed everything for you because He loves you so much.

As you get around people (probably the hardest part) know they have little chance of really understanding how you feel and give them a break. Don’t be the person that takes away their blessing of holidays because of your private pain. Instead pray that God enables you through the Holy Spirit to get through one more family dinner, or Christmas party, or whatever it is.

If you are “normal” and enjoy the holidays think about how others may feel and be compassionate. Don’t say you understand because you probably don’t, but do say that you want to make the person as comfortable as possible in what might be an uncomfortable situation.

I just did Thanksgiving with my in-laws (24th year in a row!) and a late Thanksgiving dinner with one of my foster families. I won’t tell you it’s easy because it never is. But I will tell you that in our own strength things are impossible, but with God all things are possible! Don’t rely on the booze, or drugs, or rock-n-roll this holiday season as your crutch to get through. Turn to the One who can truly heal you and move you forward in the process of getting stronger. He truly will use all things for good for those who love Him.

If you’re serious about wanting healing in this area try this prayer:

Father, I am hurting deeply and only you know the depths of my pain. There is nothing I can do in my own strength to recover so I come to you and ask that you heal me through the Holy Spirit that indwells me. I ask, Father, that you reveal to me your truths of how you’ve worked my pain for good in my life so I can see your plan for me. Father, my soul is broken and I need you in my life so please carry me through the holidays and show me that path to healing. Amen.