The Weary World Rejoices
In a season typically described as “joyful,” “merry,” and “magical,” the pain of loss, trauma, depression, and loneliness can seem even more magnified. Navigating the complexity of holidays marketed as family-oriented and consumer-focused can be challenging.
Our world is a broken place and, for many, that brokenness is deeply personal. Faced with the daily reminder on commercials, in the stores, on TV, or in our communities of what others have (or the illusion of what they have) can create feelings of despair, isolation, grief, fear, anger, bitterness and more. Or worse, they can amplify feelings that were already present.
For others, this time of year can represent a chance to escape, to avoid the pain that burrows deep within and to immerse in practices that will eventually come back to haunt. Drinking the depression away. Buying off rejection. Jumping into casual intimacy to avoid the overwhelming loneliness.
For those who find themselves walking in what feels more like the darkness of the holidays, there isn’t a magic wand that instantly transforms the world around you into a space that is blissful, healthy, and whole. Yet, this is often our deepest desire, conscious or unconscious, and our unfulfilled hope. What if the answer looked different than the drive to replace pain with happiness, despair with rejoicing?
Perhaps the hope we can pursue is the space to hold both the longing and the contentment together.
For Western Christians, this season is also a time of Advent, a liturgical practice that challenges the discipline of preparing one’s mind, heart, and attitude towards the coming of Christ – light into darkness. It’s both somber and celebratory. Those who follow the advent tradition are challenged to acknowledge the darkness, the depravity of our present world and the pain that flows through it, while also holding to the promise of One whose birth represents the assurance of restoration.
I think it is worthy to note that movement and moments happen in the darkness.
Darkness is not a place of stagnation and decay. The Bible reminds us that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:1-2). God literally created the heavens and the earth in darkness before He called forth light. Babies are formed in the darkness of their mother’s womb. Photos brilliantly develop in the absence of light.
While it may be incredibly painful, there is a purpose in the darkness.
During this Christmas season, perhaps instead of fighting against the gravity of emotional heaviness, you might choose to pursue a balance of validating what is real and tender while also choosing to look for moments of joy. It’s a practice that just might shift your perspective a bit.
It may feel overwhelmingly lonely in the dark places and you may feel a brief release from the pain while feeling the pleasure of watching a child laugh on the bus. You might feel the heavy burden of grief and you might feel the gratitude of a friend’s company over a homecooked meal. You might feel the anxiety and fear of re-traumatization when retuning to a home absent of comforting childhood memories and you might feel the peace of the familiar surroundings of church sanctuary.
My hope is that you’ll grant yourself permission to feel the weary and the rejoicing as you experience both the temporary tragedy of darkness and the enduring peace of light.
BIO: Dr. Deborah Gorton presently serves as the Director of Moody Theological Seminary's Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, as well as the Gary Chapman Chair for Marriage and Family Ministry and Counseling.
She has been a Licensed Clinical Psychologist since 2011 and also contributes to the field of mental health through teaching, leadership, and writing. You can connect with her on Instagram @debgorton. Keep an eye out for her upcoming book about embracing the uncomfortable.