It’s November. It’s Thanksgiving week. The holidays are completely upon us, which is weird considering I’m pretty sure yesterday was January but whatever. We’re starting to see all the usual holiday staples, bright lights, lots of shopping, huge meals that nearly send you into a coma, contemplative social media posts about the last year, etc. You know, most magical time of the year stuff. But for a lot of people that most magical time of the year, for all it’s bright lights and cheery jazz music, can conjure up a lot of painful associations. It’s not fun to recognize, but the holidays can leave a lot of people feeling nothing short of raw. On top of that, there can be a lot of well-meaning attempts to bear the hurting ones through the holidays that just leave people feeling like a burden on the happy and unaffected.
Cheerful stuff I know, but bear with me here.
The box the world tries to shove you and your pain into during the holidays is not an accurate representation of how God approaches pain. There are realities of pain and heartache that are confusing and hurtful, but I’m here to tell you are not less for feeling these things. God intimately knows the facts of grief and heartache. He gave us hard and fast truths lived out in his word that can teach us about our own pain.
1. It’s ok to grieve.
If you’re hurting and reading this, I don’t need to tell you how often you feel pressure to hide the fact that you’re in pain. Sometimes the pressure comes from other people, sometimes you just put that pressure on yourself. I’m lucky. There’s a lot to be thankful for. Good things are still happening. It’s a happy time of year.
And that’s all very true, but you know what else is? It still hurts. You can know so many positive things about the direction of your life and a heartbreak will still be a heartbreak. So let’s not pretend otherwise. You can do both and do both honestly. If anything, doing so will better prepare you for the good things that are coming your way.
You know who did this better than anyone else? Jesus. Specifically at Lazarus’ tomb.
In the story, Jesus gets the message to come quick, Lazarus is on his death bed and only a miracle from Jesus can save him now, but Jesus doesn’t come. It’s not a distance or time issue, geographically, Jesus could very easily have made the trek but he and his disciples stay put. Then the word comes that Lazarus is dead and Jesus makes his way over.
He’s not being spontaneous here. He makes it clear to his disciples that these moves are being made with intention and purpose. Jesus is very obviously planning something big and is well aware of what the outcome will be. And yet, when he’s present at the reality of his friend’s death, the grief of all those who loved Lazarus, and the emotional pain of worldly death, Jesus does something almost more shocking than the miracle that followed. Jesus starts crying.
He openly weeps at the sight of all this pain, not just because others are grieving, but because he feels it too. This isn’t an instance of a dramatic, single, glistening tear rolling down his cheek that quietly displayed his pain. This was crying with a capital C. Some translations even go as far as saying Jesus sobbed. Jesus was hurting and he showed it.
Here’s the thing though. Jesus didn’t cry because he wasn’t sure if he would be able to resurrect Lazarus or because everything was hopeless or because he was simply weak. Jesus knew it was only a matter of minutes before he saw his friend again and he still wept. He cried because grief is real and it moves us in painful and powerful ways. If Jesus can acknowledge the weight of grief with honesty maybe we can allow ourselves and others to do the same.
2. You’re not a failure for feeling fear.
We’re told in the Bible in many instances not to be afraid, and I’m not going to claim that God got that one wrong. But we do live with the undeniable reality that we all feel fear regardless, and a very unfortunate side effect of fear is shame. We feel ashamed for being afraid. We berate ourselves and say we should be doing better. We chant this at ourselves until it’s all we’re doing and it’s all we can focus on. In our effort to keep ourselves from feeling fear we all to often switch to an opposite extreme that renders us complete stagnate.
So what’s a better tactic? How about one that admits fear exists and still acts? How about the fear Jesus modeled in the Garden of Gethsemene?
In the time leading up to his arrest, Jesus retreats to Gethsemene with his disciples to pray. It’s there that Jesus displays the most incredible examples of courage in the face of fear. He doesn’t go to the garden and pray calmly and passively. He starts praying with such raw ferocity you can’t help but recognize the soul-crushing fear that’s warring inside him.
Luke, the doctor and Mr. Technical, throws this scene into a startling light when he describes what started happening to Jesus: “He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44) This isn’t just flowery, imaginative language to convey that Jesus was upset. This is actually a documented medical phenomenon that can occur in moments of incredible stress and anxiety.
Jesus was under so much stress and fear his body started responding independently of his courage and intention. That’s pure, unadulterated fear and it was coming from the savior of the world. If he experienced the agonizing weight of fear without stopping dead or trying to hide it from view, perhaps we can try to do the same for ourselves.
Having fear is not an automatic failure. It’s what we do with that fear that makes or breaks us. After all, no one seeks courage because they are devoid of fear. They seek it because fear is absolutely present in their lives and they know exactly what they want to do with it.
3. You are not alone.
Fear and pain are hard enough without also bearing them alone. And yet, so often, that’s exactly where you can find yourself: feeling completely alone in the things that are hurting you. The reasons for that isolation are different for everyone, but often it comes out of a misguided awareness of others. We don’t share our pain because we think if others know about it they will either think less of us or, on the opposite side, we think we’ll become a burden to them and drag them down with us. This is nothing but a lie designed to keep you immobilized in your pain.
You are not alone. You never have been and you never will be. You are not alone.
God gifts us incredible people in our lives. May we not forget to lean into that gift. He gives you himself, he gives you his Son, he gives you the Holy Spirit, and he gives you fellow believers. People who come with their own imperfections and pains, yes, but through his grace are empowered to bear you up in his name in times of trouble. And that lie that tells you you are less because you’re experiencing pain and heartache? The one that says feeling those things precludes you from participating? It is not refuted by putting it to the test and letting people show up for you.
You don’t have to bottle up all your hurt, fear, and heartache to still be valued and effective.
You are not alone in the sadness and fear that surrounds your holiday season. You are not condemned for feeling those things. You are still wanted, loved, and cherished while you are feeling those things. You still have a purpose and you still have a place at the table. This is hard, but it’s also doable.
So yes, the holidays are a wonderful, magical time of year, but if they are painful for you, let them be. That’s a real emotion too and you are not less for feeling that. God loves you. He is with you. And most importantly he knows exactly what you’re feeling. He knows all of it, and he is still firmly planted in your corner, ready to see you through this season.
I know the holidays may be hard, so let’s celebrate it all.
Let’s find some joy,