Preparing My Heart for Christmas
It’s been a hard year.
As I begin to look back and reflect upon 2010, and anticipate celebrating Christmas this year, my heart is a bit heavy. It feels as though this year has been one of loss, struggle and discouragement.
We’ve lost family and friends to cancer, and heard of more diagnoses just recently. Walked through financial difficulty, legal issues and infertility with close friends. Saw the end of a loved one’s marriage. Faced continued health challenges for my husband, and our two youngest children. Worked (often beyond our physical limits) trying to establish our family businesses, to the point that my health has suffered in recent months. Watched the economy continue to dive, and tried not to read the news more than we had to.
I don’t say any of this to garner sympathy. Our circumstances are nothing unique. Most likely, many of you can only nod with me, thinking of similar or even far more difficult challenges that your own family has faced this year.
Last week, I let the pain and suffering around me begin to take hold of my heart… I was exhausted, feeling hopeless, and so very discouraged.
Through those who love me, I was ministered to and cared for. I felt God began to whisper something to me, deep into the depths of my broken spirit that was so overwhelmed with the chaos and ugliness and uncertainty of this earthly life… I felt Him saying, “I want you to be overwhelmed by my GOODNESS“.
Even as I write this now, seeing His goodness above these circumstances isn’t coming particularly easily. It’s a choice, and some days, a fierce and moment-by-moment one at that.
My Goal for This Coming Holiday Season?
To look beyond the simple stories of a babe in a manger, so that I can see and rejoice in and place my hope in a Savior who is far mightier than the struggles I find myself or those I love facing.
Last year our church put on a unique Christmas concert, that connected the birth of Christ directly to His death on the Cross and His resurrection. It must have been shocking to some… who begins a Christmas concert with a crucifixion scene? Where were the angels, the shepherds and the wise men?
But without looking forward to Easter, Christmas has little meaning. If we see only the bleeting sheep and the lowing cows and the humble manger, and forget that His ultimate purpose was to reach down and redeem us, not just for this life but ultimately for eternity, then we’re missing the point.
The goodness that I want to be overwhelmed by this Christmas season is that I have a God who is both GOOD and SOVEREIGN over every circumstance, every seemingly hopeless situation, every tragedy, every loss, every shed tear.
Christ the Lord has come in the flesh… and He is coming again in victory.
Celebrating and reminding ourselves of what the Father did for us long ago by sending His precious Son to earth strengthens our grasp on the truth that He will come again one day, and He will make all things new.
Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas
This last while I’ve been working through Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges (a wonderful read for anyone who is struggling with God’s sovereignty and goodness in the midst of adversity).
I also like to make a habit of reading a book each December that orients my heart toward the joy and meaning of Christmas. This year I’ve decided on Heaven by Randy Alcorn, an unusual choice for me in that it focuses on what is to come, instead of what He has already done. I want to feast my mind on what my gracious Heavenly Father has in store for me, to give me hope and eternal purpose even in the midst of life’s struggles.
With my children, I will also be using Ann Voskamp’s beautiful advent devotional, The Glorious Coming (which is unfortunately not currently available, as she may be doing a re-write of the book). It is an amazing resource for helping us to really stop and see Christ in Christmas.
I will pray for you. Your list looks a lot like mine. With much sadness through the year and discouragement with the need to continue working jobs that are bad for our health. I too am working on a home business that is a possible way out of my job. We will wait and see how that goes. Won’t be a lot of money in it but maybe enough and that is all I ask for. Books can give us thoughts that don’t some naturally and really help us. Thank you for the suggestions. Best wishes for a happier December.
I also really enjoyed “Heaven”, though it is quite long. I often would stop to tell my husband, “Hey, listen to this…!” while reading it. Also, I’ve took the habit of reading an encouraging book at Christmastime (Nov-Dec) though they have been of a different sort-usually fiction. I read so much non-fiction in ayear that this is usually the only time I do read fiction! 🙂
Last year I read “Little Women” (truly a wondeful book to read in preparation for Christmas!) and this year I”m going through the Anne of Green Gables series, which have been really good as well.
Thanks for sharing your heart,
We’ll be using Ann VosKamp’s devotions and our homemade Jesse Tree ornaments starting in just two days. I like your idea of also adding a personal element for myself — something that is just between the Lord and I.
I could so relate to your post. This is the first time in 16 years of marriage that we haven’t had some major crisis during the holiday. This is the first year that my heart isn’t heavy and I’m not looking forward to the turning of the new year so I could put closure on the present year.
I would really encourage you to simplify and simplify your expectations for the holiday so that it is a balm to you. This is just a season (though mine was quite long), but the Lord will provide a respite. I can say that now.
I pray that the Lord would soothe your heart with glimpses of His goodness. I pray that your heart would find it’s rest in Christ, in all that He is. May He bring you little joys that refresh during your days. May the light of His face lift your countenance. I truly understand.
@Betty, Thank you for your sweet words and prayers, Betty. 🙂
Thanks so much for recommending Ann Voskamp’s advent book for children, The Glorious Coming. Though it is not available for purchase just now, it is available for download at this link.
This year has been a challenging one for so many of us. Thank you or sharing how the Lord is leading your heart so tenderly during this season.
You’ve been on my mind a lot these past couple of weeks. I’ve been wondering how you are doing. I’m sorry this has been such a tough year for you however I’m so glad you are drawing on God’s strength during this time. I’m going to look for the book “Trusting God”, thanks for recommending it.
Thinking of you,
@Laura, So nice to hear from you, hon! I’ve also thought of you and your family, wondering how the transition to the new job and the new town are going! Hope that all is well with you and that you are also drawing from His strength in this season… *hugs*
me too, Stephanie… I’ll be praying for you.
@Tammy L, Thank you. 🙂
Maranatha…Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Hi Stephanie- Thanks for daring to shine your (His) light through your cracks… your honest words. 🙂 Just wanted you to know that Ann has a free updated Advent e-book on her sight. I have the old hard copy too, and there are enough changes that I downloaded the new one as well.
After I hit submit, I’ll lift up a prayer for you and your family. 🙂
Keeping my eyes up with you,
@Erin, Thank you for the prayers, and the tip on the updated ebook!
time are not easy for most of us, and looks like you have been tested in many ways, thanks for sharing this with us!
our year has been hard, as well.
Hub worked out of state for 10 months, 2 grown sons moved back with us (1000 mile move for them), my work has been in upheaval which interfered with homeschooling our 12 & 14 year olds… and it seems the house never got all the way clean even once the whole year. And of course, like so many others, financial woes (but we have been in this state of barely-enough-to-survive-but-not-poor-enough-for-help for 4 years and it is becoming crushing). Hub has been passed over for two jobs that would have solved so many problems so he is so discouraged it is left for me to be the cheerleader and look towards God, keeping hope alive.
Then you add our health issues and those of loved ones and it can be very depressing.
But I will continue to wait on the Lord, from whom all blessings flow.
Thanks for sharing, I found encouragement there.
my thoughts and prayers are definitely with you stephanie. it has been a difficult year and i think that will help me celebrate Christ this Christmas all the more! because of Christ, there is hope and joy, even though there is difficulty, sadness and discouragement. because of Christ, i know that i am not alone, no matter how difficult the day, month, etc. because of Christ’s suffering, i know that He knows what i’m going through and that He is there, helping me along. i may not be able to see Him, but if i try, i can feel His spirit with me.
i used to have a picture hanging on my bedroom wall that was picture of Christ with the words, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”
thanks for the great post and the even better reminder of how I should be celebrating this season!
I just wanted to say that Heaven is a really amazing book. I’ve read it two or three times, and it still influences my thinking in a lot of far-reaching ways that I couldn’t ever have imagined.
I so appreciated your very real and transparent post. It’s not that I like that you are going through hard times and trials, but somehow it helps to read, from you and the other comments, that I am not alone.
I am not normally one to have a heavy heart. I’ve had tragedy and loss starting with my dad’s suicide when I was a teen, to losing my beautiful teen daughter a few years ago to cancer. But the Lord has been faithful through it all, and everything in between. I know He will be for all that’s yet to come. But somehow, my heart is still heavy.
Or maybe I am mistaking the ‘heaviness’ for growth. He tells us to ask for wisdom and discernment. Maybe this feeling is His answer as we see life on this earth, over and over not what it’s cracked up to be. We see the ‘images’ that society throws at us, and we realize that that’s all they are – images and lies.
Oh how I long for Heaven! Where there will be no more pain and suffering, and we will be safe in HIs arms. Until then, I will face each new day and all that comes with with the simple purpose of bringing HIM glory in all that I say and do. Some days, that may simply be trusting Him to give me the strength to lift my chin and heart to Him.
@Celeste, I’m so sorry for the losses you’ve faced, Celeste. But I hear you about perhaps mistaking heaviness for the work of growth and sanctification that the Lord is doing in this. I share your longing for heaven. Thank God that He does provide enough strength for every day, though!
Oh, sweet Stephanie. How well I understand! Your 2010 sounds like our 2008. I will never forget that Christmas – Kyle and I both literally sobbed our way through the Christmas season. It makes my heart ache even now to think about it. I don’t have any profound words of comfort. In time, we adjusted to a new normal and God healed our aches and pains.
I do know that I absolutely lived in Psalm 27:13 during that season – “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” Even when things are terrible, Blessed be He.
Also, Ann’s Advent release this year – The Jesse Tree Journey – is FANTASTIC. We started ours yesterday. It is powerful and meaningful and Dacey and I are making wonderful memories making our ornaments.
Love and hope and peace to you, Stephanie. Wish I could give you a big ol’ hug!
@Megan@SortaCrunchy, I’ll take a cyber hug instead. 🙂 Thanks, friend.
It sounds like 2010 has been a rough year for so many people. Ours started with a new full-time job for my husband, after being laid off March 2009 and trudging through part-time jobs, taking college courses and pulling our kids from public school to homeschool. Unfortunately, the new job was no better than the part-time jobs for providing for our family and January 1st we found out we were expecting. This job did allow my husband and son to go on a mission trip to Kenya that God was able to provide for every last expense. The trip pretty well cost my husband his job, but he hung in there until God provided a new job, which is the one he has been waiting years for and we now have hope of moving to the country and becoming more self-sufficient. Sometimes the wait is long and the lessons are unknown, but well worth the trip.
In our search to find help for getting my husbands diabetes under control we have been looking into Gerson Therapy. Dr. Max Gerson found a way to cure cancer in 1928, but his therapy has not been allowed in the USA. There are books and documentaries about this and a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico still run by his daughter Charlotte Gerson. I urge anyone facing cancer to look into this at gerson.org, it is a ray of hope in a dark hour.
I have consumed Jerry Bridge’s The Practice of Godliness, and The Pursuit of Holiness a number of times now. I am currently reading Transforming Grace, but was excited to see the one you listed above as well. His work is very meaty, and I highly recommend him to others.
We just watched Little Women the other night as a family (kids 13, 15, 18, 24, and 25). We all just LOVE this movie, although 18 son couldn’t quite hang with us and dozed off for a bit (the rigors of college studies).
This I know, on Christmas as on every day: Life is hard, but God is good. My sister was killed in a tragic accident on Christmas Eve – this year it will be 11 years. In some ways that made it particularly hard, but would it really matter in the end what day it happened? I have never been able to say the words that refer to her as d—. She went to be with the Lord, and to say anything other than that seems to be false.
God is good, all the time. May you all experience a measure of His peace today.
I have been following your blog for a couple months now but I have never posted any comments. I wanted to today though. Your post has really touched my heart. Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, my niece’s husband committed suicide. My husband and I were very close to him and had been ministering to them both for the past three years and in that time we saw this young man turn completely away from God. He decided that he could not be an intellectual person and still believe in God. Instead, he took the Naturalistic world view and tried to make everything fit into it, which because we are God’s creation, is not possible. Once he decided to follow that path he became increasingly depressed and kept saying that his views just did not allow for him to have any value, which drove him deeper into depression. I have never had someone so close to me completely reject God. Your statement “I have a God who is both GOOD and SOVEREIGN over every circumstance, every seemingly hopeless situation, every tragedy, every loss, every shed tear.” really helped me have some clarity about this situation. While we are devastated over his loss we are praying that this will be an opportunity for my niece to come back to Christ so that their baby is raised in a christian home. We also are taking comfort in the fact that we do have a loving, merciful God that gave him one last chance to accept him as his Savior. Two days before this tragedy he was witnessed to by someone at work. He posted on this blog that he was appreciative of their politeness and that he just wasn’t a believer.
i just wanted you to know that God used you to reiterate to me that He is in control of this situation. Sometimes I think we wonder if what we do has an effect on anyone and I wanted you to know that today, you did.
Thank you and God bless you.
@amanda, Thank you for sharing your story, Amanda. So painful, and yet God is still at work in the situation. Praying for God’s comfort for your family during this season of loss!
I want to thank you for your honesty. I don’t think people want to admit that they are having trouble getting in a “holiday spirit.” But when you are fighting month after month to keep your eyes on Christ and fulfill your callings, while the grief doesn’t relent and the complications keep coming, sometimes you don’t have it in you to face the Christmas season with excitement and joy. That’s where my husband and I are. Its been 14 months since we lost our happy, healthy baby boy. I thought maybe this Christmas would be easier. I want so desperately to rejoice in my Savior and declare his praises and just feel a little lighter in spirit. I pray for it daily. But I will take up my cross and keep praying for him to be strong in my weakness. I just hope I can bring him some glory this Christmas, even if I’m not swimming in holiday cheer.
I guess this is an old post. Don’t have much time for internet these days…Just wanted to let you know God has put you on my heart a lot this last week since chatting with you and have been in prayer for you every day. Glad to hear the Lord has been helping you!
Also, just a thought that has come to me…Over the last number of years God has called me to walk through some difficult trials and I have found that Heaven has been such a wonderful thing to focus on, especially when I was in physical pain. I remember being at the market a number of years ago, during a very very difficult time in my life and I was looking for red peppers to give to my mom. But the peppers were not fresh. I prayed and asked God to help me find some good ones (because I’d been looking and couldn’t find any and she wanted 3) Low and behold, I found three very nice ones. I got so excited that God would answer my prayer and allow something to go my way. I felt so cared for by God. And right then it seemed the Lord said to me, “Honey, you are excited about this,that I did this for you?! I have such better things in store for you. I have Heaven for you!Eternal Paradise with me!” God used that so deeply in my life. What is “this light, momentary affliction”? He “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!!!”(from 2Cor.4:17) It’s not that our sufferings actually are light. They are painful, but the hope of glory lifts me from my ash heap to even smile and laugh because THIS is fading away, but not the good things-Jesus and all that is Him. He is going to make things right again. And all our brokenness, He’s going to heal that, not so that it can be like it used to be when things were good. No, we’ll be healed beyond that! I’m looking forward to that day more and more.