Sunday, December 27, 2015

When Life Doesn't Look Like a Hallmark Movie - For the Hurting Heart This Holiday Season

Christmas day has come and gone, ornamented trees are coming down, lights and decorations put away, store shelves stocked with goods for the next holiday.

For many people, Christmas is over, for our family, it has just begun.

But maybe, for you, the one with the hurting heart, the one who is grieving a loss, the one who has lost their job, is suffering the pain of divorce, is aching from loneliness, maybe you're ready for Christmas to be over, too.

Because, sometimes when we're hurting, the holidays just make the hurt worse.

Why is that?

Is it because with the holidays comes a hopeful expectation for something better, something more in life? And when things don't get better, don't become more, we just become more deeply aware of all of the things that aren't right in our own lives?

It's supposed to be the "most wonderful time of the year." But it isn't, is it?

I know that feeling.

This is the third Christmas that I've watched my husband suffer from Lyme disease.  The third Christmas where my prayers for his healing have not yet been answered.  The third Christmas where I have shopped alone for gifts. The third Christmas where I have sat across from him at a beautifully set table covered in Christmas dishes, candles, and steaming plates prepared with love, and watched him struggle to be present to any of it.

I see his eyes drift in and out of conversation, one minute he notices the six beaming faces delight as they snarf down chocolate cake with peppermint ice cream.  The next minute he is far away, and I know it is my turn to bring the conversation to a happy place....until he can find us again.

And yet I'm keenly aware, at the dinner table and at all times, that my efforts must match his supreme efforts to really be with the family, heart and soul, when really all he wants to do is curl up in bed and try to forget how this awful disease has taken a hold of his body and turned it into something he can't stand to live within.

If you're still with me, if you, too, are one with a hurting heart this Christmas, I want to tell you one thing: Christmas is not over.

Maybe you want it to be.  I feel you.  That was me last year and the year before.  Frustrated, cynical. Tempted to leave the Merry out of Christmas.

But, something broke through all of that this year. 

That something, call it the Holy Spirit, the fruit of prayer, or mercy, pierced through my doubting mind and my hardened heart, and reminded me that Christmas is not made of sentiment.  

It is not a Hallmark movie, our favorite tunes and a cozy fire, the hoped-for gift tucked under the tree, or even a perfectly polished life placed upon that tree like an ornament for all of our family and friends to admire.

Don't get me wrong, those lovelies are all nice, but the truth is,

Christmas isn't any of those things.

Christmas is HIM, just HIM.

It's the truth that He came for you and for me. Whether we feel it or not.  And, if for a moment you think that He doesn't love you, or doesn't understand the weight of your burdens, or can't possibly feel just how raw and real your pain is, try to remember, and then hold on to the truth that...

He came into the world in utter poverty,
in filth, it piercing cold, and he had no home.
Within moments of his birth, already His very life was in danger.

For 30 years, no one knew Him.  
He hadn't wealth or fame, or accolades - 
And He. Was. GOD!

He wept over the loss of friends, was rejected, spat on,
falsely accused, assaulted with temptations.  He was hungry,
tired, angry, poor. And He, too, desired for things to be
different, but embraced the hardships anyway.

And He held on to that cross in total freedom, in perfect Love,
not only to redeem us, but to show us how to hold on too.

So what is it that we, you and I, are enduring that He cannot possibly understand, cannot possibly love us through?  Nothing.  Not one thing.

Yes.  That is Christmas.

And I'm slowly learning, through my husband's suffering, that God will never force us to receive Him. Not as the infant lying in the manger, nor the man crucified on the cross, nor the resurrected Savior. It is up to us, through grace-filled acts of faith, to love Him in return through our trust - trust in the very purpose that God has written within our lives - even within our hardships and sufferings.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  (Romans 5:3-5)

As much as we long to be freed of our crosses, let's us not be afraid to embrace the reality that they can have a mighty transformative power, if we let them!

The lack of this or that in my life over these past three years has served to show me not what is missing from life, but what is truly present.  
(Photo credit, unknown)
Suffering has a way of adjusting our focus and our priorities.

Some days, when I feel as though an ounce more struggle will surely break me in two, there stands beside me two chubby bare feet, two little hands clinging to my legs, two little eyes gazing up at mine, and a giggle that is so utterly sweet, I can't think of anything better.  

Joseph is the butter on my daily bread. Without the pain he would not serve as such a healing balm to my heart. Before the pain, I would not have noticed him so completely, because I would not have needed him so deeply. 

Man, am I thankful for him, for all of our children, and for every good thing in my life that I am seeing with a fresh set of eyes - and loving with greater appreciation than I ever did before.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 
I do not give to you as the world gives. 
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  (John 14:27)

The heart that trusts is a heart that is able to experience joy, even in the midst of suffering.  Our smiles become not a mask of our pain, fears and frustration, but a sign of our confidence in the infant Jesus, in Emmanuel, God with us, in this truth: He has come for ALL OF US.

The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you;
He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged."
(Deuteronomy 31:8)

And He knows us - better than we know ourselves.  And he will never leave us. Not for a second

So, as the world around us tucks away the trappings of Christmas, let us not, you and me, say farewell to to the gift of this beautiful season.  Let us hold on to it today and in the days to come, trusting, hoping and clinging to its promises (He has come for US!), and let us hold on ever tighter in the moments when life hurts the most. 



  1. Tears..tears..tears! Father hear our prayer.

  2. Oh, so often your words touch my soul but I don't tell you. I needed this and I will try to hold onto these words and ponder them when I am tempted to discouragement. Thank you for your perspective. Will offer up some prayers for your family and husband right now.

  3. This is my favorite piece you've ever written.

  4. Oh Susan! What you're suffering is so hard. Thank you for sharing it with us. Thank you for your example.

  5. Susan, Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I really needed it, and am so grateful for your sharing this perspective, and every time you share the beautiful way you have supported your husband throughout this trial. The part about Christmas dinner, and your lovely response to your husbands suffering, and at times inability to be present to the family, was so what I needed to hear. That is our life the last 2 years as well, and it is SO HARD to experience the change and know how to step up to the plate and be what you need to be when you suffer from the loss of the normalcy, too, and you see your children suffering from it. :-( Yet, this is where God has us and our family right now. The marriage vows become so real in such times don't they? I am praying for you, your husband, and dear family. Thank you for sharing your heart and beautiful perspective on such a difficult road to travel! I am printing this off for a lady I know at church who has suffered even greater this last year. Thank you!

  6. Susan, this is beautiful. I am not a religious person and I never have been. But with that being said it doesn't mean that I don't believe in God. I am thinking of you and your family all of the time during this suffering that your hubby is enduring. I have a very dear friend that has been exactly in the place that he is in and it is so incredibly hard to watch. She has fought her way back and is doing well and I have no doubt that your hubby is a strong man and will do the same. Here is to a happy, healthier New Year! xoxo

  7. Beautiful. Praying for you and your gorgeous family.


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