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By Alana Gregg, MS

The holidays can be a time filled with joy and laughter. But it can also be a time filled with heartache and pain. This looks different for everyone. Maybe you are grieving a broken relationship. You are going through a painful divorce or your relationships are filled with anger and resentment. Maybe you are struggling financially and are feeling the pain of not being able to buy all the gifts for your family that you would like to. Maybe you lost a loved one in the last year or two and having to face the holidays without them seems completely incomprehensible. 

Grief can cover many different circumstances. We certainly grieve when someone we love dies. We grieve the memories we shared with them as well as all the future memories we will not get to have. We grieve the whole that they left and all the secondary losses that go along with that like the listening ear or the childcare they provided. 

But we don’t just grieve when someone dies. We grieve when we lose anything that is important to us. We lose jobs, relationships, valuable possessions, and health. Most importantly, we grieve when life does not end up turning out the way we think it will. These unmet expectations leave us feeling disappointed and heavy because we have to let go of the picture we have in our head of how we believe life should be. So how do we move forward when life looks different?

1. Acknowledge your pain

You have to begin by acknowledging what you’ve lost. It’s important to clearly see the picture of how we wanted things to be so we can understand why we feel so disappointed. Those longings are most likely very legitimate. So name the thing you’ve lost because you can’t grieve what you can’t accept. Then it’s ok to say, “this sucks!” Instead of worrying about what you “should be “ feeling just pay attention to what you ARE feeling without judgment.

2. Find healthy ways to cope

Often the holidays can be very busy with parties and family gatherings. It can be easy to fling yourself into the holidays and stay so busy that you don’t have to think about what you’ve lost. It is important to find time to be still and process what you are feeling. Who can you talk to in those moments when you are overwhelmed by sadness? Can you write down what you are feeling? Maybe you could find a song or poem that puts words to how you’re feeling when you can’t. Finding ways to express that pain is so important.

Maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum and you’d rather skip the holidays altogether. It’s a lot easier to stay in bed and not have to deal with life. Find the next right thing to do in those moments when life seems too overwhelming. Maybe that means taking a shower or eating a healthy meal. Maybe it means meeting someone else’s need so it takes your mind off your own and reminds you life could always be worse. If the holidays need to look different this year, that’s ok too. You may not have the energy to do all the traditions you normally would, so pick a few things that are important to you and save the rest for next year.

3. Talk to God

Bring God your disappointment. He is big enough to carry it. He will not be put off by our anger or lack of understanding. He knows one of the limits of our humanity is that we are finite beings and we can’t see the whole picture. All we see is the pain that is in front of us. So when we bring those feelings to Him, we are acknowledging that He is in control of our lives even if we don’t understand the circumstances we are in.

4. Choose hope

We live in a broken world full of pain and suffering. One big reason why life feels like it’s not the way it’s supposed to be is because it’s not. Death and sadness and disconnection were never supposed to be part of the equation. That’s why Jesus had to come. He came to redeem all the hard things and make a way for them to ultimately be made right again.

The hard part is He didn’t come to bring peace to our circumstances. He came to bring peace to our hearts. He knew that no matter how hard life gets we needed our souls to be healed before we needed our bodies healed. We need Him more than we need comfort and the good life we imagined. I pray that in those moments of brokenness you cling to the hope that Christ was born for the broken and in that we have hope.

5. Get Help

If you are hurting this holiday season and are in need of hope, you may be in need of extra help processing everything you’re feeling. The trained therapists at Lime Tree Counseling offer anxiety, grief, addiction, trauma, and Christian counseling for adults and adolescents. You can schedule a session or try our free 15 minute phone consultation. Call us today.