For Those Who Struggle During the Holidays

I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the winter months, November and December. Anyone else feel this way? Seasonal affective disorder is real for some people, and the holidays can be tough.

I love the holidays and the joy that comes with this season. I enjoy the chillier weather, a good snow, and Christmas lights.

For nearly two decades, though, these two months in particular have brought a level of pain and heartache that, at times, has felt almost impossible to bear. These months have been marked by deaths of family members, ugly endings to relationships in my younger years and, more recently, the tragic death of a close friend and spiritual mentor and a tornado that ravaged our home, neighborhood, and community.

The death of David Rinehart on Nov. 13, 2016 sent me down a dark spiral filled with doubt, confusion, unbelief in God, and just general numbness about life. For the first time in my life, I wrestled with the types of questions that are often associated with what people call “deconstruction” — the process of re-examining and dissecting the faith you grew up with. In many cases, the person deconstructing either pulls completely away from God, or the search for answers to all of the “why” questions brings them to a place where they understand God deeper and have a stronger faith.

The months that followed David’s death marked what was probably the darkest and scariest season of life I’ve ever endured, rivaled only by this past year since the tornado. There are a lot of things I can’t explain about that season, like why I experienced such trauma from a death that wasn’t involving a direct family member, or why this death felt different to me than others I had experienced.

The only reason I can think of is that this was the first tragedy involving someone I knew and loved — the first death I experienced that didn’t “make sense,” so to speak. The grieving turned into fear, where I started to fear death. I was grappling with the reality that if a drunk driver could kill this man of faith, his teenage daughter and his elderly mother, then I, too, could die at any time.

My fear was so deep that I let it control my life. I didn’t want to leave home, or go to work, or be around friends or family. I was a slave to fear.

Shortly following David’s death, Emily journaled in desperation asking for God to provide answers, to help me no longer believe the lies that fear was telling me.

“As he grieves, I feel like I am losing a little bit of him each day. I feel like he is being replaced by someone cold, without feeling. I know this is not him and that he is buried somewhere deep inside — but ultimately only God can let him out and free him from this prison of fear. I cannot pay his bail or dig him out. He has to let go, to release the shackles of grief and step into the life that God is creating for him.”

Though some years are easier than others, I always enter into November with trepidation and fear that my mind will slip back into the darkness and fog I experienced years ago. Part of me fears it will hit in December when the anniversary of the tornado comes — that all the emotions of this past year will hit like a flood.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: God will lead us to times where we feel pain, where we suffer, where we’re confused. Sometimes these seasons are short, but sometimes they’re prolonged and the hits just seem to keep coming. He doesn’t do this to teach us about how weak we are, but to reveal to us and the world how great He is.

It’s easy to get bitter and see others seemingly prospering while you can’t catch a break and are simply trying to stay above water. It’s easy to get angry with God when plans change or get derailed because of the circumstances in life.

I’ve been there. But believe me, God is here in the middle of it all. Our paths are all different, but God has a purpose for all of them. I truly believe that. I take the approach of gratefulness as we’re called to do in James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

Tip: If you struggle with anxiety during the holidays, give yourself permission to do whatever brings you joy. For Emily and me, that means putting up our Christmas tree and decorating this weekend — yes, even a week before Thanksgiving. We weren’t able to celebrate Christmas in our house last year, so we’re simply making up for lost time. I think this year, more than others, the tree will serve as a reminder of the faithfulness of God and the joy and hope we have in Him no matter how hard, scary or uncertain life might be.

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