Holiday Blues

The Christmas/winter holiday season is a paradox with few equals. Society emphasizes good feelings and generosity while ordinary citizens pick fights over whether “Merry Christmas” is a proper way to greet strangers of unknown religious affiliation. Unashamedly Christian songs play in shopping malls while Christian radio stations air secular carols. Avowed atheists attend church for tradition’s sake, while serious Christians emphasize the religious aspects of Advent and then spend an overdose of time and money on self-indulgence.

And while “having a wonderful time” is considered a moral imperative, so is grumbling about crowds, long lines, overworked budgets, gained pounds, and the bother of addressing 200 Christmas cards.

With many people, the paradox of making oneself miserable with holiday joy cuts far deeper than stress and exhaustion. While scientific research casts doubt on the common claim that suicide rates increase in December, those of us prone to feeling depressed know that misery feeds on itself with particular voracity when everyone else seems happy. People who have ample reason to feel depressed–the bereaved, the lonely, the ill–are hit especially hard by the “everyone’s too joyful to care how miserable I am” syndrome at holiday time. But some of us suffer from depression that’s hard to tie to any immediate life situation. Perhaps the most common cause is long-term emotional baggage accumulated through what the Bible calls a “chasing after the wind” lifestyle (Ecc. 1-2)–it’s a crushing feeling to suddenly realize that you’ve been wearing yourself out striving for something and that you have no real idea what that something is or whether it has any lasting value. Sounds a bit like the typical frantic-pace holiday season, doesn’t it?

Shifting focus to the concept of a “purpose driven life” lived for God is some help, but it rarely offers the “ten sure steps cure” that most of us who reach that point have trained ourselves to crave. The chances of asking God what He really wants us to do with our lives, and getting an answer in time to write it into our New Year’s resolutions complete with a detailed schedule for implementing it in full by next Christmas (in our natural hurried, inflexible work style, of course), are about as good as the chances of a cancer patient having one chemotherapy session and going into complete and permanent remission within an hour (free of any side effects that would hamper the ability to leap back into the rat race the next day). God does not, as a rule, make our bodies or spiritual maturity instantly perfect.

Thankfully, He doesn’t expect us to do so either. Unfortunately (to our way of thinking), what He does expect of us is the hardest thing of all to do–nothing. Nothing except to rest, give God time to work at His speed, and learn to accept and be grateful that He knows better than we what should be done when.

Isn’t that, after all, what Advent is about: the cessation of striving and the joyful but patient anticipation of God’s fulfillment?

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