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Sometimes the grief doesn't surface until after the jolly has quieted.

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Christmas is over. Maybe you’re thinking, “I made it. I survived another holiday season fairly well intact.” You met every expectation of you: you planned and organized, shopped and decorated, baked and wrapped. You even remembered teacher gifts and dietary requirements. And after all the hustle and bustle, today you sit down with a warm cup and a leftover cookie for a few quiet moments to yourself. But then, you make the inevitable mistake of getting on social media, and the aftermath of jolly unexpectedly triggers every threatening emotion you've been suffocating throughout the past several weeks.

You should be in the clear–it’s the 26th–but you’ve just lost.

You scroll through images of living rooms bursting with gifts, noticing the rows of monogrammed stockings hung with precision across the mantle…who even knows that many people? You see the dining room buffet tables loaded with trays of food, including enough sugar to surely kill your diabetic grandfather multiple times over. You can handle all of this, maybe your home even looks similar, but you know what’s coming: the families.

The big extended families are the hardest. They’re all in matching pajamas, even the dogs, and they’re actually pulling it off (for the most part). They’re laughing together, or snuggled up on the floor or sofas. Next they’re unwrapping presents with real hugs–the kind that say, “I love you”–and snacking on treats with smiles that twinkle more brightly than their glittery decor. You can see so much joy evidenced in each individual home, and you suddenly feel a single tear forming at the corner of your eye. Despite yourself, you zoom in; you can’t miss the generations of traditions captured in each photograph. Having come too far to back away and put down your phone, you find your aching heart being pulled into a nostalgia of what never was.

That’s the unusual part for many of us reading this right now. Our Facebook scrolling isn’t calling us to a walk down memory lane, remembering a time that is no longer; a time stolen away by seasons of loss that never quite healed. Though there are similarities among those who grieve, we’re becoming lost in a daydream of what the holidays were supposed to be, what we’ve longed for them to be, yet for us, have never actually been.

Some grieve what they have had and lost. Others grieve what never was and will never be.

Yes, we probably have trees now. We bake cookies and wrap presents. Perhaps we sing carols and mail holiday cards. We may even see people we deeply care for, exclaiming, “It’s been too long!” But, at the end of the festivities, we’re still lonely on the inside, continuing forward without the fulfilled daydream. We’re homesick for a Christmas experience that never existed. We’re pining for a sense of togetherness that we cannot have, because our homes have become divided.

It’s as if our noses are pressed against a life-sized snow globe, housing a perfect little Whoville town, and we're on the outside, forever unable to fully enter into the magic inside.

Many cults don’t celebrate Christmas. They hold tightly to the belief that holidays are pagan, and therefore, are sinful to participate in. They tell us to live a life separate from our surrounding culture, an idea that has a foundation in scripture, but not in the way they’ve understood and applied the verses.

So when we make our exit from the group, and step out on our own in every possible way, we’re left to create our lives. There are aspects of adventure, and deep breaths of freedom that remind us how worth it the countless losses are, but, there are many aspects seemingly beyond words…we can’t create lifelong traditions. We can’t wish our families’ presence into existence. We can’t fill our rooms with enough things and enough guests to forget who isn’t at the table. Our hearts always remember.

Sometimes I wonder: is my sadness a sign of being ungrateful? I know I’m supposed to feel celebratory. I’m supposed to be honoring the birth of Jesus, who was willingly born so that He could die for me, and for you. And I do continuously remind myself of the true reason for the season, feeling a genuine thankfulness for a life lived out of hope. But am I not as grateful as I ought to be?

Or is my sadness a painstaking acknowledgement that this life is not as it ought to be. My life is not as it was intended, and if this resonates with you, neither is yours.

Here’s what I know:

Some days, in certain seasons, I will catch myself longing for memories I do not have. My family’s new traditions will not replace my lost years, and even if my parents were alive, they would not come over on Christmas morning.

My heart will not be tied up perfectly with a bow on this side of eternity.

With this, here's my belated Christmas wish:

May all of us whose hearts ache know our hearts ache together.

May your few minutes in reading this post solicit a moment of silence for us all, a knowing of our collective suffering, as well as a prayer of gratitude, because even though we’re hurting: we’re free.

And we of all people know that freedom is irreplaceable.

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