My favorite Christmas song is a very old carol … “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. Its haunting sorrowful tune reminds me that our greatest rejoicing is often entangled with sorrow. More than any other hymn, this one has the ability to make the hairs on my arms stand up at attention and causes tears prick my eyes from its beauty.
I so relate to this idea of rejoicing and sorrow being woven into a tune that sings over the lives of those who love Jesus. Why? Because I’m sitting in a season of sorrow right here in the middle of “The hap-happiest season of all.” And suddenly this song has taken on a whole new meaning for me.
There’s a lot of pressure to be happy, to do happy, to spread Christmas cheer for all to hear during this time of the year. And for most of us that comes naturally. But maybe today you’re looking at Christmas through a pair of glasses that have lost their rosy sheen, just like me. If you’ve lost a loved one, you’re struggling with illness, your marriage is under fire, you’re parenting a prodigal or any number of things that could cause you to be experiencing grief when you’d so much rather be excited about buying presents and baking cookies, know you’re not alone. Because … #metoo.
Right here in this middle place, I thought about suppressing all of my feelings or trying to do the whole “fake it till you make it” act for the next month. I thought about allowing myself to sink into a state of denial (and trust me, that looks like a pretty comfy place to hang out for awhile!). I even thought about throwing some things and maybe cussing a little bit. (Do righteous anger and cussing go together? And since I’m being somewhat transparent, I did go ahead a cuss a little bit. In a private place. But only a little. I blame my brother.)
But then my momma sent me a book with a set of instructions. She’s so graciously wise and simultaneously infuriating. Only I wasn’t infuriated. Not really. Because I knew she was right. And because she has been my number one supporter and I know it came from a place of unconditional love and caring and kindness.
The book … well, it was a blank book. And she challenged me to document the things I’m grateful for as I go through this hard season. Ann Voskamp may hurt my brain with her stream of consciousness style of writing, but she also makes some mighty powerful points in the middle of those words in her book One Thousand Gifts. When we can look at our circumstances, no matter how grim they appear, and see that there is always be something to be thankful for, it changes us. And when you start noticing those good things (even the things as simple and mundane as twinkle lights and warm toes and salted caramel coffee creamer), you stop focusing on your circumstances and start focusing on how God is constant and faithful, how he provides for you, how he loves you and protects you. They can become the gifts that soften the plaintive tune of grieving with notes of joy.
As a writer, you can be sure I’ve got another book for processing feelings. I’ve written some angry prayers to God, the occasional rant to nobody in particular, along with a pity party or two. Nobody else ever needs to read those, but I’ve needed to write them. I’m thinking about throwing that other notebook around a little bit one day. Perhaps I’ll stomp on it a few (hundred) times. And I’d like to rip the pages out and shred them. And I plan to maybe burn it all, every beaten up little scrap of hurt and anger and sadness, down the road.
But the gratitude journal will become a testament to a very simple but powerful truth:
My circumstances may change, but my God does not.
God is still good. He still loves me with an unfailing love. He chose me and keeps me safe in the palm of his hand. He is my provider and healer. He is for me. He is always with me. He is Emmanuel. Rejoice!
If you are sitting in the ashes this December, wishing you could opt out of all the Christmas cheer, can I challenge you the same way my momma challenged me? Find a little notebook and write these three little words … “I’m thankful for …” and then start a list. Maybe today is so hard that you can only think of one thing to be thankful for. But maybe tomorrow you’ll fill up a whole page.
Documenting your gratitude won’t change your circumstances, but you might be surprised at how it could begin to change your heart.
Joy is hiding in gratitude. ~Ann Voskamp
Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.