There is so much written and said about the “holiday blues” and Christmas depression at this time of year. I think it is the rare person who is not afflicted by it in some measure either before, during or after the big day. For myself, I recognize that the contradiction between worldly preparation and spiritual preparation causes some of this effect. It is easy to fall in love with the physical beauty of Advent and Christmas, so much so that my heart is drawn less toward the Creator and more towards the created. I am constantly drawn to created things that are beautiful and good but still fall so short of filling any void in the soul. At the same time, it is a tremendously fruitful season spiritually as I bring my focus to the coming of the Infant Christ. My heart is particularly lonely for His Presence. The result is a persistent ache and stretch between earthly “joy” and feasting and a desperate effort to connect with Christ; a particular loneliness that comes from trying to fill one hole with both desires and finding that it still remains empty since they cannot both fit.
The following passage, taken from The Imitation of Christ (Book 2, Chapter 11), is a faithful companion for me at times like these:
“Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of the bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the same of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus–love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!”
A fruitful exercise is to read the passage prayerfully and ask: Will I remain faithful if nothing goes as planned this season? Will I falter when the decorations and consolations are gone? Will my joy and fidelity be unwavering even in the face of loneliness and suffering? Will I offer Him that same emptiness when the good feelings and emotions pass? Or if they never come? Will I praise Him when my heart is broken and weary just as I do when I am prosperous and satisfied?
Christmas is a beautiful time and I am not suggesting that we avoid the festive preparation and celebration. However, if we do find ourselves suffering an absence of emotional happiness this year, let’s remember that Christ did not come so that we will feel good everyday; He came to offer a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and a joy that does not fade when holiday company leaves.
When the emotional high is gone (or never comes) and the tree goes out on the lawn and we feel that we’ve lost something, it’s time to start again. We get back on our knees, turn our eyes to the Cross…. and just keep on praising Him.
Copyright 2010 Melody Lyons