It’s back! You feel it in the crisp autumn air, you hear it in the haunting voice of Karen Carpenter, and if you’re highly observant, you see it in the eyes of the folks directing you to insert your debit card into the chip reader. (Sidenote: do NOT EVER pull that card out early…you do not want to see what happens.)
What you are sensing is not only nostalgia from listening to the same songs you’ve listened to your entire life. It is not that the entire nation collectively agreeing to eat (basically) the same entree on the exact same Thursday is giving you an eery “Walking Dead” feeling. No, what you are sensing is more than that, what you are sensing is heightened holiday emotions.
This is wonderful if you are a three-year-old and the emotion is sheer joy over the fact that not only do you finally get to meet Santa Clause face-to-face but eventually he is riding Rudolf to your house and bringing you Paw Patrol toys! However, if you are reading this, you are not three. And the heightened emotions you are experiencing may not feel like a stroll through Winter Wonderland.
For some of us non-three-year-olds the emotions are hard. Damn hard.
There’s such a natural shift to reflectiveness during this winter season. We look back. We remember the past year. Or the year before that. Or the times when our children were small, and we were too _____ (busy, tired, overworked, obligated) and didn’t fully enjoy them. Or we did fully enjoy them…but they grew up anyway.
We rejoice at the profits from our wise investments of time and resources. We are thankful for the healing that God brought to someone we love. We don’t need a gift this season because watching that person celebrate the birth of the Savior means more than any trinket or gift card. We praise God for the fortitude He gave us to endure that terrible time at school or work. We remember when we didn’t think that time was ever going to pass.
And then there are the the memories that seem less victorious. We remember people we lost, people we hurt, times we were disappointed. Looking back is a rainbow of celebration and regret.
If we are blessed, we remember the year fondly. And if we are blessed, we may not remember it so fondly. That’s the thing about being blessed–we all are, but some of us still struggle.
And then there’s the shame that comes with the struggle. Feeling anything but bountifully happy as we shop for our holiday bird can heap extra weight into an already hard to steer shopping cart. I mean, you know what it’s like, right? You grab a cart as you are walking into the store and you realize that the wheel is a little rickety. You stop and look at it for a second, but then you decide, “Naw, I’m good. I’m just grabbing a few things.” Well, as you wander up and down the aisles, dodging the temporary displays of Stouffer’s Stuffing Mix, your cart gets heavier and less manageable. As you turn the corner into the frozen food section, you see that the turkeys have been reduced to .76 a pound. Well, since this is a great deal, you grab one for Thanksgiving dinner with the family and one for the church food drive. Meanwhile, the wheel on the cart is still rickety. The broken wheel didn’t get better just because you got generous.
The same is true for those of us who are blessed beyond measure, but sometimes unexplainably sad. We are wandering through this heartwarming season with a wound that won’t go away. Maybe it’s regret, maybe it’s remorse, maybe it’s something else altogether–but it’s real and even on an ordinary day, our cart has a rickety wheel. When the music, the lights, the trees, and the beauty of the season is added, our cart doesn’t stop being rickety.
And the shame associated with being sad when we’ve much to be thankful for is unmentionable. We are suddenly ungrateful–but we’re not! We are so grateful and thankful for the bounty of blessings, which just increases our shame for being simultaneously sad.
So, what do we do?
Maybe we start by admitting that we need help? Maybe we forsake the social media image of having it all together in order to forge authentic community. I mean, if the cart is truly damaged, why wouldn’t we get help when the burden is greater?
Maybe, just maybe, we simply say, “I feel sad” and we stop judging ourselves. Maybe we stop behaving as if being sad is synonymous with being in sin. Once we stop heaping guilt on ourselves for moments of melancholy we can move through the down times and get to the other side without having isolated ourselves from the people who, on most days, bring us insurmountable joy. Because, after all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.