The Most Depressing Time of the Year?
December 22, 2014
I love Christmas! I love everything about it. I love celebrating the birth of our Lord, the carols, the candlelight services, Handel’s Messiah; I love it all! The old song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” gets stuck in my mind, and I find myself smiling and singing it at odd moments. But for many, Christmas is the most depressing time of the year. Let’s talk about how we can help them.
Years ago when I was the Singles Pastor at an Assembly of God church I had a radio call-in show as part of the ministry. A Christian psychologist once called in and referred to holiday depression as “Eggnog Blues.” Apparently it’s a syndrome.
What would cause people to be depressed in this joyous season? Many things…
3) Unpleasant memories.
4) Family issues.
5) Unmet expectations.
Regardless of the specific reason someone you know may be suffering from holiday depression, the most important thing you can do is love them. We look forward to a joyful time at Christmas, so we may unconsciously draw away from those who are depressed. Instead, open your arms to them; let them know they are loved.
Grief: There are a number of ways grief can be triggered during the holidays. If this is the first Christmas after the death of a loved one, it can be particularly difficult. The fact that a loved one dies around the holidays makes Christmas a painful reminder. More generally, holidays are a time for family, so even if someone died years before, the holidays can stir up memories.
We can help by reminding them that the separation from their loved one is temporary. God was separated from His Son for a time so that He could come into the world and redeem it. But they were reunited, just as we will someday be reunited with those who trusted the Lord and have gone on before us. I highly recommend a wonderful small paperback book named Good Grief that has helped bereaved people for over 50 years.
Loneliness: Sometimes people can be lonely in a crowd. And sometimes people actually are alone. Their family could be far away. Or all their family members may have died. The last member of my immediate family, my older sister Sylvia, passed away a few months ago. I have been joking that I am an orphan, since both my parents and both my sisters are now gone. (I tend to joke about things to avoid feeling pain.) But now that we are a few days from Christmas it is really coming home to me that Christmas will never be the same.
We can help by understanding that in either case lonely people don’t need superficial human contact. They need to know that you really care about them. That means spending time with them, even though we are very busy. And it means really listening to them. Sometimes this is hard, particularly when they constantly complain, or repeat the same things over and over and over. But love calls us to be a friend to those in need. And loneliness is a major need.
Unpleasant memories: Many people have experienced painful things around the holidays. Christmas may open up those old wounds for them.
We can help by assisting them in creating new, joyful memories. They may want to withdraw. Our job is to draw them in. My mother taught us to “take in strays” (as she called it) during the holidays. Invite people who have no one to join in your family celebrations. Don’t make them feel like guests; treat them like family. Ask them to set the table, or help with cleanup. They will love it.
Family issues: If your family is dysfunctional, getting them all together in one room can bring up old issues. Rivalries and arguments that have been forgotten can suddenly rear their ugly heads. Old negative habits can continue to cause stress even at Christmas. I remember one holiday dinner where my mother and sister bickered constantly. They were living together at the time, and it was not a healthy situation. I finally spoke up and said, “You two sound like an old couple who have lived together forever and hate one another. You’re taking away everyone’s joy.”
We can help by reminding them that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and ask them to respect the others at the celebration. Ask them for a Christmas truce. Who knows? Once the cycle is temporarily broken, it may continue!
Unmet expectations: This is a tough one, because unmet expectations are usually unrealistic expectations. Many people idealize Christmas. They may remember a particularly good experience, and want to duplicate it each year. Or they may remember the joy they experienced as a child on Christmas – not realizing that there may have been a lot of strife of which they were unaware.
We can help by making them realize that there was only one perfect Christmas – the day Jesus was born. Encourage them to enjoy the good, and forgive the bad. Even if all the people at your Christmas celebration are Christians, we are still flawed, still imperfect people. Don’t let your expectations go too high. Instead, be thankful for the joys you experience, and thank God for the opportunity to do better this year.
There is a myth that has been around since I was a teen. I have repeated it myself without ever doing any research. This is the myth that there are more suicides around Christmas than at any time of the year. In fact, the opposite is true. December is the lowest month of the year for suicides. No one seems to know why. Perhaps people have hope that Christmas will be a good time this year, and decide to give it a chance.
What is true is that suicides spike 40% in January. It is likely that is true because of some of the things we have talked about today: Arguments, disappointments, someone ruining a “perfect Christmas.” We can help prevent some of those tragedies by loving people the way Jesus loves us.
Last Thursday I led Christmas carols with about 25 people from the Matthew 25 prison ministry. I believe this was the 25th year we have done this at three local jails. There are not many things more depressing than being in jail at Christmas. But these men and women were so grateful that we had come and loved them.
At the end I gave a short sermon. I told them, “If no one else in the world needed a Savior except you” (and here I pointed at several people) “Jesus would still have come into the world to die – just for you.”
If we can get that message across to our friends and family members, they’ll have a hard time staying depressed. The Christmas Story is the greatest statement of hope and joy the world will ever experience. God Himself took on the form of man and dwelt among us. Hallelujah!
The Bible Answer to Overcoming Grief.
Do Christians Get Depressed?
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