A prayer for when Christmas has lost its sparkle

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored. In reality, though, some of ...

Read More

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom six years ago, and my dad this summer, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?


Dear Heavenly Father,

I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to give You, but all of my brokenness is taking up space that I’d rather fill with other things. So I offer You what little I have—my pain, sadness, grief, loneliness, fear, anxiety, worries, finances, broken dreams, shattered expectations, floundering relationships, lack of passion, messy home, scattered mind, and lack of focus—I let go of it all to make room for You. 

I know that You change the atmosphere of every place You inhabit, so I invite You to dwell here with me. When Jesus came to us 2,000 years ago, the world didn’t recognize the Savior, and no one made room for Him. But we have the privilege of understanding the enormity of the gift You gave us in this vulnerable little child. In this season of gifts, we know that Jesus is the One that matters.

So, precious Lord, I invite You in. As You abide in me, warm my heart from the inside out. Surround me with Your peace, comfort me with Your Spirit, whisper sweet thoughts into my mind.

Push aside all my worries and replace them with worship.

Replace fear with faith.

Stress with song.

Anxiety with awe.

Christmas is the time when love came near. So I’m stepping forward in faith, moving towards You, the One who loves me. The One who woos me, even when I’m not feeling it. The One who changes every life He touches. Hoping You will turn things around, I hold out my hands and trust in Your grace, which says You love me even if I don’t deserve it. Even if everything else in my life isn’t perfect.

I offer all that I have, what little I have to give, with abandon. And I trust that You know my heart—You know that I love You, and You know that I want to overcome this feeling of blah and instead live full of passion and joy.

Please, Lord, accept my invitation.

I welcome You back into my heart. In the place of all my imperfections, I instead receive Your wholeness. I release all of my expectations for a picture-perfect holiday and turn instead towards You, the reason we celebrate. The hope of glory. The promise of eternity. The miracle of new life.

The joy of the world.

And I marvel, because all of that—all that You are, all that You promise, all that You’ve done—is right here within me.

And suddenly I understand that the lights and the wrapping paper and the caroling are fine, but they fade in comparison to the sparkly wonder of who You are.

Merry Christmas, my sweet Lord. Thank You. And amen.


A version of this post originally appeared at Crosswalk.com.

A Prayer for When Christmas Has Lost Its Sparkle

Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com… Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy ...

Read More

Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom five years ago, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?

Read the rest of the post here.

Still missing

I had another one of those brief, flitting moments again… the thought, “I ought to call Mom” sparking in the synapses of my brain. And then, the heavy thunk of disappointment. Because I can’t. However quick that response comes, it’s never fast enough to keep me from thinking about her in the first place. Because ...

Read More

I had another one of those brief, flitting moments again… the thought, “I ought to call Mom” sparking in the synapses of my brain.

And then, the heavy thunk of disappointment. Because I can’t.

However quick that response comes, it’s never fast enough to keep me from thinking about her in the first place. Because every time I have a moment of longing, I then have to feel that same burst of sadness.

Yes, I’m sad. Still, over three years later. But today I realized it’s not just sadness—I think it’s actually loneliness.

Every relationship is a carefully orchestrated dynamic, a balance or blend of two different personalities. I like to think I’m the same person all the time, and I try—but the me I am with my husband, Tim, is a different person than the me I am with my book club or my friend Lisa or my group of writer friends. I’m a mom to three kids, but in each relationship, the dynamic is a little different—because I’m influenced by each of my children, who in turn are all different from each other.

I will only ever be the person I was with Mom—when I’m with Mom. Only she could satisfy that particular loneliness. I can come close when I talk to my sister or my dad, but it’s not the same. I will never have that particular relationship—its good aspects and its negative ones—again.

As she grappled with the fact that her time was growing short, Mom worried she would be forgotten. Even then, I knew the answer.

But now I’m looking at it from farther down that road. And I can tell you this. I don’t cry every day anymore. Once in a while I can talk about her without tears. But not always. And I can now recall again the ways in which she drove me crazy (as any good mother will do). She wasn’t perfect.

But those moments of disappointment keep coming, when I have to remember, again and again and again and again and again, that she isn’t here. That I can’t call her. That I can’t ask her questions or talk to her, and that she’s not waiting somewhere to hear from me.

But is she forgotten? Will she ever be? Emotions change. Grief lifts, ever so slightly, and changes over time. But the answer to that question? It’s simple—and yet profoundly, abundantly true.

No, Mom. You will not ever be forgotten. I will not stop missing you. I didn’t always love the person I was with/for you. I was moody and temperamental. I had a short fuse and thought you were too nosy, too bossy. But I also know you brought out things in me no one else does. That you appreciated parts of me some other people don’t even know exist.

So of course I miss you, Mom. But you know what else? I realized something new today: That I miss me—the me I was with you—too.

An Upside-Down Christmas, part 2: Grief

I used to design and write my church’s weekly bulletin, and I was aware that, for some, certain holidays brought with them sadness. But I believed that surely time healed all wounds. Sure, it was sad when someone died, but I thought it was morbid to dwell on it. I naively assumed people could let ...

Read More

I used to design and write my church’s weekly bulletin, and I was aware that, for some, certain holidays brought with them sadness. But I believed that surely time healed all wounds. Sure, it was sad when someone died, but I thought it was morbid to dwell on it. I naively assumed people could let it go (long before we’d heard of Elsa) and focus on what they did have. My friend Tami lost her mom many years ago, but I didn’t understand her sadness on Mother’s Day—couldn’t she focus on the good memories instead of feeling sad? Or celebrate being a mom to her own children?

Well, maybe she could have (and she likely did).

But how wrong I was. And how sorry I am for all of the opportunities I missed to extend kindness and grace—because now I know.

I know what it is to wonder how I can possibly celebrate when the absence is so real, so gigantic, that the void itself becomes a presence. To question how to “get over it” when the only thing time has proven is that things still have not changed. My mom still isn’t here. And I still miss her. Hundreds, now thousands, of days without her. Exponential sums and moments of being without someone whose body is not here but who is never far from my mind. Granted, I rarely cry myself to sleep anymore. But I still cry. I still mourn. And it overshadows everything, colors it as surely as if a dark filter covered the lens.

The hardest moments are the ones that are supposed to be happy—the celebrations, the milestones. The days in which we feel an obligation to laugh, to have fun, and to hide the pain that consumes us. It’s because of the juxtaposition, the extreme disparity between expectations and what we’re really feeling inside.

Some of you have had big losses—the death of a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent. The grandmother who raised you. The friend who knew all of your secrets. There are other losses, too. Divorce. Family feuds. Jobs requiring relocation. Budgets and work schedules that keep people apart on holidays. Unmet expectations. Joyful personalities changed by addiction or disappointment. These things are hard enough by themselves, but add in the other stresses most of us feel this time of year—money worries, anxiety about getting the right gifts and finishing dinner preparation on time, loneliness, not enough time—and it may seem impossible to bear.

I’m still—and will continue, indefinitely, to be—trying to figure this out. To make my way and hold tight to the sparks of joy, living in the moment and not the past or the future. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do have some ideas. The more we try to stuff down our feelings, the harder they fight to be seen. Maybe it’s time we welcome our sorrow. Flip it around and find the comfort that dwells on the other side of the pain.

It’s there. It really is. And I hope some of these ideas will help you find it.

**

Carry on. My mom was a giver like no one else I’ve ever known, much of it done in secret. She didn’t want the limelight, she just loved to find thoughtful ways to help. In her memory, my household established a new Christmas tradition. All month long, each of us is on the lookout for someone or something that could use a little help. It doesn’t have to be life-altering. It doesn’t have to be about orphans or the homeless or victims of disaster, although those are certainly options. It’s simply about looking for opportunities to give. We’re honoring my mom’s legacy by learning to give the way that she did. By telling our children about the ways their grandmother made an impact on other people’s lives so that she remains real and present in their minds. By cultivating the traits within them that are like her.

Each gift is presented (or provided anonymously) by the family member who thought of it. We don’t set strict budgets, just do what seems right and what we can afford. Gifts in previous years have included: donation of “wish list” books to an elementary classroom during a book fair (not my son’s own class, because he shouldn’t be one to benefit); paying the fee for my daughter’s friend to take the train to Chicago with a school club; my husband paying the bill for oil changes and tires for people he knows through his work at an auto shop; an envelope of cash for friends with small children to help supplement their Christmas buying; anonymous gift cards to an acquaintance who is out of work. Once I start looking, I see one need after another, and the more of them I respond to, the closer I feel to my mom.

If there isn’t an obvious tradition to continue, don’t worry. When you pray, ask God to point out opportunities and suggest ideas. My former neighbors lost their son, Henry, to cancer when he was six. I can’t change that. But maybe I could donate gas cards or games to a nearby children’s hospital for another family in a similar situation. My grandmother taught me to say the Lord’s Prayer every night before bed. I think of her when I sit down at night to pray with my son, knowing that just as she established that ritual in my mind, I’m helping provide a framework of prayer for my own child.

 

Write a special note. Chances are good that even if you haven’t experienced a deep loss, you know someone who has. Send flowers. Write a letter. Drop off cookies. There are lots of ways to let people know you’re thinking of them. But here’s the hard, potentially awkward part: don’t be shy. Mention the loved one by name. It’s a relief to be able to talk about it. To stop pretending it didn’t happen. To stop worrying that nobody else wants to know about your sadness.

If you have a sweet or funny memory, share that. And if not, just say that you’re thinking of them. You don’t have to—and probably shouldn’t try to—provide neat answers in an effort to make the pain disappear. It won’t. Just tell them you’re sorry. That you know how much they miss that person. That it’s OK to still feel sad. And that you care about them. Whatever you do or say, be genuine, and take your clues from the one who is mourning. Don’t force conversations, but don’t hide from them either.

 

Give a gift to memorialize someone, either for the person you’ve grieving or for someone else who is. Donate to a charity or church or school or organization in the person’s name. Perhaps you can continue a tradition that person started—buying a coat and gloves for a child in the community. Wrapping presents in the local toy drive. Donating a book to the library. If your aunt was known for her baking, write the recipe on pretty recipe cards (labeled “Aunt Sue’s Famous Poppyseed Bread”) and drop off loaves to friends so that they will always say her name when they make it. Go door to door in your neighborhood collecting canned foods and donate them to a local food pantry in that person’s name.

 

Don’t forget the friends. Our culture accepts that we will grieve a close family member, but often overlooks the friends, coworkers, students or an unmarried partner. My sister’s best friend passed away this year. Everyone was praying for the family, worrying about Teresa’s girls and husband. Of course. Sometimes I would forget that my sister was feeling a profound loss as well.

Occasionally I run into one of Mom’s friends in a parking lot or the baking aisle at Kroger. Until I see them fighting tears, I often forget. She’s missing from their lives as well. They wish they could pick up the phone to tell her something funny. They may not feel they have the “right” to grieve, but they do anyway. Acknowledge that: Thank you for loving her, too. Or she loved you, too, you know.

 

Tell stories. Let your kids hear about the time she left the sweet potatoes in the microwave through dinner and didn’t find them until the next day. Talk about the funny things that have happened. Point out which ornaments she gave you or describe what Christmas was like when your dad was a little boy. Plop a box of Kleenex in the center of the table if you need to. But let yourself remember.

 

Or don’t. There are times when sharing is the right thing to do, and times when you aren’t ready or able to “go there.” Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to do—or not do—what is right for you at that moment. And be aware that people grieve differently. My sister and I are very close and we both lost the same person on the same day. But we rarely feel the impact of that loss at the same moment. We both read the same book within a couple weeks. I could barely get through it, sobbing because it brought up all of my emotions. Kerry was fine. But then she has moments that I’m oblivious to, like when she fixes Mom’s recipe for stuffed peppers or rolls out some homemade noodles and she wraps herself in the contentment of showing her love for her family in the same way.

**

There’s not just one way to grieve. And there are plenty of different ways to honor someone. The only rules? Wrap your words and efforts with kindness and gentleness. Keep trying. And practice grace, both with those who may not know how to help you face your grief and with yourself when you fall short.

Do you have any ideas to share? I’d love to hear them.

This website and its content are copyright of Kelly O'Dell Stanley  | © Kelly O'Dell Stanley 2018. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red