“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13 (BSB)
Christmas is the season of joy! Or is it? We easily sing about joy but with all the stress that accompanies the holiday season, few people associate Christmas with inner joy or inner peace. Most of us have come to associate the Christmas season with anxiety and stress. The stress of managing the social engagements, buying the gifts, paying the bills or gathering the family. Or the stress of an empty chair from a death or a broken relationship, or the fear in a recent diagnosis, or the emptiness associated with addiction (your own or someone else’s).
I remember that first Christmas after Jenny, our 31-year-old daughter, died. In February 2010, Jenny had been diagnosed with the flu but she really had Group A Strep. By the time doctors caught the mistake, our precious first-born was septic. Jenny died 18 days later. I wasn’t sure if I would ever experience joy again. My hope, my joy and my peace felt suffocated by the pain of her death.
Shortly after her death, one of our daughters-in-law asked me, with kindness, if I was going to be bitter. What was implied in this question? Would there still be laughter in our home? Would I still be a fun Grammy to her two young children? Would there still be joy as we opened our Christmas gifts? I will absolutely not be bitter. I will set my sights, with great intention, on joy. I will fight to have joy.
Can you have joy while simultaneously walking through a hard season? Absolutely! When we follow after Jesus, claiming him as Lord of our lives and our hearts, his Spirit indwells our hearts. Where his Spirit is, there is joy.
The best pathway to joy is through the spiritual practice of gratitude. Pray that the eyes of your heart are opened to glimpses of peace and joy around you, then record three to five of them in a gratitude journal.
You can experience grief and joy at the same time. They are not opposing emotions. You aren’t going to grieve what you do not love. Grief is the response to love. Grief and joy both spring up from the root of love, from the root of Jesus.
So, this holiday season, take some time to breathe in his peace, slow and steady, while opening your eyes to small moments of joy. Receive them. In every moment of peace and joy, there we find Jesus. He is our joy! He is our hope!
Beverly Ross is a licensed professional counselor-supervisor and the founder and executive director for Wise County Christian Counseling, providing professional counseling for those struggling with depression, anxiety, marriages, grief and relationships.