I’m writing this blog as I’m finishing up the All-American tradition of Christmas decorating. I sure hope our neighbors appreciate the 3-foot light-up ornaments I bought to hang on the giant pine tree outside our front door. But let’s turn the Christmas music down for a minute and get painfully honest.

Ornaments

Truth be told, many of us experience the holidays feeling more like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas than Elf or It’s A Wonderful Life. One North American survey reported that 45% of those polled said they actually “dreaded the holiday season.” Hospitals and medical professionals back this up by saying that Christmas is the season with the highest rate of significant depression in North America.

I can hear you thinking, “But we’re CHRISTIANS…so that’s not true for US!” But think again. Just because you’re a sincere Christ-follower doesn’t give you an immune-pill against a serious case of the blah’s and/or depression. I should know. I have fought the “invisible dark cloud” in my own life almost every day for the past ten years. Yes, my life is hugely fulfilling, my family is beyond description, and Jesus Christ is the epicenter of my entire existence. But the “thick cloud in my brain” is still often something I have to push through on a regular basis.

So how could the Grinch be in full play during the holidays, even for authentic Christians? There are several possible factors. One consideration is “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD) which is triggered by greater levels of darkness during the winter months. It simply means that due to lack of higher and longer levels of sunlight, not as many “feel-good chemicals” are produced in your physical body.

Secondly, lots of us unconsciously deal with unrealistic expectations of “Joy To The World” and “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas.” Christmas songs, movies, and even commercials bombard us with messages that everything is supposed to be “picture perfect” around the holidays – all of our family getting along beautifully, all of our wildest fantasy gifts under the tree, and all of deepest longings totally met. And if we’re in the ministry, OBVIOUSLY we would also be receiving a huge Christmas bonus that would allow us to make an impromptu trip to Cancun! Sadly enough, we all eventually come out of our “Christmas coma” and realize that Christmas is not at all what the media has led us to internally expect. As a matter of fact, many of the “halls we’re decking” are not very “jolly.”

And lastly, many of us in the ministry can find ourselves emotionally exhausted from all the “holiday events” we helped to make happen. We then easily find ourselves giving our family and most important relationships our “emotional leftovers.” If that’s not sad enough, the holidays can also reverberate with loneliness and a secret “victim mentality” for some of us. Have I shared enough realism to make you sufficiently depressed…even if you were happy when you started to read?

So how do you turn “Silent Night” into “Joy To The World”?

  1. First, if depression is consistently hampering your life and lingering far longer than just the holidays, swallow your spiritual pride and get help. Candidly reach out to your doctor for some medical assistance. Taking medication to balance out your serotonin is no more of a sin than a diabetic taking insulin to help correct his hormonal imbalances. Also consider taking an invaluable vitamin called “SAM-e.” You can get a good brand at your local Walmart and the documentation on its effectiveness for positive mood enhancement is exciting.
  2. Be aware of media’s subtle shaping of your own expectations and internal dialogue. Lower your expectations and remind yourself that true joy comes only from your determination to biblically control your own thought life. Choose to be genuinely “present” and look for things you can authentically be grateful for.
  3. Set some clear boundaries for yourself in several arenas: Financially (so you don’t overspend and regret it December 26), ministry wise (so you don’t work so hard on the youth Christmas party that your own family gets nothing but Bah-Humbug), and boundaries on your personal calendar (so you don’t attend Sister Sandpaper’s Christmas cookie party this year).
  4. Do something especially loving for another individual – with no thought of repayment or furthering your own agenda. Remember that “a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.” If you want to make it especially meaningful, make your gift a secret between you and the Lord.
  5. And lastly, create a “sacred tradition” between you and Jesus. After all, it is HIS BIRTHDAY we are all supposedly celebrating. My tradition has been going for over 20 years and has been adopted by my immediate family. Before we begin opening gifts, we put on worship music and each write Jesus a personal letter reflecting on the high’s and low’s of that year. We conclude our confidential letters by telling the Lord what our birthday gift to HIM is going to be for the upcoming twelve months. (Our “family moral code” says that we can read our own historical letters to Jesus –but reading what other family members have written through the years is not allowed.) The letters all go into a treasured, old Christmas gift box that yearly takes a position of honor underneath our family Christmas tree.

Yes, “the blues” and more serious depression can be a challenge for even the most committed Christians. But hopefully, some of my simple suggestions might resonate with you in a helpful way. Most of all, remind yourself this Christmas season that you already have almost everything important that money cannot buy. And that, my dear friend, is enough to turn most any “Silent Night” into a rocking “Joy To The World.”