‘Tis the Season for Bad Feelings

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Christmas Crying

Not everybody enters the Christmas season singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” For some it is never a happy time, and for others it is supposed to be a happy time, but doesn’t always work out that way.

When my EC and I were newlyweds, we spent our first Christmas making the trek from BYU home to Arizona. Both sets of parents lived here in the Valley, but they lived about 45 minutes apart. We did our very best to spend equal time with each side of the family. We attended the formal get togethers, and tried our best to participate in all the activities we could. Yet somehow we failed.

What I remember of that first Christmas as a couple was that we spent a huge portion of our holiday break constantly driving back and forth from Scottsdale to Chandler. Unfortunately, when it came time to head back to Provo, neither set of parents were happy. Both sides felt we had not balanced our time well, and felt cheated – despite what we thought had been a valiant effort on our part. They were disappointed. We were mad/sad at how it worked out and what should have been a joyous week, well, it sucked.

Sometimes people go into the holiday season and things get in the way to make it less joyous. Things happen, people happen and life happens – and the wonder of the season can swirl down the drain.

For others, the holidays are a tender time that brings sadness or even pain. Longing for departed or absent loved ones, loneliness, dealing with separation or fractured families, or even health woes can make it a difficult season. Christmas is supposed to be about families, right? But the reality is, Christmas can be a stark reminder that not everyone has the family situation that can fulfill that assumption.

Some people are simply pre-transition Grinches. They just don’t like Christmas. Either they are dealing with post-traumatic BB gun experiences from their childhoods, or their hearts are just three sizes too small – they just don’t like Christmas and all it’s trappings. Often, they are very vocal about their gripes. You can’t throw an elf across the room without hitting someone who is an Anti-Santa-ite, or see the whole endeavor as a waste of time.

Grinch heart

Finally, there are some who are burdened by the Season. Christmas has the potential to engender feelings of inadequacy. People can feel bad for not baking, buying or decorating to the level that they would have liked. Worse yet, some feel bad that they haven’t been able to keep up with all the clever, crafty people who make their own Christmas wrapping paper out of wood pulp and used tinsel, and use it to wrap the jars of homemade cranberry sauce from the berries that they grew in their own hydroponic gardens. News Flash: Not everyone is Martha Stewart (less the jail time).  Sadly, some feel terrible because they see themselves as inadequate because they can’t do it all. This is not merely a Christmastime condition, it can flare up all year, but it can make for an especially insecure Christmas.

Martha Stewart

Here are a few thoughts to counter the dark days of Christmas and to help find some joy in the holiday:

Focus on Gratitude. If our hearts are full to the brim with gratitude, there is little room left for feelings of sadness, anger, insecurity or Scrooginess. I think it is no coincidence that Thanksgiving comes before we dive into the Christmas season. Something as simple as making a Gratitude List can push us in that direction. The Brethren have had plenty to say about the beauty, and necessity, of gratitude. (Click here and pick one.)

Don’t Keep Score. One way to wreck a holiday, or a relationship, is to keep score. When we keep track of who does or gives more, we are just setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. This is what happened when we were newlyweds. I have tried to learn from that experience and just be grateful (there it is again) for what I do receive, and the time I do get to spend with my loved ones. One of the core tenants of life that we seem to struggle with is that life is simply not fair. Keeping score implies that somehow it is, or should be. It isn’t – nor is it intended to be. Let it go.

Simplify. If the joy is sucked out of the holiday from being overwhelmed by how much there is to do, don’t do so much. Sounds easy enough, right? It’s not. I am a firm traditionalist. I find happiness and security in having the same Christmas traditions year after year. The realty is that some years there just isn’t time to do it all. Maybe because of health issues, work issues, money issues, etc. Every traditional treat doesn’t have to be baked. Every activity does not have to be attended. Every decoration does not have to be hung. It is OK – Christmas will still come, even if there are still unopened boxes of decorations. The expression “Christmas trappings” is curious, indeed.

Don’t compare. It does not matter that Sister Smith delivered homemade apple spice mini bundt cakes to all the neighbors the first weekend after Thanksgiving. There are no laws that require every family to hire a professional photographer and send out glorious Christmas cards. Social media has raised comparison and insecurity to an art form. Feeling too good about yourself? Spend an hour on Pinterest – that should take care of it. Do what you feel you can do, and do what you want to do – don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Believe in Gift of Agency. One of the single most difficult concepts taught in the Church is that we feel how we choose to feel. I don’t know if it something that a lot of us just refuse to believe, or if it is just because it is so stinking difficult. The concept is simply this: If we are sad, or mad, or insecure, or lonely, etc., it is because we choose to be that way. Nobody can make us mad. The idea that someone can make us feel any certain way is one of the great fallacies of our day. Nobody can make us sad. Simply put, to believe someone has the power to take over our emotions means the have the ability to commandeer our agency. Yet, the phrase, “He makes me so mad.” is all too common, and it is a lie. The very best way to dig into this difficult truth is by studying Elder Bednar’s talk “And Nothing Shall Offend Them.

Focus on Love. When we focus on love, we are more patient, forgiving and tolerant. We are less likely to be critical – of ourselves and others.

“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”  (Moroni 7:45)

By the way, charity is a gift. God gives it to us through the Holy Ghost – all we have to do is ask.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren (sisters too!), pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love...” (Moroni 7:48)

Focusing on love during the Christmas season should be a no-brainer, but life an people can get in the way. We should focus on the Savior and his love every day of the year, but it can be especially valuable during a season that can be fraught with tender feelings of pain, insecurity, loneliness and disappointment. Christ can take those feelings from us as a a personal gift to us.

One year President Hinckley concluded his Christmas remarks with this idea. He said:

May it be a happy and wonderful season. We leave a blessing upon you, a blessing of Christmas, that you may be happy. May even those whose hearts are heavy rise with the healing which comes alone from Him who comforts and reassures. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” 

So said He in His hour of great tribulation: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” 

In the spirit of that great promise and gift, may we all rejoice this blessed Christmas season. (link)

Share Happiness. I found a fascinating quote from Brigham Young that I think fits nicely in the holiday season:

In all your social communications, or whatever your associations are, let all the dark, discontented, murmuring, unhappy, miserable feelings—all the evil fruit of the mind, fall from the tree in silence and unnoticed; and so let it perish, without taking it up to present to your neighbors. But when you have joy and happiness, light and intelligence, truth and virtue, offer that fruit abundantly to your neighbors, and it will do them good, and so strengthen the hands of your fellow-beings (DBY, 240).

I can’t think of a better Christmas gift we can give to our families and those we associate with than a peaceful, happy version of ourselves. Joy is attainable, and it is fiercely contagious.

Merry Christmas!

MMM-logo-small

Joy is attainable

 

11 COMMENTS

  1. This post brought back a lot of memories of our early years of marriage. We too felt pulled in 2 different directions to satisfy our parents and when it was all said and done, the holiday passed and it passed us
    too. That is one thing I would change after our children were born. We should have set down some ground rules that put our little ones first. They are grown now and those year of little ones are passed for me but I have promised myself I will never put my children in that position. Christmas or any other holiday can be celebrated any time, or should be celebrated all year long. How about a Christmas gathering the day before Christmas Eve, or a week before, or the day after? The love we have for each other and the gratitude we should have for the birth of our Savior is more important at this time than anything else. Merry Christmas!

    • Bless bless my mother in law who realized that Christmas Day traditions needed to be focused on our children. Now Christmas is all about our little family and our combined traditions. We meet at her house on New Years Day for our second Christmas where we open presents from cousins and aunts and uncles and of course her Granny Jammie’s she makes for all of the grand children. It is a time where we can just focus on that side of the family without feeling the pull of other expectations. The other bonus? We have an extra week to get those presents ready 😀

  2. Thank you for this post! I loved the quotes at the end from Pres. Hinckley and Brigham Young. I’m teaching Relief Society today and I’ve been thinking about how everyone experiences Christmas differently. Reading your thoughts was so helpful! Thank you for continuing to inspire me (and making me laugh at the same time)! Merry Christmas MMM!

  3. Thank you so much for this! I was just sitting here grumpy bc of x, y and z and went to drown my problems in facebook and saw your post and decided to read it. So glad I did. I will be sending this to my mother, who I know could benefit from this too.

  4. The problems at our house were economic. A budget would be agreed on and then ignored or at the last minute a plea was made for some special item(s) the kids couldn’t live without. Made it hard to write that final check at tithing settlement.

  5. My mormon family backed out of an apartment lease they were co-signing with me, and cut off all contact with me right before Christmas five years ago. I had just come out publicly as transgender.

    I’m told they thought I did it just to hurt them. In reality, I needed them then more than ever. I broke down completely over the holidays and most of the next year, and almost killed myself.

    I’m marrying into a new family next summer, with very kind siblings and in-laws my age. But I still don’t celebrate Christmas anymore.

  6. This post resonates with me. We were living in Oregon with our kids, and some years we would travel to Utah to be with both extended families. Lots of stress, being pulled in both directions, trying to meet expectations, disagreements as we tried to keep both sets of parents happy. Impossible! As we drove home, we realized that if both parents felt short-changed, we must have done a good job balancing!
    I love the quote of Brigham Young. Wise man. So are you. Thank you for putting things into proper perspective.
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
    AuntSue

  7. we had the same challenge as a young family. Especially since we were military and only made it “home” every few years. If it wasn’t for some veil crossing, we would probably still be having those problems.
    With our kids, we decided that Thanksgiving was our holiday, then our married kids can have Christmas with their in-laws without feeling like they are being pulled in two directions.
    Additionally…instead of making the kids & grandkids travel to see us, we go to see them. Everyone is happier.
    There is a lot of truth that others feel left out at the holidays. It is sad that as an EMS pilot, we seem to see a lot more examples of people who just lose their will during the holidays. It might seem old fashioned, but Christmas caroling and a plate of cookies the week before Christmas makes a huge difference is some peoples life. Our “empty nest” FHE group goes every week in December.

  8. “I can’t think of a better Christmas gift we can give to our families and those we associate with than a peaceful, happy version of ourselves. Joy is attainable, and it is fiercely contagious.”

    This is a profound and powerful idea!! I may have to make it into a wall hanging for the whole year round. (If you take out the word Christmas it still works.)

    One of your best posts ever!!

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