Have you ever had a lonely Christmas? Has your Christmas meal been laced with tension, bitterness, and anger? Or has your economic situation negated your ability to even provide modest presents for those you love? Is this the time which triggers you over the loss of a dear loved one? Are you separated by oceans and continents from dear family and friends, perhaps serving in harm’s way in the military, or residing in prison, or on a far-off mission field? Maybe you are living with pain which makes it hard to appreciate the season or achieve the JOY you once felt. Perhaps you have been blessed to avoid such dynamics during your lifetime of Christmases, but I venture that most of us well understand such scenarios.
Ready or not — it is Christmas time – a time of peace and JOY for some, a time of loneliness and even depression for others. This holiday dynamic is part of the reality of our human journey. Rather than passively allowing such challenges to determine our mental outlook and our spiritual well-being, the Resilient Warrior in us must fight for the JOY within our grasp.
Let’s dive right into some suggestions for Resilient JOY at Christmas, and actually during any part of the year ahead. Here are some thoughts:
• Of utmost priority, lean into the true meaning of Christmas. The world focuses on materialism and bright lights, certainly not a source of lasting JOY. Rather, Christmas affords the opportunity to pause, consider, and celebrate God’s provision of Jesus to free us from bondage, to give us the temporal and eternal gift of JOY – one of the fruits of His Holy Spirit (Read Galatians 5).
A secret of Resilient JOY is to drop to our knees in the very presence of God when we encounter holiday discouragement –
Psalms 16:11 reminds us “In Your presence is fullness of JOY…”
James helps us understand the outcome of such Resilient Joy — “Consider it all JOY, my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith (even at Christmas) produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
The pain and discouragement which we feel should drive us to our knees in the presence of our Heavenly Father who in turn imiraculously gives us true JOY and other priceless gifts such as endurance, patience, long-suffering, empathy, and wisdom.
Jesus promises that He will turn our grief into JOY. (John 16:20)
• Gratitude is the gateway to Resilient JOY. G.K. Chesterton said “gratitude is the crown jewel of all virtues.” I won’t belabor this point – we have highlighted the power of praise on many occasions. When faced with numerous invading armies, King Jehosophat put the praise singers (Levites) out front and let God fight the battle for them. Playing the “glad game” is incredibly powerful in changing our mental outlook, and even our neurological functioning.
• Pray for Others with JOY. In “This is Your Brain on JOY” (I highly recommend), Dr Earl Henslin explains the neurobiology of prayer as follows:
“The apostle Paul wrote about praying for others ‘with JOY’ (Phil 1:4) — describing the emotional state he was in during his prayer time. And for good scientific reason. Prayer for others, particularly prayer for their happiness and well-being, lights up the left prefrontal cortex — the happiness spot — of the human brain. In fact, few activities foster more feelings of JOY than praying a blessing over someone else.
• Take Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) Captive. Dr Earl Henslin further explains that “ANTs” disrupt and sometimes kidnap our experience of JOY. Learning to question our own thoughts and ponder alternative and more positive ways of “reading” situations is a skill that can be integrated with practice. Our thoughts often lie to us. By distancing ourselves from their messages, we can evaluate any automatic painful paths and point our minds toward new and more upbeat directions. Replacing these negative thought patterns with healthy messages from Scripture and other positive sources is also a key to Resilient JOY. Philippians 4:8 says it well: “… whatever is true… honorable… right… pure… lovely… of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Over time we can discuss many more tips. For now, however, let us march into Christmas with a Resilient JOY that is not based on circumstances, but on the truth of God’s Word, the gift of Christ at Christmas, and the positive and healthy mindset that God can provide to each of us as we lean into Him.
Have a Blessed Christmas,