The holidays are a time for joy and celebration. Except when they’re not. While it can be a distraction, a little mistletoe and gingerbread isn’t going to make everything that you’ve struggled with for the last eleven months magically disappear. In fact, for some, it can make those struggles even more difficult.
This year I have been introduced to the concept of a longest night church service which takes place on December 21st and acknowledges the pain and loss that many are feeling during the holiday season. What a beautiful concept.
A key part of most longest night services is the lighting of the advent candles, sometimes using liturgy developed specially for the service. I think this particular liturgy has a powerful reach even beyond a religious service:
We light four candles tonight in honor of our loved ones. We light one for our grief, one for our courage, one for our memories, and one for our love.
This candle represents our grief. We own the pain of losing loved ones, of dreams that go unfulfilled, of hopes that evaporate in despair.
This candle represents our courage. It symbolizes the courage to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other, to share our feelings honestly and openly with each other, and to dare to hope in the midst of pain.
This candle represents our memories. For the times we laughed together, cried together, were angry with each other or overjoyed with each other. We light this candle for the memories of caring and joy we shared together.
This candle represents our love. The love we have given, and the love we have received. The love that has gone unacknowledged and unfelt, and the love that has been shared in times of joy and sorrow.
The final candle is lit to remember that our pain and struggles are heard and there is healing and hope to be found even at the midst of them. At this point in the service individuals are invited to come and light their own candles, in honor of a person lost or something that is heavy on their heart.
Today I remember…
Those that are depressed, and for whom Christmas just might be another day that it is hard to get out of bed.
Those that are anxious, and for whom the holidays just increases that anxiety with all the added stress.
Those that are financially struggling, and for whom Christmas is another reminder of what they can’t afford to have and give.
Those that have lost someone they loved, and for whom the holidays are a harsh reminder that they are no longer there.
Those that feel alone or are far away from home, and feel this more acutely in a season where you are supposed to be surrounded with friends and family.
Those that have challenging family relationships, and for whom the holidays are negative experiences because of those interactions.
Those that feel lost, and look around and feel discouraged by the presentation of everyone’s “Christmas card” life.
Those that are sick, and feel that their body has betrayed them.
Those shouldering a great deal of pain, who have broken hearts, have unfulfilled dreams, or feel afraid.
Think about the people around you that may be struggling this next week. Or perhaps you are struggling yourself. Reach out. Talk to someone. Offer a listening ear. Bless someone through a simple random act of kindness. Slow down and pay attention to your lonely neighbor, the stranger that looks like they have weight of the world on their shoulders, the friend that needs to vent. Pay attention to your own needs as well.
Are you struggling this holiday season? How could you bless someone who is struggling?