We’re going slightly off-topic today. As if the title wasn’t warning enough, this is not your typical happy holidays post. So, if you’re looking for tinsel and sugar cookies, you need to go somewhere else.
Yes, the holidays are a great time with family, but sometimes families are not so great. Yes, they are full of memories, but sometimes those memories hurt. Even though we all would like to believe that Christian families are all apple pie, the reality is that we are families of broken people. In some cases, we are broken families of broken people.
While all your friends are posting their Days of Gratitude on their Facebook and pinning handmade Christmas cards to Pinterest, you might be happy just to make it through a day without hurting.
Christmas has always been my least favorite holiday.
I love everything Christmas stands for. I just do not like what it reminds me of. For the past 20 years, Christmas has been a bittersweet time. Christmastime is when my dad left.
I can still remember the day he left us. I was at after-school piano lessons at the second-grade teacher’s house. Her Christmas tree was up in the corner. It was beautiful. After finishing my lesson, I waited for daddy to come pick me up.
He never came.
I just celebrated my 28th birthday but I still get nervous when someone is late to pick me up. I know it makes no sense. No one has abandoned me since, but my heart still starts to race and I shoot text messages and phone calls in rapid succession, verging on sheer panic.
Hello, my name is Jessica and I have abandonment issues.
That day, years ago, my mother finally came to get me. As I walked out of the house, the piano teacher was playing the song from “Peanuts.” I cannot stand that song. I have tried. I have even considered learning how to play it in an effort to conquer whatever ‘irrational fear’ I have of a silly cartoon song. Nothing works.
For some of us, holidays are far from happy.
We may be forced into family situations with people who hurt us. Some of you write me, sharing stories of being abused, molested, or raped by dads, brothers, uncles, and cousins. How do you look that same man (or, in some cases, woman) in the face and ask him to pass the mashed potatoes?
Others of us are forced to face the holidays with a gaping hole in our hearts. An empty chair. A face missing from the Christmas card. Presents absent from under the tree. A song. A memory. A haunting. An ache. A hurting.
If that is you, I want to share two things with you, two truths that I hope help you find a little bit of healing this holiday season.
1. It’s OK
It is OK to hurt. It is OK to not be the spokesperson for Betty Crocker. The reality of our lives is that they are lives of both joy and pain. God never promises anything different.
I want to clarify here and say what has happened to you is not OK. Abuse is not OK. Rape is not OK. Walking out is not OK. This is not an ‘oh well, that’s life, get over it.’ This is a ‘permission to cry freely and burn the gingerbread.’
2. Keep it where it belongs
If we are not careful, we can misplace our hurt, and start targeting others and, in turn, hurt those we love. It is important that we allow ourselves to hurt but also that we learn to keep that within boundaries.
How do you do that? By telling people. It is like diffusing the timer on a emotional bomb.
**If you are in the middle of an abusive circumstance or are having difficulty dealing with your trauma (maybe having suicidal thoughts, etc) you need to talk to someone who can help you- call the police in the case of abuse or a health professional.
My family knows I cannot stomach the song from Peanuts. Christmas would be fantastic were it not for that song (only one of the most popular Christmas songs, ever). I have talked about it with them before. At first, I felt stupid. In my 20s and cannot get over a song. But, after I told them, they protected me.
If that song comes on the radio, or TV, or similar, and I am nearby, my family will change it, turn down the volume, or talk as loud as they can to drown it out (which can be rather comical). They know and the fact that they know means I am less likely to deal with the stress of that song at Christmastime.
A friend of mine was once molested by a male member of her family. She told her family, but her family did not care. Obviously, that is not helpful.
After she got married, she told her husband. Now, whenever there is the obligatory family get together her husband is watching out for her and keeping an eye on that man, there to intervene if a ‘hello’ hug goes too long. She feels safe because her husband his there, even though this other guy is there too.
Find a moment, not in the middle of the holiday hustle and bustle and not in middle of a meltdown, to let someone close to you know about that hurt. Let them know you are uncomfortable around so-and-so, or that certain things bring back unpleasant memories. And perhaps, most importantly, remember:
Hurt is not the same as bitterness
Many times, when we hurt, or when something bothers us, we can get confused and think that it is a lack of forgiveness. Other people might say the same thing. They might tell you to let it go or even to grow up. They might tell you to forgive and move on.
You can have a forgiving heart and still hurt. You can move on and still hurt.
Memories are usually where our hurts (and joys) lie, and when you are traveling over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, or taking walks down memory lane, you are going to run into memories that might hurt. That is not unforgiveness; that is life. In fact, in my experience, the only way you move on without hurting is to be bitter and angry.
If that is you this holiday season, please know I am praying for you. Know that you are not alone in your pain, whatever your pain may be. God may not have planned the brokenness, but He has a plan for it. He can use that and your healing to bring glory to His name.
As you go through these next few days, allow yourself moments to hurt, to remember, to receive grace, to heal, to celebrate, to forgive, to love. It may feel like you cannot do all of that, but you can- one new memory at a time.