Unhappy Holidays: How to Find Specks of Light in the Darkness of Winter

Social media is happily dispensing enthusiasm, emotion and eager anticipation for the holiday season.  The vivid descriptions and images of fireplaces and cocoa, plaids and sequins, lights and laughter feel like an attempt to scatter glitter through every screen into my lap.

Be warm, be filled, be happy.  Let the dazzling delights of the season satisfy, they declare.

But for many of us the holiday sparkle intensifies our pangs of loneliness and grief, as if each piece of glitter is a tiny painful shard of glass.

The last six months of our lives, my husband’s and mine, have been lived in a waiting room of multiple unknowns. Like a slow lumbering cold front, heavy from horizon to horizon with blankets of thick dark clouds only occasionally punctuated with brief glimpses of blue, our fall has been a journey of blind faith not clear sight.

I emailed two dear friends the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It was a day of loneliness and complete exhaustion for me, the black cloud of discouragement obscuring our way again. I asked them once more for prayer, adding that I’d decided not to decorate for Christmas this year: an undeniable indicator of my physical and emotional state.

For me, one who has loved decorating for the holidays since I was a child, it felt sacrilegious, misguided, even traitorous, as if the heart of this season was all external. Even still, I’m confident that what matters is my heart, for there resides the art of worship.

Today though rays of light are beginning to break through. I’ve pulled out my manger scene, added lights around our front door and decorated my little twig tree. Still, the ceiling touching evergreen will not grace our home this year. The simplicity feels refreshing. Reminders of the gifted manger truth. An uncluttered stable. Baby Jesus the center of attention.

I am not alone feeling grief amidst the glitter.

A sweet childhood friend of my thirty-seven year old daughter is halfway through her chemo treatments for breast cancer. How does my friend, her mother, and this young mom of four find peace and joy in this season?

Laura, now married one year, still has many friends, godly young women, who long to be married but are waiting again this Christmas for that long prayed for but still unfound husband.  Yes they know marriage is not the answer for all, but the ever present images of happy children opening gifts with ever smiling moms and dads is a constant reminder to these delightful young women of their aloneness.

Lined pages on our prayer list are filled with names of dear friends, family members, and many acquaintances facing the unknowns of challenging medical conditions and broken relationships.  Where do they—and we—find peace and joy this December and beyond?

“And He will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge” (Isaiah 33:6) is one of my favorite verses. No matter our personal difficulties or the current national or world crisis, stability, comfort and peace are only found in Jesus, the Babe in the manger.

Joni Eareckson Tada, who I am honored to know as a friend, gives me the perspective I need.  For 45 years she has been bound to a wheelchair and to the constant need of others caring for her physical needs.

She said this past year in an interview, “In the morning when I wake up, I know they’ll be coming into my bedroom to give me a bed bath, to do my toileting routines, pull up my pants, put me in the wheelchair, feed me breakfast, and push me out the front door.  I lie there thinking, Oh God, I cannot face this.  I’m so tired of this routine.  I don’t know how I’m going to make it to lunchtime.  But I can do all things through You as You strengthen me.  Can I please borrow your smile?  I need it.”

I have said those words too, “Oh God, I can’t do this another day. I don’t know how I can make it through this, Lord.”

Have you voiced this prayer too?

Do you shake your head incredulously at Joni’s impossible to comprehend circumstances?  I do.  And I marvel.

Joni goes on to say, “I make myself be happy.  I make myself sing because I have to.  I choose the Holy Spirit’s help because I don’t want to go down that grim, dark path to depression anymore.  Cast yourself at the mercy of God and let Him show up through your weaknesses because that is what He promises.”

Her faith stuns me.  But God eagerly waits to meet me and you and every person when we come with our losses and broken hearts to His welcoming embrace.  Peace and joy are found only in a real vital alive relationship with Jesus Christ who willingly shrunk His deity to a single cell to then be born on Christmas Day for our sake.

Come to Him.  Give Him your broken heart.  Adore Him always as Christ the Lord.  Then sing for joy that He has not abandoned us.

Not for a moment will He forsake thee or me.

And by the way, my friend, Joanne, wrote me back to say it is okay if I don’t put up a tree this year. She then said, “It’s not true that you won’t be decorating this year. Thousands of women across the country will be hanging the names of Jesus on Christmas trees because Ever Thine Home.” How grateful I am for Joanne and for so many of you who are making your homes proclaim Jesus in multiple ways and places this year.

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17 thoughts on “Unhappy Holidays: How to Find Specks of Light in the Darkness of Winter”

  1. I am one of those whose Christmas tree is now a Jesus tree thank you to your beautiful ornaments. I had been collecting Nativity ornaments for years, but it was only when I found your Adornaments that I was able to make it truly a Jesus tree. Thank you for your gift to me and my family. The grands who will be staying at our home for the holidays will enjoying adding the most recent set I purchased, one every morning, as part of a devotional time. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. “Holy Spirit you are welcome here…come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what our hearts long for…to be overcome by your presence Lord!” (In honor of Joni)
    Thank you for your honesty Barbara. I am passing this along to others who are struggling as well. Love & prayers..,I have also decorated my home with your beautifully crafted Jesus ornaments and decorations. Praying everyone who comes and sees them here will be moved one step closer to Him…especially our new grandaughters we are hoping will be adopted in the coming year! God is our hope and peace…bless you and Dennis…thank you so much…

  3. Dear Barbara,
    I needed to hear that. Thank you for your honest sharing, your seeking Jesus in the midst of whatever you are going through. I’ve been praying for you and your husband since reading this, and trust our Father is holding you up through your dark time, whatever it is!

  4. I host lots of groups from the church where Andy pastors. My home is decorated with your line, proclaiming Jesus! & I tell everyone about Ever Thine Home. Mrs. Barbara Rainy, God bless you. & now I know why God told me to pray for you after Thanksgiving… I was praying hard for you. Thank you for disciplining thousands of women around the globe. Thank you for your transparency. You really have no idea what your posts & Family Life’s Florida’s Chris Randazzo have meant to the life of this spunky Pastor’s wife. Jesus work in you, the hope of Glory, shared with me. Your legacy goes on.

  5. Margarita Carreon

    Thank you do much for your words and heart. All of us are facing difficulties, big or small. Even the persons who doesn’t seem to have problems, they do in way or another. But in the darkness of our brokenness, Jesus is there. In all our trials, He is there. When we get think we can’t anymore, He is there. Thank you for reminding us that He is with us in death and He will bring us to life again. We’ll get to the light of our sufferings. Merry Christmas!!!

  6. God bless you for such transparent honesty. We are not alone! I have wrestled with this same darkness for the last few years. My family is dealing with addiction issues and it has taken its toll on all of us. I make myself smile and show God’s strength in this time of despair. He is my everything and I am so grateful for His faithfulness!

  7. I so love how our Heavenly Papa allows us to see and hear that others are right where we are and use those people, like you, to send a message so beautiful. It has been a difficult year for me but He has never left me. He has held me when I needed holding and He has carried me when I needed carrying. Thank you for your honest heart and honest words! ❤️

  8. My Florida home too is decorated with your beautiful creative touch, Barbara. Your precious ornaments hang from my tree, constantly reminding us of the true reason we celebrate. I am forever thankful for what Family Life has meant to my husband and I over the countless years. You truly have left a legacy, not only within your own home and family but in hundreds of thousands across the globe. Thank you falls short, but may the Lord of lords and King of kings whom we celebrate this season put a sense of awe and wonder in your heart as He assures you of your calling this side of heaven. Love, blessings, and gratitude to you.

  9. Your struggle is very real and painful and I appreciate you sharing, as it is refreshing to hear honesty particularly at this time of year. I am in a stage of transitions, and Christmas with all its traditions, somehow manages to emphasize the anxieties that accompany change and loss. But thank you for the perspective that returns my gaze back to Jesus, Who fills my life with light and hope!

    P.S. I am one who is hanging the names of Jesus on my tree this year! :D

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and the beautiful truth of God’s word! Thankful I have recently found your blog- your stories and messages have been an encouragement!

  11. Beautifully written, Barbara..❤️ we just left our home church Christmas Party where I handed your names of Jesus gold ornaments out to the friends-so you’ve helped decorate Conway too with your beautiful, creative ornaments.. I’ve hung your wooden star on the top of our tree with the star garland gracing the foyer-and the four ball scripture ornaments are in a Delft bowl with holly and boxwood in our entryway. Evidences of your decorating and designing are all over our house and I thank my dear college friend for these touches.
    I so needed to hear the Joni story tonight as my best friend D. is suffering with unresolved health issues that seem insurmountable at the moment..I found it so encouraging to be reminded of Joni’s faith during her lifetime of physical suffering-and her choice to make each day count.
    I will share this message with my friend.. so thank you, Barbara, for all the gifts you have brought to the table for us to “gather” around and enjoy .

  12. So…it’s actually encouraging to know that even you have lonely times. Makes those lonely feelings less isolating. I’d love to be able to encourage YOU! Often your writings seem so insightful to my particular place in life. Wishing you newfound joy and peace this holiday.

  13. My daughter in law and son gave me the names of Jesus ornaments from Ever Thine Home a few years ago but when we moved I️ lost track of them. When we were cleaning out the garage I️ found them! I️ am so blessed to have been able to put them on our tree this year! I️ actually want to order some more for next year. The Lord bless you and your family with his favor!

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