Tis’ the season to be jolly, right? Well, for some of us, but not all of us. While the entire world seems to glitter in tinsel, some people sit caves of gloom during the holidays. It’s easy to forget that suffering takes no vacation at Christmas. So, not to be a killjoy, but perhaps to awaken us to some opportunities around us, here’s five challenges that pastors and people face during the holidays.
Let’s face it, the holidays can be devoid of both holiness and rest. Many of us face an onslaught of office parties, children’s performances, church programs, and travel. For all of us–especially pastors expected to attend or officiate every event–the pace and activity can be exhausting. Chances are we were tired coming into the season, so it can feel as if the season of cheer is about to do us in. How can we make Christmas and New Year’s a real period of rest?
One effect of fatigue is resentment. Rather than participate in the season’s rituals, we can develop a “Bah! Humbug!” attitude. The recital looms over the horizon and dark clouds begin to brew. Another sermon needs to be written and the heart fights in resistance.
3. Loss and Grief
Chances are some of us have lost loved ones in the past year and this Christmas will be the first one since their death. Everything will be different. All the celebrations will actually prompt mourning. And the family gathering won’t quite be complete. It’s a challenge to muster up seasonal vibes when all you can think about or feel is that real loss and grief from the past year or more. It’s a challenge to make sure that we mourn with those who mourn–even during holidays.
4. Financial Pressure
Especially for the financially strapped or undisciplined, Christmas represents a significant pressure or burden. Most pastors already face inadequate salaries with inordinate demands. Their families feel the same desire “to do something nice” at Christmas that other families do. So too the many families in the church that have faced layoffs, down-sizings, redundancies, and the like. Add to this even a touch of materialism during Christmas and it makes for a rather stressful financial picture.
5. Separation and Loneliness
There are those pastors and families who live and serve a significant ways from home and family. Yet another holiday rolls past without the prospect of going home. Perhaps aging parents make the pressure to go home more acute. Seeing others leave for other destinations while you must remain behind for that Christmas day service or special event can trigger all kinds of reactions–including the resentment mentioned earlier, the pain of separation and even depression.
I’m sure there are other significant challenges for families and pastors during the Christmas season. These are a few that came to mind. While there are many challenges wrapped inside Christmas cheer, I trust there are also many ways of serving those that may be suffering during the holidays. Stop for a moment to think of those who might feel as if they have less reason to rejoice than others. Their feelings don’t have to be accurate for us to consider them. And when the Lord has brought them to mind, think about how you might remember, include, bless, or serve them in some way. The Christmas when we remembered the suffering may end up being the most memorable Christmas they have had in a long time.