Celebrating Christmas with a Broken Heart

With Advent in full swing and holiday parties on the calendar, my soul gets excited with anticipation—Christmas is just around the corner. Truth is, I typically start getting giddy in September at the thought of family sitting around the Thanksgiving table. And as Thanksgiving turns to Christmas, my excitement level only increases.

This was my yearly ritual—until suffering hit.

A few years ago I walked into the holiday season with fresh wounds, and I was blindsided by how a season I once found comforting brought additional pain. That calendar year had brought so much suffering: we had lost loved ones, our marriage had been through a rough season, our adoption plans had been halted, my husband was in the middle of a career change, and we were walking through a family crisis. I’d even been diagnosed with PTSD from all the shock and change. Sin, death, and brokenness seemed ever-present, and the raw grief prevented me from celebrating the holidays like I used to.

Fighting for Gratitude

It’s easy to be thankful when God ordains seasons of joy and plenty, but it was an ugly fight for gratitude when he ordained suffering. Looking back, however, that holiday season is one of my favorites because I can see how suffering unveiled my eyes and enabled me to celebrate the holiday’s truest meaning.

It’s easy to be thankful when God ordains seasons of joy and plenty, but it was an ugly fight for gratitude when he ordained suffering.

The coming weeks can be excruciatingly painful for those in the midst of grief—whether due to a loved one’s death, job loss, infertility, infant loss, devastating diagnosis, or a family crisis. But rather than just getting through the holidays, might I offer another suggestion? What if instead of merely pushing through, you resolved to fixate on what really matters? Because although you can’t change what has been tainted, broken, or taken away, you can celebrate the holiday’s true meaning in the midst of your pain.

Here are three tips to help you focus on what matters this Christmas season.

1. It’s Okay to Do Christmas Differently This Year

In the wake of grief, emotions are heightened and traditions that used to bring joy can produce deep sadness. Give yourself the freedom to let things go. Looking back on that difficult holiday season, I’m thankful for suffering, because it allowed me to strip away holiday excess and focus on its truest, simplest meaning. I didn’t realize it at the time, but suffering puts sentiment in its proper place.

Suffering puts sentiment in its proper place.

As the frills and fluff of the Christmas season grew strangely dim in light of my suffering, the holiday’s ultimate meaning was lifted out of the ashes of grief. Focus on those and let everything else that triggers despair fall to the wayside this year.

2. Surround Yourself with Truth

Exhausted by physical side effects of grief, envy and discontentment slithered their way into my heart. I was jealous of people I normally would cheer on. I wanted their beautiful family stories, their flashy jobs, their amazing holiday traditions. I confessed my sin to close friends and a beloved counselor who advised me to be mindful of the images I was taking in.

Surround yourself with people and resources that will lovingly minister to you. Choose music, podcasts, and books that will edify and point your eyes to what you already have in Christ, rather than resources that tether your gaze to what you lack. To put it simply, fill your home, your mind, and your relationships with life-giving truth—truth that gives room for both pain and joy to sit together in the light of gospel grace.

3. Step Away from Social Media

When suffering hit our family, I took a break from social media. It seemed silly at the time, but like I mentioned above, as family photos and holiday parties were being posted, I found my heart longing for things God had given others and taken from me. I compared the story God was writing in my own life to the highlight reels of others.

I compared the story God was writing in my own life to the highlight reels of others.

When used properly, social media are fantastic tools for communicating with family and friends around the globe. But if you find yourself critical of your friends on social media or dissatisfied with your life, take a break. Engage honestly and vulnerably with friends and family in real life, allowing your community to walk beside you this holiday season in person, not via a screen.

Believer, God came to earth to make broken things whole. It’s okay for you to be broken this holiday season because of the baby in the manger. It’s okay to walk through the holidays without denying your wound, but allowing your wound to point to a greater story. May you find great peace amid great sorrow, resting in the knowledge that the God of the universe sees your pain and draws near to the brokenhearted. May the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who came to earth for the broken, bring you comfort and hope in these sad days.