To Those Who Struggle This Christmas

I’m not writing this to everyone.

I’m writing this to you—the person whose heart is heavy today, the one for whom this day is not merry and bright, the one who doesn’t feel at all like singing.

I’m writing this to you who face subtraction todayt; who feel the combined attrition of the all losses you’ve accrued this year; the people who’ve died, the ones who left voluntarily, those you’ve had to push away to protect yourself.

I’m writing to you who’ve seen the end of something you loved; the dream that dissolved despite how much you gave up to make it real; all the things that you wish to be true right now and should be true—but are not.

I’m writing to those who’ve watched their best attempts to save their marriages not be enough, who are finding themselves no longer half of the whole they once felt securely part of; those who have a different set of chairs around the table—far too many of them empty.

I’m writing to you who are grieving; those sitting vigil in hospital rooms praying for good news; those who just got test results back and have heard the worst; those who are spending this day planning a memorial service instead of a holiday celebration.

I’m writing to you whose personal demons have gotten the best of you; who’ve been visited at the very worst time by depression and addiction and self-hatred—those whose greatest threat to joy right now is an inside job.

I’m writing this to those who are alone today: geographically separated from the people they love, emotionally distanced from those they desire proximity to, pushed by circumstance to the solitary places.

I’m writing this to those who’ve been left broken by this year; by its cruelty and bitterness and violence—those of you who harbor more anger, carry more grief, and bear more fear because of what you’ve seen and what you know and how you feel about this place you call home.

Ultimately, I’m writing to you, who for a million different reasons find peace difficult to come by in a time when it’s supposed to be plentiful.

I don’t have any magic words to fix what is broken around you or to repair what is broken within you.

I can’t simply place a cursor on the sadness you feel and backspace until it’s deleted, replacing it with words like comfort or peace or contentment.

I can’t say anything in this small space that will mend what is severed, resurrect what has died, or heal what is ill.

I just wanted these words to hopefully remind you of two things:

The first, is that you are not alone; that even though you’re uniquely suffering in the specific sadness you’re inhabiting right now—you are not suffering by yourself. The world is filled with people who are not exactly, but still deeply burdened, grieving, angry, hopeless, exhausted. Even if you never see their faces or know their names, rest in the truth that millions of wounded people stand in solidarity with you in this day—and that they get it. I get it.

The second thing I wanted to remind you of, is that though this is your painful story right now, it is not the end of your story.

The way you feel today will not always be the way you feel. As difficult as it is to imagine in these painful moments—there will be holidays when lightness returns to you; days when you are cultivating new dreams again, when you once more feel secured in a place where you belong, when you again find yourself embraced by people who see and treasure the goodness in you, days when you are easily pushing back your demons.

There will be holidays when celebration is your default setting.

But right now, don’t feel any guilt for the sadness within you.
Don’t beat yourself up for not wanting to sing right now.
Don’t feel pressured to have the shit together that simply isn’t together and won’t be for a while.

Just receive this Christmas as it is, receive it as you are—with all the struggle and uncertainty and grieving it brings.

I’m not writing this to everyone, but if I’ve written this for you, be greatly encouraged.

You are loved.



52 thoughts on “To Those Who Struggle This Christmas

  1. John, as always you hit the nail right on the head. Christmas has become something to get thru – to endure. How I long to have the Christmas’ of my childhood. To have all those I love around me. Thanks for this and I so hope to meet you in Philly next month

  2. Thank you, John. Every Christmas is difficult for me, and I really appreciate this message. It feels like it is meant just for me. Much love to you and yours.

  3. Thank you, John. This message brought comfort and the always excellent perspective – accept what is and be happy. May others find this comfort, too.

  4. John – I have been reading and sharing your reflections for a few months. I even read “A Bigger Table” and shared it with my spiritual director. Thank God for you and the wonderful gift that you are to so many. Your witness brings light and life to the message of Jesus. Blessings to you and your family.

  5. thank you John for this, this morning. I am an only child, lost my wonderful mom in 2015 and my so beloved dad just 18 months later with whom we were building a house so that he could come live with us in his own apartment. The excitement we all had in working on this project together was palpable. His death was sudden, unexpected – such a shock. True, he was older, but in overall good health and there was a dream of spending time with each other for a few more years. It has been a long, sad and very difficult couple of years – have felt tossed around on the waves and lost many times without my father’s guidance, wisdom and love which I relied upon right up until the end. I have a wonderful husband, but no children and no immediate family, thus have had to navigate the world of estates, finances and investments, completing the building of a house (first time doing this), continuing the operation of my own consulting business, sorting through a lifetime of both my own and their memories as I cleaned their house which really was a full time and individual job as my husband has only known them for 15 years – then learning the ins/outs of the real estate market to sell their home. And so it has gone, one seemingly endless task after another. To say I am weary and that Bill is weary would be an understatement. Not to mention I don’t believe that I have really been able to grieve the loss of either due to the myriad of tasks have needed attendance and to be accomplished. It is heartening to know that I am not alone in this struggle and sadness – even though many others do not speak of what they are going through. Thank you for allowing the space here for one to talk a bit. It is so helpful. Now, on to the day as it has started and there are things that must get done. As my parents would always say to me – “these troubles too shall pass or become easier” and “do your best, I expect nothing less of you”. Have a blessed holiday season. xo

  6. Thanks for these kind words. I needed to hear them today. You are an angel sent from God. I and many others appreciate you more than you know. God bless you and Merry Christmas to your and your family.

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful article, also remember the starving of the world and poverty stricken, war afflicted and refugees all of whom Christmas is just another sad and terrifying day.

  8. Thanks John, for recognising the hurt pain and saddness too exists at this time of great joy, for some, and the comfort that will come with time.

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is a subject that we don’t talk about, especially in the church. Little do people know how far a simple invitation to Christmas dinner would really go to make all of us lonely people feel better. But just to hear someone acknowledge that some of us are having a hard time is a ray of light in a dark time. Bless you.

  10. Thank you for that blog it is helpful! my husband passed away this year and it has been hard bringing up two grief stricken girls. the youngest went crazy and the older became depressive. Our girls are very much loved and they miss there papa much. We couldn’t go to the cemetery all year. But time heals, yesterday we went and had sat beside his grave and tended to him. It was so freeing for me. Thank you for the encouragement.

  11. John, I admire you and what you stand for. You are a light in this dark world. My only critique of yours would be that I wish you mentioned those who have incarcerated loved ones this holiday season. I wish you would dedicate a post completely to those who have been hurt by the Prison Industrial Complex. A post about the evils of the racist and prejudice criminal justice system and how it destroys the lives of the men and women who go through it and their families as well.

    America has more people incarcerated per capita than any other Industrialized country on Earth. The holidays are especially hard for those incarcerated. It is hell in there for them and it is hell for their family and spouses and children out here. I hope you will consider opening your “Bigger Table” up just a little bit bigger to include the Incarcerated and their loved ones.

    Thank you for all you do! Happy Holidays to you and yours! ♥️

  12. Your letter, surprised me. I didn’t think that anyone cared about how hard this year has been for me. And I know that there are others out there that feel the way that I do. This has been an awful year. I can only hope that 2018 will be better. To have someone acknowledge that even though you don’t know me and never will, really means a lot to me. Thank you.

  13. Thank you for this beautiful message. This was me last year. I heard this message in my heart…and let myself feel my loss, without judgement, without apology. It was a second long year for me. But I chose to let myself ‘be,’ as best I could, at every difficulty—be who I was at the moment, feel what I felt at the moment. This holiday season, I’m still choosing ‘being,’ and my new reality finds peace.

  14. Thank you. My blood family is spread out and far away. My sister and I still miss our parents, and my nieces still grieve for the loss of their grandparents, every day but especially today. It is true we are not alone, and a sincere reminder of this is helpful and welcome. Bless you.

  15. I was one of these people until this happened today…
    True story..Kira and I had to run to the grocery store this morning. Standing in the check out line the lady in front of us was 20 cents short. She was looking in her purse but didn’t have the change. Kira and I said at the same time ‘what do you need?’ And Kira gave her a quarter. She was appreciative and told us this blessing would come back to us. Then she asked if I was Kira’s mom, we said yes. She handed us $20 and said lunch on me! We tried to not take the $ but she insisted. So today…we met Santa and SHE turns out to be a generous black lady! Merry Christmas

  16. The only thing that has saved me during my darkest,lowest times was knowing that this is temporary, and although I can’t envision happy times right now doesn’t mean they won’t exist. Thank you for this! My 1st Christmas alone. .. and I survived❤️

  17. 7 Questions to seal covenant
    Are you in covenant? Here are questions to ask yourself to see that you love God and country:
    1. Do I publicly say: The LORD is the God of the USA and Americans are His people?
    2. Am I seeking God with all my heart and all my soul, including for our nation?
    3. Do I speak up for the USA to obey the Holy Bible?
    4. Am I living with Jesus as King of the USA?
    5. Will I help make disciples of our nation?
    6. Do I speak up for our nation to turn away from everything against Jesus Christ?
    7. Have I restored the cross and prayed to receive forgiveness for the USA’s sins by Jesus’ blood?
    If you answer yes to these questions, you are on the LORD’s side and He invites you to join covenant.
    Pray and re-affirm the USA’s covenant with God

  18. Thanks. This means a lot to me to be acknowledged. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to sit and let the shroud of grief sit softly on my shoulders.

  19. Thank you for this. This Christmas has been hard for me, as many are. I was abused by my father when I was young, and had to beak ties with him to protect my children. Times like this fill me with doubt and sadness at what I was unable to repair.

  20. Thank you for writing this, John. I’m not working as a hospital chaplain right now, but I have sat vigil numerous times with loved ones next to patients in ICU wards and in waiting rooms for emergency surgery. I have seen, first hand, the anguish and pain and sadness.
    Now that I’m a local church pastor in the Chicago suburbs, I have held four Blue Christmas services on or near the longest night of the year for those who grieve or are depressed or who are overwhelmed by the holidays. Only a handful of people attend each year, yet without fail, several people come up to me afterwards and thank me sincerely for allowing them space to grieve and mourn and come before God in a space that is purposefully not “holly, jolly” or “merry and bright.” At St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove, I strive to present a progressive yet Bible-centered message, reaching out with the Good News to our community.
    Thanks again, John.

  21. That is so damn real its frightening! I am a Vancouverite, and I live in the most real part of Vancouver The DownTown Eastside. I am fortunate enough to have been able to get home for the Holidays on Vancouver Island, to my folks place in the Comox Valley. I can so relate to the way this person describes those feelings, its my story. I have fiends that are in the hospital, and I have lost about six friends to ODs and acts of violence, and yes I feel this way a lot, but it isn’t always the way I feel. theirs moments of extreme happiness and joy. like the way this letter has jolted me out of my head and got me thinking about my friends that are still struggling out in the cold or stuck in the hospital, You are loved and not alone. Christmas is done, but it will be back again in less than a year. stay positive and upbeat, cause we are stronger than this worlds issues no matter what this world can throw at us. PERIOD Nuff said

  22. I am starting to suspect that this site has sold my email address. I am now receiving many more spam emails than prior to joining this blog

  23. I follow you on twitter and fb. Love your inspiration.
    I fear your domain has been hacked. I can’t read your posts any longer without getting this crazy survey popup from which is not a searchable site. Offers free amazon gift card if taking a survey, which Amazon is not running. I think someone might be capturing info on people. Hopefully you have a great IT person to help out.

  24. Thanks for the thought. I’m not a person of faith. Maybe I just lost it; maybe I never had it. But what I have had is abuse. And loss. And, as my therapist puts it: “a lot of just really bad luck.” I appreciate your message, but when I got the end, it lost it’s meaning. Telling me that I am “loved” means absolutely nothing. It’s been proven to me that I cannot trust those who say they love me – those who SHOULD love me, but lie. So it is no solace to someone like me. I don’t believe you. I don’t believe it.

  25. And Amazon scam keeps popping up every time I go to read one of your posts. This is been going on for several weeks. It seems to be a problem that needs to be corrected on your website. Please see if you can do anything about it.

    • It is not his fault. You need to download an ad blocker program such as “AdGuard” to your computer. That will fix it all right away. It did on my computer—works wonders!!!

      • I got this too. It is an attempt to harvest your personal information. Nothing to do Amazon. I reported it to them and they said theu’d Investigate.

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