How does Paul accomplish such personal resilience? By nurturing his relationship with Jesus Christ and setting his expectations on a life that reflects the character of Christ, even in hunger and need (Philippians 4:13). The key to not getting crushed in a disappointing holiday season is to reshape our hearts to find ultimate satisfaction not in the trifles of this world, fickle and frail as they are, but in the glories of the next. For there, and there alone, will our expectations not only be met, but abundantly exceeded.
As I walked briskly through downtown on a cold January morning, I asked my friend, a family lawyer, a typical small-talk question: “How are things at work?”
“It’s our busiest time of year,” he responded, “so I’m currently getting crushed.”
“Really?” I said. “That surprises me.”
“The week kids return to school following the holiday break, our office gets hammered with divorce inquiries,” he said glumly.
Initially, I was shocked. Yet as I thought more, I realized his experience as a family lawyer matched my own as a counselor and pastor. My email inbox, text messages, and voicemail go crazy in the days and weeks following the new year. Before you know it, if someone wants a counseling appointment, they are being booked into the spring.
Five Shades of January Blue
Why do so many people feel crushed after the holidays? Why are so many people hurt, sad, angry, and confused coming off a season usually marked by joy, peace, and anticipation? In my counseling, pastoring, and experience with my own heart, I’ve encountered at least five reasons January can hit us so hard.
First, some are simply exhausted coming out of the holiday season. We planned and attended parties. We acquired gifts. We made mad dashes to stores because someone was left off the list, or one kid had too few items. The church calendar teemed with a plethora of worship services and events from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, half of which required some sort of extra practice or manpower. The pace of these responsibilities and opportunities, especially in contrast to the rest of the year, can seem breakneck, leading to an exhausted, strung-out feeling when the second week of January hits.
Second, the holidays themselves can become the foundation of our hope rather than just an expression of our joy. We can end up hoping in the sights and sounds, the people and presents, instead of simply enjoying these gifts. Anticipation of favorite flavors, favorite carols, favorite people, and what we hope will be our favorite new possession can propel us through this busy season. But when the food is eaten and the last carol has been sung, when people return to their normal lives and the presents turn out to be just more stuff to fill our homes, our spirits can crash as our hope seems to evaporate.
Third, do not discount the power of darkness. I’m not speaking metaphorically about Satan and his minions; I mean actual darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, the short days and long nights can dramatically influence our mood and energy level. This change is just beginning to happen when the holidays arrive, but as we emerge from the holiday season, the nights are long and cold, the days are often dreary, and the world around us seems bare and lifeless as winter has had its effect. All of nature seems to reflect something of our internal assessment that life is a sad, dismal affair.
Fourth, while the parties, worship services, and service opportunities may be demanding, they do get us around others consistently. Conversely, once the holidays are over and life returns to normal, many of us find ourselves living our modern lives of relative isolation. No more groups of people laughing and merrymaking — instead, one day bleeds into the next while we retreat to our secluded abodes, and the voices of friends and family are replaced by the digitized voices of our favorite on-screen characters.
Last, while the holidays can be a time of exuberant joy and excitement, for many they turn into another season of disappointment. Family interactions are difficult and painful. Husbands and wives who hope the holidays will provide respite from seasons of bitterness and disdain discover new occasions for those feelings to grow stronger.