Dear struggling parent,
This is a hard time of year. I feel you. I feel your hurt, disappointment, pain, worry, loneliness, anxiety, and perhaps even anger.
So how will we make it through when the "most wonderful time of the year" feels like just another disappointing time of the year and you have the added pressure and guilt of leading little ones to the happiness and joy that you desperately want for them, but you don't feel like you have it to give?
I wish this was the part where I give you "3 easy steps to turn grief into gratitude."
That's the article/blog that I really wanted to write, but the truth is, it won't be easy and it's not a 3 step process that you complete and magically have this beautiful, overwhelming-with-gratitude, filled-heart.
But here are some starting points and things to keep in mind to help your heart be in the right place (not the pit of your stomach) through the holidays.
Minimize Stress, Maximize Health
I could write several books on just this! There's SO much to be said and understood. Life is full of obligations and something Pastor Doug says that I think of often is "the urgent drowns out the important" ...or something like that.
There's so much that feels urgent, but what is important?
Nothing has given me a better visual of this than reading about a young writer that had months worth of work written on hundreds of pages scattered across tables in the mountain home he had rented. He had just sighed, full of relief and satisfaction at completing his next novel when several open widows brought in a strong gust of wind. Papers went flying out of the window as he frantically grabbed at every page he could get his hands on. My heart cried out "CLOSE THE WINDOW!!" Until all but a handful of the pages were gone.
What windows can you close to protect the full story? What things can you minimize or even do without so that you can heal within. It will be hard, I promise. But your future, healthier self will thank you.
Spend less, give more
Why is retail therapy a thing? Really!? I can recite countless studies that have found the incredible benefits of giving, volunteering and doing-good for others. Those are moments that you will carry you and your family through, not the new shoes. It doesn't have to be extravagant and only God knows the full extent of your generosity. Your children are watching and spending can just leave you feeling spent.
"Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!" - Psalm 119:36
Isolation is not the answer, but "no" should be an answer occasionally
During seasons of grief, it is imperative to choose your best yes and surround yourself with supportive loved ones. Healthy community is key! That is as true as it is cliche! There may not be as many gatherings this year, but don't take that as a free-pass to stay hiding in your pantry. After all, God went on for literally days telling us about what "is good" and then the very 1st thing he said is not good is for us to be alone!
This doesn't mean that you should say yes to every invite. Quality > quantity. Remember, every time you say yes, you are saying no to something else (maybe your family or health). So, choose your best yes and know it's ok to say no. Just be careful to understand the difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude can be a healthy spiritual tool. Isolation leads to desolation.
Children are a blessing, we can learn from them
Our family has been participating in the OC Kids' Thankful Tree. Every evening... ok, I'll be honest, most evenings this is how we end our day. We gather and write out things that we are thankful for. Every time, without fail, my children want to list not only the one daily thing, but several things they are grateful for. In fact, I have to stop them because they will go on all night! You know, to make-up for the nights we missed.
My kids have taught my grieving heart SO much through this time. They find joy in every thing! Here I am, mourning a loss, overwhelmed by the present, but still charging through all the exciting change because if I slow down it might bring into focus the things I'm fighting to ignore.
I missed an important opportunity. Well, actually many opportunities, but I'll share those another day. The one my children so graciously highlighted is gratitude. We can quickly take for granted all the small moments we have to be grateful for. Big blessings are in those small moments. In these small moments each evening I've experienced something extraordinary happening in my hurting heart. As I've watched my children seeing through eyes of thanksgiving in every situation it transformed my heart. The grief began to fade and the space it took began to fill with hope. I dreamed of how their gratitude would enrich every relationship they will have. I dreamed of how it would enrich their relationship with God and how they see God. It would shape how they see others and how they see themselves.
Grieving is a journey; a process and life gives us plenty of (endless, really) cycles to perfect this process. But so goes gratitude! I know, I know it's so much easier said than done. What may sound easy now can feel impossible mid-meltdown. I want so desperately to be right there with you when you hurt the most. I may not be able to, but God wants to. God wants you to settle your grievance with him in exchange for gratitude.
"Let your roots grow down into him, and let your loves be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness" Col. 7
For more family & parenting resources like the "Thankful Tree", please visit https://orchard.church/families