The tension hung thick in the air at my wife’s winter piano recital. The young girl had arrived late, and now she was the last performer of the afternoon. With head bowed and tears in her eyes, she approached the piano, turned to the audience, and curtsied. And as she began to play, it seemed as though her emotions would not get the best of her after all, and that she would complete her two recital pieces. Then, halfway through the first number, she stalled. She tried again and stopped. She timidly touched the keys one last time. And then she burst into tears, burying her face in her hands.
This brave 11-year old had gone as far as she could go, but her resolve was no match for the sorrow in her heart. See, she was late to the recital because she had come straight from the funeral of her best friend’s mother. She had spent the last few months by her best friend’s side, and watched her mother’s steady decline. And now she had been expected to make the mental and emotional switch to performing not one, but two piano pieces before an audience who had no clue as to her personal state.
Ironically enough, she never got to play her second number, and the final performance of the winter recital, which was to be none other than the holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Sad at Christmastime?
It is not uncommon for me to hear that this time of year is often hardest, from people who have experienced loss and tragedy. I know quite a number of people who are hurting at this time of year, and I try to remember to ask how they are doing and offer to pray for them. The very religious, the agnostic, and even the atheist alike all at least appreciate the gesture, if they don’t wholeheartedly accept the offer for prayer. I can imagine I would feel the same way. While everyone else is hustling and bustling around (in merriment or shopping stress), it must be comforting to know that someone recognizes that not everyone is excited about this season. One day it will be me having a blue Christmas, or many blue Christmases, and I’m sure I’d like someone to recognize I’m not in the celebrating mood.
But I have a strong word for those in pain this year. Something I need you to hear. With all the love in my heart, and hoping you know that you have my support, I tell you this: there is absolutely no need to apologize for how you feel during Christmas, or any holiday for that matter. You are not a Debbie Downer for being honest about the heartache in your life. Those who truly care about you are willing to hear about your pain and will mourn with you. And most of all, I believe there is a God who deeply understands your pain and stays by your side during even the darkest times.
My heart broke for this little girl, my wife’s piano student, who repeatedly choked out through her tears, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” No, little sister. You don’t need to be sorry. Jesus, and those who love you, are right by your side hurting with you.
Best Place to Be at Christmastime
In John 1, we read that Jesus was/is the light of the world. And it says that “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” It was into this dark and dangerous, tragic and terrifying world that Jesus willfully, knowingly came. He came for us, to rescue us. To be our light in the darkness.
I would like to posit that being sad at Christmastime might possibly be the best place for someone to experience the essence of Christmas. For who can celebrate more than someone who is steeped in sadness and despair, who is finally told that there is hope? Who can celebrate love more than the one who has only felt loneliness? For whom is good news greater: for the one who is already happy or for the one who has almost forgotten what good news sounds like?
I’m not downplaying the pain that many are going through this season, and I don’t wish heartbreak on anyone. But it’s this heartbroken and broken world to which Jesus, my Savior, came to overcome. That is what Advent, the coming of Jesus Christ, means. Immanuel. God is with us. Yes, even in the midst of your sorrow.
So, go ahead. Cry. Don’t feel bad about your depression at Christmastime. Let others be with you in your pain. And cry out to a God who is well acquainted with your suffering and whose presence is like a balm for your aching soul.