Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Blues...

This one is going to be a little personal.  I don't usually get too personal on the blog, but I think it will help me make my point as well as be a little bit cathartic for myself.  In short, I battle the Holiday Blues.  This means that as the holidays roll in, I find myself struggling against sadness.  I am not the only one.  There are many of us.  Most of us struggle with the holidays because they highlight a bigger hurt that is in our life.  I am writing this so that those who are not battling the Holiday Blues can understand where we are coming from.

My Story
Next month I turn 30.  I expected that by this point in my life things would be a little bit different than what they are.  I figured I would be married, possibly have a kid or two, and would be at a thriving place in my career.  None of that is the case.

I had a career "reset" a couple years ago under less than pleasant circumstances.  This resulted in me moving back home with my folks.  I remember thinking that I would stay there for maybe 6 months.   My master degree was almost complete.  The only part I needed to finish was my internship.  So I thought I would do that and then I would jump back into ministry.

However that plan changed.  During my internship I realized that there would be value to staying in this field for a while, especially if I did want to jump back into ministry at some point.  A pastor who is skilled at counseling is a needed thing.  So I decided to stay in the field and work on earning my professional counseling licenses.  This meant committing to at least another year and half (possibly more) of working more than full time hours for low pay.  As with all careers, you pay your dues at the beginning, and so I decided I would ride it out.  Along the way I have been consistently asked to apply for different ministry positions and have even had a couple churches offer me jobs.  This is a tempting offer when you are broke and living at your parent's house. However, I knew that I needed to stay on the path of licensure.  As it stands now, it's only been in the last few months that I have begun to make a livable wage with what I am doing.  I have basically spent the last two years of my life working very hard, and making very little money.  It's been a challenge to keep my head up.

Along the way I fell in love with a great woman.  She was truly wonderful.  She fell in love with me too (I think.)  I found myself in a place where I was anticipating a future, a family, and all that comes along with it.  We began to plan a future together, but as commonly happens, things didn't play out the way we had planned.  The relationship didn't work out.  It was a very messy and painful break up that knocked me out of commission for a long time.  Its a story I don't care to tell, but it affected me in a very real way.  It's been a challenge to keep my head up.

There have been many other things in the last few years that have been pressing as well.  Because of the nature of what I do, I tend to see people at their worst, both at my job and in my personal life.  I have seen people close to me battle their personal demons, lose loved ones, have family problems, lose jobs, experience dire sicknesses, go through ministry scandals, and so many other things.  Generally, I live to promote hope and healing, but sometimes it can wear me out.  We call it "burn out" in ministry and "compassion fatigue" in counseling, but by whatever name you give it, I have to be constantly aware of it.  It's been a challenge to keep my head up.

I don't write these things so that anyone will feel bad for me.  In fact, anyone who knows me knows that if you approach me with sympathy and pity I just get uncomfortable and it becomes awkward for both of us.  I actually have a very good support system.  I share this because I want you to understand why I have the Holiday Blues.  And perhaps my openness will help you understand why other people in your life have them as well.

The Holiday Blues
So in a nutshell, the last two years have been trying times for me.  My livelihood was lost, my ability to provide for myself was gone, I jumped into a career transition that has meant so much work for so little reward, and I acquired a broken heart along the way. 

These sort of circumstances have a way of causing one to question things.  They question their value and their purpose.  They question the meaning of their life.  Their faith gets pushed as well and wrestling with God ensues.  I have been going through all of these questions for the last couple of years.  Some days I handle it well.  Some days I don't.

But it's harder during the holidays…

The Holidays are about spending time with your family.

The Holidays are about spending money and giving gifts.

The Holidays are about returning to the roots of your faith.

The Holidays are about celebrations, good times, and cheer.

Can you see why the Holidays might be hard for some of us?  The holidays are about all of these wonderful things (and they truly are wonderful) but they tend to remind those of us in the midst of a struggle that we are in fact in the midst of a struggle.  It is hard to celebrate and rejoice when you are constantly being reminded that your life has turned out to be less than what you hoped for.  The Christmas couple's party reminds the widow of her lost loved one.  The barrage of ads and conversations about gift giving reminds the man who was laid off that he can't provide gifts for his kids this year.  The crowds around the mall remind the couple with fertility concerns that they don't have a kid to take to see Santa.

Your Response
So please, whether it is me, or someone else in your world who is stricken with the Holiday Blues, don't take offense when we are not as excited about the holidays as you are.  Most of the time we are glad that you are having a good time, and we don't want to take that away from you.  We just have a hard time participating. 

Please invite us to things.  We like to know you care. But please don't get your feelings hurt when we decline.  It's not personal.

Please don't pressure us.  We already struggle with guilt and a little bit of the "what's wrong with me" because of our struggle with the holidays.  So if we decline an invite or aren't up for your holiday activities, please let it be.

Please spend time with us.  Sure, we may not be up for the Christmas party you and your roommate are throwing, but it doesn't mean we don't want to hang out and do the things that we usually do together.

Please pray for us.  Most of us struggle with the holidays because they highlight a bigger hurt that is in our life.  We need your prayers.

A Personal Conclusion
Since I started by sharing my story, I want to tell you where I am with things now.  Yes, it has been a challenge to keep my head up, however, it is a challenge I graciously accept.  I know that life is full of seasons.  Some are good, some are bad.  Some are happy, some are sad.  They can be short, they can be long.  Regardless of the nature of the season, I believe that all seasons can be stewarded well to produce fruit.  So I wake up daily and try to make the best of what I have and where I am.  I will continue to work hard, seek God, and do right by people despite the battle within me.  On the days I fail, I will trust the grace of Jesus to carry me through.  It is my prayer that those of you who battle this with me will carry yourselves the same way.