As we all know, kids have so many different emotions that often shift from one to the next in a matter of minutes, if not seconds! The other day, after numerous requests, Jackson asked if the time had finally arrived for our family to go mini-golfing as promised. Upon receiving his long-awaited yes, he shouted with glee and a giant smile took over his face. But within seconds, tears started to fill his eyes unexpectedly. He said, “Mom, I’m so happy, why am I sad?”
This particular moment reminded me of when Gracelyn was a toddler and had a similar experience. At the time she was our only child and spent most of her time with me at home. So whenever Adam would get home from work, he would enter the house and make a great gesture of open arms ready to embrace her. I would bring her to the door and say with great excitement (for not only her-but myself as well) “Daddy’s home!”
To our surprise, her response was very different than we imagined. At first, she would run to the door with excitement and joy, but as soon as that initial moment passed, she would revert to a strange sadness, and then emit a sudden “No” followed by a stomp off. It took us some time to realize that she did not mean to reject Daddy, nor disappoint. She was simply overcome with emotions. ALL of the emotions in fact, and her little brain did not know how to process, prioritize nor what to do with “All the feelings.”
It’s a strange sensation to handle- feeling more than one emotion simultaneously. We are all familiar with the phrase “happy tears” to describe tears that accompany joy of some kind, but sometimes that experience of feeling both incredible joy and intense grief at the same time can feel too big for one heart to manage. However strange, or uncomfortable it may be, I know that it is not isolated to our home or family members. I have witnessed friends and family members juggle this emotional experience as well as often hear this theme of emotional dichotomy in most songs on the radio. Most recently, in this Christmas season, I have heard this experience mentioned in the lyrics for the majority of Christmas songs that are current today, as well as the traditional songs that have graced this season for decades.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one song that I heard the other day and couldn’t help but hear and feel ‘All the Feelings’ as it played over the car radio. More than once the song makes mention of Christmas being a time where your troubles are out of sight or miles away; that Christmas is a time where things return to the “way it was.” Families gather and experience love and joy, but those reunions bring memories of the “way things were.”
Whether these lyrics are relatable for you, I think it’s fair to say that it is hard to experience that “Merry Little Christmas” feeling without recalling in your heart and bones the grief that our “troubles” left behind. The two co-exist it seems.
For some, the joy of Christmas time may be easy to experience. For others, the holiday season can be a reminder of all that is lost. But for most, Christmas time brings both feelings of joyful anticipation and grief. The season has a way of amplifying what is lost while simultaneously making your heart realize and appreciate those around you more than normal. Plainly put, I think Christmas time brings a more clear lens on life that includes the very real emotional dichotomy that exists.
Dichotomies like overwhelming grief when receiving news that a loved one has terminal cancer, but then experiencing incredible gratitude for the sweetness of time spent together as a result.
Or the heartache that can overtake you when receiving an intense diagnosis for your child and then the wonder upon the wisdom and clarity that the news brings; enabling you to not only better understand your child and more accurately meet their needs, but an increase in love for them that you never thought possible.
I can imagine the majority of people experience “High highs and Low lows” during the other 11 months of the year as well, but at Christmas time- whether you are in a season of high OR low, you feel them both and they are both amplified.
“High highs and Low lows” has become a common phrase we have used this year when others have asked how our family is doing. And to be honest, I have been tempted to view life through the lens of dread, fearing hope because I have gotten so used to the “other shoe dropping.” It can feel as if it would be easier to protect yourself from the pain and disappointment that the unexpected can bring if you forego hope and choose to live jaded, skeptical, sarcastic and cynical. It appears too risky to choose hopefulness.
Hope is kind of like a balloon that wants to fly high in the sky and float. Hope says, I don’t know what I will encounter, but right now- I feel joy and I WANT TO embrace it and move forward. Hope knows that fear is real and the unexpected might happen, but even in the face of that risk it chooses to be brave in order to embrace joy.
Fear is like the weight that keeps the balloon from flying away, keeping hope locked in the ground. Fear tells you to give up, stop trying, stop “fighting the good fight” and let sorrow win.
I had been struggling with this internal battle, feeling like I should “let my balloon fly” but wanting to keep it tethered for fear of future heartache. And then one day, in the midst of carrying the weight of it all…
The heaviness and intensity of having 2 boys with special needs,
The reality of a loved one’s suffering and limited time,
The consistent financial tension that living on a one-income ministry salary can bring,
and add to that ANYTHING ELSE UNEXPECTED that we just do not feel any margin for..
… I cried out to the Lord in surrender.
I cried out completely overcome with it all, feeling as if there was no rest in sight and completely devoid of hope.
And in His great mercy, HE answered and I saw our “High highs and Low lows from a new perspective.
I had been battling the great weight of those lows that just kept piling up. I had felt angry and frustrated that as soon as I would experience a “win” of some kind, be it good news, positive feedback or especially a day with no phone calls from the school, like clockwork- something bad would happen within hours, sometimes even minutes of embracing joy.
But HE answered the prayers of my heart and reminded me that my struggle was not unseen by my God.
He gave me eyes to see and I finally saw HIM above everything else.
I saw that,
HE KEPT showing up.
For every victory that was overcast by another trial, ANOTHER VICTORY WOULD COME.
HE never stopped bringing joy.
HE never stopped providing.
He never stopped healing.
He never withheld recovery.
We were never forsaken.
The “High highs” are proof that God keeps showing up. As much as pain keeps coming, so does HE. He even tells us this in John 16:33, “In this world you will have pain, fear not- I have overcome the world.” We are reminded of this in the book of Revelation. As believers in Christ, we KNOW how this story ends. And it’s not on a low.
For the people of Israel, the birth of Jesus came after a record of lows that beats any complaint I have ever had or heard of. 400 years between the last prophet and Jesus’ birth. Often referred to as the “Silent years” – the people of Israel experienced great loss, suffering and displacement. I think the song “O Come, O come, Emmanuel”, A Christian hymn for Advent and Christmas explains it so well:
“O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Emmanuel means “God is with us.”
A mourning Israel in captivity struggled to remain steadfast in their faith.
Prayers were lifted in desperation for the Lord to save His people. Yet in some scripture and in this hymn, great sorrow is expressed and yet followed by words like “Rejoice!”
The people of Israel did not pretend when they spoke to their God. They trusted HIM with their true feelings, but continued to show him Honor and Praise and continued to offer their Faith believing that HIS promises are true. Promises they clung to like in Isaiah 9:6 , “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Promises confirmed and prayers answered in in Luke 2:11 such as,
“Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Every time the story of the birth of Jesus is told, it holds a sense of mystery, wonder, peace and hope. The story involves people ranging from shepherds to Kings, from carpenters to Wise Men, from Babies to Angels. It is a story for every person. And I believe the magic of Christmas is the Christ child.
I saw a quote the other day that truly stuck with me and encouraged me to embrace the season of Advent. It said, “It has never been a mother’s job to make childhood so magical that your children don’t see their great need for Jesus too. Our children do not need a perfect holiday; they need a perfect Savior. Every unmet expectation, every holiday frustration, every tear or argument is a chance to show our children the reason we needed our hearts to be rescued.” Katie Blackburn, Risen Motherhood.
I confess, I have always celebrated the magic of Christmas in all of its ways. I am honestly not sure when I will tell my kids the truth about Santa or their Elf on the Shelf. I adore Christmas movies, and stories, and twinkling lights. But I also adore sharing with my children the idea that maybe Santa brings Gifts to everyone around the world to invite them into the celebration that is the birth of Jesus, the birth of the Savior, who is for ALL peoples.
In Ecclesiastes it says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
I think that the reason every individual and people as a whole can feel the dichotomy of joy and grief, and can experience these emotions magnified during Christmas, is because God set eternity in the hearts of men. He left a mark in all of us. A mark that reminds us that there is something more than this world can offer. A mark that provides us with a sense of mystery and wonder when contemplating the birth of Christ. A mark that deep down tells us that we are HIS creation. And as our Creator, HE blessed us with the ability to be cognizant of Him and to feel drawn to the hope of His existence, His Sovereignty, and His Savior.
Advent, the season leading up to Christmas is a season of joyful anticipation. Advent in Latin means “Coming,” referring to the coming of our Savior. I can imagine the birth of Jesus, the arrival of our Savior was a time of joy unimaginable. But that joy came from a place of answered prayer, after great suffering and years and years of feeling abandoned. The joy and grief go hand in hand. Grief amplifies Joy, and Joy gives hope in the ability to endure grief once more, if it should come.
A common Advent scripture, Lamentations 3:22-24 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.”
I pray this verse could be your anthem in times of grief and your song in times of Joy. And I pray you experience the wonder, mystery and hope that is Christmas, the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, who WILL come again, and make all things new.
Merry Christmas, Blessings, and Happy New Year!