When the World isn’t Merry & Bright

Some years, Christmas is anything but holly & jolly.

When tragedy, heartbreak, and loss strike your life, the holidays seem to take the hardest hit. Everywhere there are reminders of the tension between what should be and reality. You see the gaps, the missing pieces, and part of your heart feels as if it has been removed from you. It’s an ache that runs deep.

The last few holidays have held their fair share of melancholy moments, painfully awkward interactions, and messy prayers. Last year, on Black Friday, it became clear that this was our last Christmas as a family. We all decided to just push – despite the pain – to keep Christmas sweet for the younger kids one last time. It felt like a lie, but the truth was something I wasn’t ready to face.

This year, there’s no choice but to look at straight at Truth and to see Grief that tagged along. My parents are divorced. That is our heartbreaking reality.

Divorce is a death. I’ve said that often and I’ll continue to say it. It’s the death of a marriage and of a family. Something is gone, fractured, and so broken. It leaves grief in its wake that is deep and messy.

So while I may not be mourning a physical death this year, I’m mourning a loss of a father. I’m mourning the loss of a full family all together – laughing, fighting, and being total dorks. I’m mourning that things will never be the same and we must fight for a new normal. I’m mourning the change.

I know that I’m not alone in the grief that takes its place hung up on the tree beside all the festivities.

Maybe you have lost someone you love this year. Maybe you experienced a failure or dream shattered. Maybe your financial, relationship or heart situation just leaves you feeling heavy, not light. If you are mourning, you are not alone.

Here is what I have to say to you, words that truly, I’m saying to myself.

It’s okay to not be okay.

Cliche, but true. You don’t need to be okay right now. You will be okay, but it’s fine if that’s not today. If you need a moment (or a day or a week or a year) to just let your heart feel, that’s okay. Our hearts desperately need to feel before they can heal. Stuffing, hiding, running, or replacing will put us on a merry-go-round of constantly moving, but never getting anywhere. It’s okay to get off the ride and just sit. Just be. Just give yourself breathing room so you can push through to the other side all in due time.

And yet, it’s also okay to find joy in the emotional snowglobe of Christmas.

If you want to trade your grief for the Christmas lights and leave it in the box until the decorations come down, that’s okay. If you decide that this isn’t the time quite yet to let yourself feel and move on, that’s okay. Sometimes we just aren’t ready. I’m not here to tell you that you have to be sad. I’m not here to really tell you that you have to do anything – but to give you permission to figure out what you need.

If you need a cookie baking day, mugs full of hot cocoa and an explosion of red, green, and gold – then let yourself embrace the winter wonderland. There is no shame in that. And if this year, you choose to forego the lights, the tree, and whatever other elements that just feel like too much – there’s no shame in that either. You can down your sorrows in every Hallmark movie ever made or you can choose to not watch a single Christmas movie all season.

The decisions are yours, but whatever way you need to process and grieve, may you make space.

Above all, remember Emanuel.

This year, the concept of Emanuel – “God with us” – has been sticking to my soul. I feel the weight of this year, the weight of the grief and pain, the weight of a situation that I cannot fix. In that weight, God is with me. God is present.

I know sometimes Jesus gets stuck being a baby in a manger this time of year, pictures of him as a silent baby that’s glowing from his goodness. And yet, only picturing him as a baby is silly as celebrating my husband’s birthday and only thinking of his birth, not his life. I wasn’t there for the birth, but I intimately know the impact of his life.

The beauty in the life of Jesus is not just in His birth, but in the life, death, and life again. God chose to become one of us, to walk among us, to feel our pain, to carry our burdens. Ultimately, to give up His life and to conquer sin and death. God among us. God opening up the ability to be always among us. No more separation. No more need to worship God only in a temple’s court, but a God who came to dwell among us and within us.

This holiday season, don’t be afraid to sink into the embrace of a God who moved heaven and earth to be with you.

To be with you as is, in your pain and your heartache. Not trying to distract you, but deeply healing you instead. Jesus knew how to weep and grieve, even when knowing that the ending would set all things right. The tears are part of the process. Jesus is in them. So let it flow, friend. The end will be good, but we are not there yet.

Today we live in the process with our eyes set on the promise.


If you have known grief over the holiday season, no matter if it’s this one or years past, would you share with me how you’ve dealt with it? What has helped and what has hurt?

  1. Caron d la Montanya

    December 2nd, 2017 at 12:01 am

    Our pain is always over health. Cancer diagnosis for my husband 9 years ago and last year my son who is 16 was diagnosed with leukemia. My mother in law also started her downhill spiral during ypthis time of year and died right after Christmas. Now the death of my son’s close friend in a car accident last week. I am forever trying to figure this out. This year I bought one new Christmas decoration in hopes that I can just try to look at something new as I sit here. Good thing is that we dont really know when Jesus was really born so I am trying to keep him out of my feelings of dread of the season. If you figure something out..let me know.

  2. Olivia Alnes

    December 5th, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Hi Caron!
    My heart goes out to you. It really does feel as if one hard thing becomes multiplied into so many other reminders piling on. The memories are tough and it’s a long journey to figure it out… I’m not sure if it’s an “arriving” thing, but a constant process. The journey you are on is powerful. Thanks for sharing your heart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

@OliviaAlnes

Instagram Feels