When Holidays Hurt

Last Christmas morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was war weary. Exhausted. Sick of the “It’s not supposed to be this way” feeling. My family’s beloved traditions were waiting for me, but they couldn’t change the mess that had my mind spinning. My heart was in pieces, and I knew the worst was yet to come. I sighed and buried myself deeper into the flannel sheets on the twin bed in my childhood room. Then big tears streamed down my cheeks, and suddenly I understood why December has a way of punching people in the gut with grief. I had never tasted the reality of holidays that hurt. I only knew the delirious goodness of a family that loves fiercely, kitchens that smell like childhood, and that magical feeling of snuggling into bed on Christmas Eve with peaceful anticipation. I didn’t know the stomach-twisting emptiness of pain on Christmas morning. I do now.  I sat alone on the couch in front of my parents’ Hallmark-ornament-covered tree with raw wounds. I was a little angry, a lot in shock, desperately sad, and pretending like it was all good. Pain does that. It scares us, so we look away and opt to go numb, to pretend the hurt doesn’t really exist. Because if we forget it’s there, maybe it won’t swallow us whole. Sticking on an it’s-all-good smile and eating a Christmas morning cinnamon roll feels better than letting every tear fall, you know? I was burying loads of pain last Christmas. I had a really big shovel. I shook off the scary questions and stuck a big bandage over the wounds and dove into the festivities with wild abandon—because sometimes any slice of joy that reminds us we’re still alive is a welcome relief.

Grief + Hope = Christmas

No one wants Christmas to hurt. We want it to look, sound, taste, smell, and feel like comfort. We tend to run from whatever threatens to kill that kind of happy. It’s a gut reaction. Pain comes for us; dodge it and grab another piece of grandma’s Christmas toffee. Whether we’re burying pain deep under the snow of our hearts and pretending it doesn’t exist or we’re flat on the floor because we can’t even stand up under the weight of the heavy hurt, Jesus knows. Jesus knows your grief. Jesus knows about the shock that shattered you this Christmas. Jesus knows the wrong done against you. Jesus knows what your future Christmases look like. Jesus knows how to heal your pain. Jesus knows you, sees you, loves you, and won’t stop carrying you through this. Grief at Christmas is hard. But Christmas is for your grief. The prophet Isaiah tells us that Jesus understands the sorrow that would crush us one thousand times over—but none of this pain was wasted. It saved us.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. . . . And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lordshall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:3–5, 9–11)

Jesus was born into a broken world cracking from grief. Jesus lived in this broken world. Jesus was killed by this broken world. Jesus died for this punch-you-in-the-gut, pain-around-every-corner world. He felt our grief. He carried our sorrows. He was pierced. Crushed. Killed. He knows.  This cross-carrying Savior holds our own grief more tenderly than we ever could—but He also holds all the hope we ever need. He was pierced and crushed for us, and it’s Jesus’ pain and death that heals us.

Wild, Ridiculous Hope

And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom. 15:12–13)

Christmas infuses and inflates our hearts with the wildest, most outrageous, blow-your-mind kind of hope! Pain that turns into healing? Death that turns into life? What is this? This is the way of Jesus. With love in His eyes, He looks at His broken child, sobbing on the ground in pain and blinded by sin, and He offers a radical trade that sounds nearly ridiculous: our death for His life. Wild, ridiculous, over-the-top hope. That’s Christmas. That’s our reality every single day. Because Jesus turns our world upside down with the love and hope of the gospel.

Jesus Heals Broken Things

You may still hurt, friend. And that’s okay; it’s okay to not be okay this Christmas. Jesus will wrap you in His comfort like nothing else ever could. He will heal your broken heart because Jesus is the Healer. He’s the Hope-Giver. He’s the One who mercifully allows us to experience grief and joy at the same time, even at Christmas. It doesn’t make sense—how we can hurt and find hope all at once—but this is what Christmas is for.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Ps. 62:5–7)

If you’re hurting today, if you’re burying the pain, or if you’re staring it straight in the face, grab onto the hope that Jesus heals broken things and never let go. Snuggle into His fatherly love, His tender kindness that drenches our wounds in peace. With tears in your eyes, you can say, “Jesus, this hurts so much.” And He’ll reply, “I know. I know more than you’ll ever know. I’m here to redeem what’s been destroyed.”

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Ps. 147:3) And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa. 9:6)

About the Author

Samantha Keller

Samantha Keller loves lazy lake days, strong coffee, and writing about the ways Jesus transforms our everyday messes into beautiful stories. She digs the four seasons in northern Indiana, is probably wearing a Notre Dame crew neck.