Many moods of the holidays

She has many moods.

It’s a phrase that goes through my mind often when I’m walking at the dam.  The lake can look completely different from one day to the next, sometimes even different when I leave than it was when I arrived.

On some days, the sun is shining, sparkling on the water and it’s so brilliant it hurts my eyes to look long. It’s glorious. I feel my steps bouncing a little more, moving a little faster.  Somehow it infuses me with energy.

On other days it’s gray and dreary. I can look out at the water as long as I want.  In fact, I find myself standing still and staring. It seems to captivate me and mesmerize me and doesn’t want to release me.  I have to tear my eyes away, force my feet forward.  They feel heavy. My walk takes longer on these days.

And on a very few days, the fog is so thick that as I stand on the dam I can’t see the lake at all.  I feel lost, disoriented.  My mind knows the truth–that I’m standing on solid ground and the lake is right where it always was.  But it feels like I’m simply floating in air, with nothing of substance to cling to.  My mind begins to play tricks on me.  I’m almost afraid to walk at all.  I wonder if I’ll find my way home again.

The lake has many moods.

I have many moods. I am just like the lake.  The descriptors above are all descriptors of my life.

The brilliant days are wonderful.  The alarm goes off at 5:35 and the snooze button is never pressed. The seven million things that the day asks me to do are done joyfully.  Serving my family is easy.  I hear arguments but I don’t despair.  I see a very small number in the bank account but I don’t worry. I hear the news–whatever the headlines–but I still hope.

But there are also strings of gray days. 5:35 turns into 6:15, then 7:05. My feet are heavy.  My list is oppressive. Serving is hard. I hear arguments and realize how I’m failing as a mother. I see the number in the bank account and realize how poorly I’m managing the finances. I hear the news and the weight of the world presses down.

And on a very few days, the fog is so thick that as I lie in my bed I can’t see the light at all. I feel lost, disoriented. My mind knows the truth–that I’m standing on solid ground and my Lord is right where He’s always been. But it feels like I’m simply floating in air, with nothing of substance to cling to. My mind begins to play tricks on me. I’m almost afraid to get out of bed at all. I wonder if I’ll find my way home again.

Those foggy days have only come my way a few times. But they do come. And the gray days come fairly frequently, especially this time of year. They are inexplicable, caused by nothing in particular. Or sometimes easily explained, caused by something very specific.

On these days, it’s tempting to just curl up and sink into it. Just like the lake is more mesmerizing on the gray days than on the sunny, it’s easier to camp out in the gray than in the brilliant. Functioning is more difficult, and it feels better to just leave my sweats on, turn screens on for the kids, cover up with a quilt, and let the day pass me by.

Once I give into that, though, it’s easier to give in to it the next day. And once I’ve been in sweats for two or three days, doing the absolute bare minimum necessary to keep the family alive, it becomes exponentially more difficult to muster up the energy–and attitude–that the brilliant days bring. In fact, it becomes difficult to even remember how the brilliant days felt. It begins to seem like it’s always been gray. And then it’s a very short step to believing it always will be gray.

Over recent days, I’ve realized that these differences in moods are magnified during the holidays. I’ve always heard people talk about those who have trouble during the holidays, and that the holidays are the hardest time of year for many people, and I never fully understood. I think I’m starting to now.

I’ll just be very frank. Thanksgiving was difficult for me. And I finally admitted to myself that Thanksgiving and Christmas have been difficult for me for the past several years. Maybe it started the year my Granddaddy died. Maybe it had already started before that.  I’m not sure. But this is the first year that I was forced to admit that the holidays are hard for me.

I’ve thought of little else since we got home from our Thanksgiving travels, and I think I’ve been able to sort out some of it. I know that we are all different. I know that other people have very real, concrete reasons to hurt around the holidays that are worlds apart from my vague feelings of depressed disillusionment, and I’m not claiming to have figured out a solution for everyone. But maybe my feelings and struggles are not isolated to just me. Maybe sharing this will be helpful for someone.

My glimmers of understanding came from watching my children. They had a blast. They played with cousins, hugged grandparents, and dutifully posed for pictures. I heard them say things like, “We do this every year,” and “We always do it this way,” and “I get to set the table this year. . .” and I realized that they were thrilling to the tradition of it all just like I used to do. When I was a child, the holidays seemed so safe and warm because they were steeped in tradition. It was the same every year. I could look forward to it, predict it, and I drew comfort from that without even realizing it. Now I see my children doing the same. In reality, our “traditions” have changed a lot even in their lifetimes. They are still young enough that they haven’t really noticed the changes, but mercifully, have latched onto the repetitions that are still there, and they find comfort in that without even realizing it. In my eyes, everything has changed. Nothing at Thanksgiving or Christmas is the way it was. And that’s just life. It’s to be expected. But I’m realizing that much of my unexplained sadness during these months is coming from the loss of the comfort I found in the traditions. This surprised me, although it shouldn’t. I am the kid who cried when the tree outside my window had to be cut down, and when my parents got a new front door. I moped around for weeks my junior year of high school when my parents finally followed through on their dream of buying a lot and beginning the building of their dream house because I didn’t want to leave the house I’d lived in all my life. Change has never been easy for me. My favorite part of the holidays–my very definition of the holidays–was the tradition. And it has all changed. It’s not really a big shock that this would bring sadness. It has just taken me a few years to put the pieces together.

The other thing I noticed as I watched my children is that they had no clue that there was any strain at all in any of the adult relationships. If they asked where the missing people were, they accepted at face value whatever answer they were given. They didn’t pick up on the tension that exists here and there among those who did come.  Tension that doesn’t just disappear because the calendar says it’s a holiday. As I lay in bed one night on our trip, I was wondering why this sadness doesn’t hit me every time we go home, but almost exclusively at the holidays. And again, insight struck. The other visits through the year have no expectations attached. If we see all our family members, great. If we don’t, it’s not a huge deal. If someone hurts our feelings or there is a disagreement, it doesn’t weigh quite as heavy. There are no traditions or high hopes of Christmas spirit attached to a visit in September. But when we go for a holiday, I guess I have this unrealistic hope that everything will suddenly be magical and happy the way I saw it as a child. But I’m one of the grownups now. There was junk going on in some of my family when I was a kid that I had absolutely no idea was ever happening.  Now I’m not shielded from that. I see it happening. I’m involved in some of it myself. And when it still exists even though it’s Christmas Day, I feel a huge let down. The song says, “Christmastime is here, happiness and cheer,” and when that doesn’t ring completely true at our family Christmas dinner, we feel empty.

So what do the moods of the lake have to do with holiday disappointments?

Simply this: the lake that was hidden on that foggy day is the same lake that glittered in the sun the next day. And though the gray wants to captivate us, hold onto us, keep us from moving forward, trick us into thinking that the sun never existed, it is deceiving us.

The same Christmas that left me feeling sad brought sparkles to the eyes of my children. The gray wants to convince me that since the holidays are no longer shining through the magic eyes of my childhood, they can no longer shine at all. Just like it becomes far more comfortable to just give in to the gray days and stay in our sweats all the time, it can seem more comfortable to just give up on the holidays. Let’s face it. It takes a Herculean effort to lift our heads and force our feet forward out into the sunshine when we’ve become accustomed to the gray.

But when we start walking, energy awakes from its sleep. When we start looking for it, we’ll find a new holiday sparkle. No, it won’t be the same. But it’s still there to be found by those who seek it.

It’s in the eyes of the children. It’s in the bond of love that holds tight in the family even though some members are now gone, a few are missing, and traditions have been forced to change. It’s in the new traditions that we can form as a family. It’s in the love received and given by the new friends we’ve added to our hearts in recent years. It can even be found in the memories of years gone by.

And above all, it’s in the knowledge that God became a baby to break the curse of sadness forever. He was born, lived the perfect life that we could not, and then surrendered in the perfect sacrifice that we could never offer, so that He could then give the greatest gift of all–life more abundant than the most perfect Christmas and a love that will never die or change.

He is constant.

In this life, traditions will change. Tension will be present. There will be empty places at the table after loved ones have died. And holidays will be hard.

But they will also be beautiful.
 It’s ok and normal to feel the sadness, mourn the changes, grieve the losses. But don’t get stuck there. Don’t get lost in the fog. If you’re feeling gray like I have been, remember that the sun really is there. The sparkle really is still in Christmas. Jesus really did come, and He really does still live, and He really will come again to make all things right.

Like the lake, the holidays have many moods. Let’s acknowledge the gray, but search for the sun.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” Proverbs 8:17

This entry was posted in Making Belief Practical, Spiritual Thoughts, The Everyday and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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