4:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning found me pulling the Christmas tree up from the basement.  I hung the ornaments and plugged in the lights, and by 5:00 a.m. I was putting out the nativity scene.  No, this is not some warm, family tradition.  It was a combination of time confusion from jet lag (I couldn’t sleep), and feeling guilty that I was hosting a Christmas party on Thursday night and didn’t have any signs of holiday spirit in my home.  Christmas has been a broken holiday for me for several years, and it takes a lot to remind me that the point of the season is not to look and feel like a Hallmark card, but to remember the birth of the One who came to rescue us.

Perhaps it is because of the work that I do (counseling) that I know that this is a difficult season for many.  I read that the economy has impacted many holiday activities, but I discovered last week that it has not affected the counseling business.  At least, not at this time of the year.  After spending many hours with dear suffering people last week, I have a wish for Christmas that I’d love to share with whoever might be reading this.  First, let me tell you about a few of the brave people I know who are walking into the holidays feeling lost and alone. 

*   The woman whose daughter told her to “get the hell out of her life.”
*   The daughter who really does want “the hell” out of her life.
*   The parents whose son is in Iraq and they have not heard from him in 3 weeks.
*   The couple who have a hard time celebrating the birth of a baby when they have tried for two years to have one of their own.
*   The sweet family with the sweet, sweet baby girl who can have over 100 seizures an hour.
*   The parents who placed their son in a six-month treatment facility wondering what they did wrong and whether what they are doing now is right.
*   The many, many single people who are trying to decide which feels less lonely — trying to fit in with someone elses’ family celebration or going to a movie by themselves on Christmas.
*   The children who will walk the tightrope again of spending time at dad’s and mom’s and pretending that it doesn’t break Christmas in half.
*   The marriages at the edge of falling over the cliff and yet trying to hold on with all their might for the sake of Christmas for the sake of the children.

When people feel lost and alone they lose faith — faith in God, in others, and in themselves.  And so this is my Christmas wish:  Go find someone who is alone, hurting, or afraid.   You can invite them to join you.  They probably won’t.  It’s hard to insert yourself into someone elses’ family when you are feeling the loss of your own.  My pastor reminded me this week, “Sorrow isn’t the natural state of things.  God is — and He is Joy.  So I don’t achieve Joy.  I die, feeling like I’m drowning in sorrow, to then take a breath and realize, that for the first time, I’m breathing and home.”  I love those words and I need to remember them, because I am prone to melancholy and breathe in a lot of sorrow in my place of work and ministry.  I guess what I’m saying is that especially at this time of the year I’m not a fan of people drowning in sorrow by themselves.  We need one another to remind us that resurrection follows crucifixion, that healing comes from pain, and that joy is born in sorrow.  I wish — or pray — that we would find those who are feeling last and least right now and offer them ourselves — not an invitation to dinner.  What does offering ourselves look like?

*   A phone call that expresses empathy and offers a listening ear without offering any quick solutions.
*   A visit — maybe with a small gift — but primarily that expresses I was thinking about you and in the midst of the frantic pace of my own holiday life, I wanted to stop and visit your life.
*   An expression of faith.  Sometimes we need to hear that people believe in us, trust our journey, and see — really see — the hard work of our lives.
*   An invitation is certainly not a bad idea, but it could be offered with a spirit that says, “What would you like to do with me/us?” instead of “Why don’t you try to fit in with our lives?”

And for those who are reading this who feel like you are drowning in sorrow, I do believe the words from my pastor.  Joy is coming.  I had a dream this week (a literal dream) about the sorrow in my own life and at the end of the dream I spoke this metaphor.  I actually think that God was giving a gift to me and speaking to me in my dream.  It is like when you go to get your family picture taken for the holidays.  You find just the perfect outfits for everyone and beg and plead for everyone to join in the picture-taking ritual.  Of course, things don’t go smoothly.  Your son snags his sweater and the baby poops in her diaper — all before you’ve even reached the photographer.  Then you are finally situated for the picture and holding your breath that you can just get through this when the camera equipment malfunctions.  The photographer says oh so calmly, “Just hold it there for a minute.  We’ll get a shot.”  You think to yourself, “Sure.  Waiting for this will be as easy as trying to organize grasshoppers.”   Finally, the picture is taken.  You breathe a sigh of relief just knowing that it will show the disgruntled family all complaining: “My sweater itches,” “Why do we have to do this every year?”, “I hate our family!”, “When will this be over?” and that you will look like a 700-lb. woman with lipstick on your teeth. 

And then the surprise happens.  You get your pictures in the mail (that’s how it used to be years ago before technology allowed on-the-spot photos) and you can’t believe your eyes.  Somehow the photographer has found joy in the midst of the family chaos. 

I really do think that is what happens.   The Grand Photographer captures joy as He captures us — and often that only happens when we are drowning in sorrow.

My Christmas wish: If you know someone who might be drowning, offer to dive in with them.  And if you’re drowning, surrender to sorrow.  This is the perfect season for you — the Christmas season when we celebrate the One who was born in an illegitmate family that was bankrupt, whose cradle was a feeding trough coated with animal droppings, and whose destiny was to become the Man of Sorrows.  The sorrows of your own life might be the perfect place for Jesus to be born.

“Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.'”  Matthew 25