Finding Purpose in the Pain of Christmas

Author: Karly Grant

Christmas. For some, that word brings feelings of excitement, glee, celebration, and magic. For others, that word invokes grief, dread, lost hope, or sadness. Or maybe you find yourself at a crossroad of all these emotions like I do? No matter where you find yourself this holiday season, I want you to know that you are seen, you are heard. The One who we remember and celebrate this season cares so deeply for you, about the real you and your emotions, more than you can ever imagine.

I am the first to get excited when Christmas decorations start going up, music with jingle bells starts playing, and Hallmark publicizes their list of new cheesy movies. I literally squealed with excitement upon arriving at work one day to see that decorations had started going up. I love the magic of Christmas; the excitement, the beauty, the memories, the laughter, the family time.

Karly Grant Christmas.png

When I dig a little deeper beyond the surface aspects of the holiday season, that’s where the fairy tale ends. It is so easy to be reminded in this season of all the hopes, dreams, relationships, and people lost. It’s amazing how quickly, with just one thought, the feelings of cheer can switch to those of sadness.

For me, as well as many others, cheerful Christmas memories include estranged family members and people who have passed away. Where these losses are felt year-round, they can be especially hard during this time of year. It is difficult to gather with family and reminisce about the good ol’ days, when there is someone dearly loved that is not there to celebrate with you.

Another area of pain in this season comes in the form of unfulfilled hopes or dreams. We all have that perfect Hallmark picture in our minds of families gathered around the Christmas tree, caroling, festive parties, and happiness. While I love all of these things, nothing brings up thoughts of inadequacy or dreams lost for me as quickly as a holiday party. As a woman in my mid-30’s, I am reminded almost immediately upon arrival at such festivities of my singleness. I know it is never the intention of the people hosting the parties, but I quickly notice the seemingly happy couples and feel left out of a part of the cheer.

I always dreamed of being a happy family. I looked forward to the day that my husband and I would stay up all night assembling gifts, only to be awoken too early by our children and relish in the joy on their faces as they opened gifts on Christmas morning. The older I get, the less likely it is that I will get to experience this dream that I’ve placed on a pedestal and that hurts.

So the question remains, how do we find the balance between the cheer and the pain? How do we embark upon this season while keeping it real, but not allowing the enemy to speak lies that will either gloss over the pain with fake cheeriness or allow ourselves to have a pity party that brings gloom to the whole season? For me, I’ve found the answer is in Advent.

Advent is a season recognized by some churches that leads up to celebrating the birth of Christ. It is not something prescribed in the Bible as something that Christians must do, but something that I have found helpful in the last couple of years. As a child, my great-grandmother used to give me an advent calendar. I looked forward to opening up a window every day in December and eating the waxy piece of chocolate hiding behind the yuletide art. As an adult, I find the depth of diving into the words of God so much more fulfilling.

Last year was the first year that I purposely focused on the season of Advent. I did it imperfectly and missed some days, but it was definitely helpful to remember how much God loved me and to combat the lies that Satan brings during this season.

Last year during advent I focused on the word “joy” and even bought a little nativity set with this word prominent among the display of the manger. It was a year of hope as I looked forward to what I thought was ahead. I thought it would potentially be the last holiday season with my family for a while. God had another plan, but that’s another story. Joy is not the same as happiness. I still felt the pain of the hard times, but I knew that I had true joy because of the baby in the manger and the sacrifice that He made.

Christmas Karly Grant

This year, I still have the nativity set on display in my window sill, but as I look forward to the advent season, my word is “intentional.” I am going to intentionally spend time in the Word of God, intentionally focus on being real with Him in my prayers. Hard times will come. Emotions will come, but as I dive deeply into God’s Word and remember the truth of why we have so much to celebrate this season, I will be intentional about not allowing the lies of the enemy to overtake me or lead my thoughts down a road that only leads to destruction.  I pray that this year people will see the joy that comes from Christ as I am intentional about celebrating Him, even amongst the hard times, as I try to live out the words of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”


Karly Grant headshotKarly is a single 30-something who is striving to follow Jesus and trust Him in every situation. She can be found with a cup of tea or a good beer in hand while cozied up with a good book or enjoying a laugh with family or friends. God has her on a wild journey, but she is willing to trust Him.

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God’s Faithfulness in the Gathering

Well folks, ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. As much as I love my family and friends, this season can also be immensely stressful and draining for me, the introvertiest of introverts. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the festivities and the people that I get to celebrate with, but I also cherish the times of solitude, rest, and recharging that I plan for myself before and after holiday get togethers.

While it’s easy, especially this time of year, to get caught up in the fanfare of the large gatherings, or conversely spending too much time in solitude, God has been faithful to show me the sweet spot in between. As King David declares in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

It is often in these times of dwelling, that in the background of the merriment and crowds, God uses a gathering within the gathering of just one or two other people to encourage me in my faith. In these small moments of big events, God reminds me of who He is and who He has created me to be.

Gather Karly Grant

While many of these experiences happen with good friends and family, one-on-one or in a small group, one time that sticks out to me happened just recently in a large church gathering. It was a Sunday morning and I was feeling particularly down. I almost didn’t go to church that day, feeling full of self-pity and loneliness. I was struggling with where I was at in life and feeling like God wasn’t hearing my prayers or at least not answering them in the way that I thought he should be. I couldn’t see his direction to a clear path. Not one part of my humanity wanted to go to church that morning, but that’s precisely why I knew I needed to be with God’s people.

As I was sitting in church, feeling sorry for myself, I cried out to God. I couldn’t tell you what the sermon was about that day, but I was praying prayers truer than I had allowed myself to say in a while. There having a personal moment amongst hundreds of people, I   felt alone and unseen by God as I desperately tried to trust. As service dismissed, I began to wonder why I had even bothered going to church that day. Couldn’t I have prayed the same prayer in the comfort of sweats at home? Then a young woman approached me. I had never seen her before.

She had been sitting a few people down from me in the pew. She seemed nervous but said that she had noticed me during the service and had been lead to pray for me. She told me that she felt like God was urging her to let me know that He saw me, He hadn’t forgotten about me, and He had a plan for my life. She then handed me a prayer that she had written for me and told me I could read it later if I wanted and asked if she could pray for me right then. This was exactly what I needed that day. I haven’t seen that girl again since, but that “chance” encounter, that small gathering of just two people inside the clearly seen larger gathering of the church service, was orchestrated by God and blessed me more than that lady will ever know.

I am one who too easily retreats to solitude when times are tough. While some alone time is good and healthy, it is the sweet moments of being real with friends and allowing God to speak to and through me in day to day life that have the largest impact.

Karly Grant Gather

There is a reason we have the church, that God has called us to gather, and it’s not just spiritual, it’s scientific too. The New York Times posted an article in December of 2016 titled, How Social Isolation Is Killing Us. They reported that research shows all kinds of ways that isolation negatively affects us, makes death come more quickly for those who are sick, and greatly increases chances for things like heart disease.

God created us for one another, this is why he reminds us in Hebrews 10:24-25 to, “… consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

What does all this mean for us, for me? As this season of celebration approaches, I will still have times of introversion, but I will also relish the gatherings. And in the chaos of them look for ways to have smaller gatherings as I pray that God will speak to and through me as we celebrate. For there, his faithfulness is palatable and present. In a world that tempts us to feel alone, God reminds us we never are.


Karly Grant headshotKarly is a single 30-something who is striving to follow Jesus and trust Him in every situation. She can be found with a cup of tea or a good beer in hand while cozied up with a good book or enjoying a laugh with family or friends. God has her on a wild journey. In the last year she has quit her job of 15+ years and gone back to school full-time to pursue a career/ministry in the realm of adoption.

Gathering Gifts of Grace

Gather is a very “en vogue” word lately. We see it printed on banners and painted on signs because it hopes to offer a sense of warmth. For me, it brings to mind the idea of gathering my people and compiling the memories of the year. Together we take stock of what’s come and gone.

This quote by Charles Spurgeon comes to mind when it is time to reflect, “We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble and write our blessings in sand.”

In the middle of whatever Monday dumped in my lap, it’s so hard to remember the good things that have happened. It is far too easy to feel pessimistic or overwhelmed. So this November, I’m taking time to gather my blessings and count the gifts from God that I don’t deserve.

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The Gift of Family and Friends

What a year I’ve had! My new nephew was born in February. After a tumultuous delivery and stay in the NICU, he’s a healthy, happy, chunky guy!

I also gained a brother-in-law this year as my sister got married at the end of August! A beautiful end to our summer.

We’ve made some new friends this school year as well as new friends in our church!

What has happened in your family or with your friends for which you can give God thanks?

The Gift of Firsts

We’ve had a few firsts this year too. My oldest daughter started losing her baby teeth this year as well as getting glasses for the first time.

We were able to buy our first home after being under contract three times!

First time for my husband going through the process and achieving his mastership through our taekwondo organization.

My baby, my last baby, walked for the first time (shortly before we moved to our new house in May).

What were some of the firsts you encountered this year?

The Gift of Growth

Physical growth for my girls—height, teeth coming in. My oldest learned to ride her bike without training wheels this year!

Spiritual growth: for my oldest—we think she’s almost ready to get baptized, for me—learning more dependence and trust.

Mental growth: for my oldest—learning math this year and swimming with no wings, for my middle girl—her speech sounds are improving as well as her independence, for my youngest girl—potty training (!). For myself—stretching my perceptions and trying my hand at art.

How have you seen growth?

Gather Sarah Clews

Gathering Blessings

I picture that each of these things I’m thankful for is like a precious stone and I’ve gathered them all, rolling them in my hands, reminding myself of what the Lord has done. And the rest of it…the infections, the financial strains, the home inspections that didn’t come back as we hoped, the personal disappointments, the bad behavior…I’m leaving that behind. 

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. -Psalm 9:1


Sarah Clews HeadshotSarah Clews loves being the wife of Carson and mother to three little girls. She received her degree in English from Corban University and still loves the craft of writing. She also helps her husband run a martial arts school. In her free time, Sarah enjoys talking with grown-ups (!), finding new authors, doing online research, and reading her favorite childhood stories to her girls.

If I’m Sowing Good, Where are the Blossoms?

Author: Deb Gruelle

Sometimes I’m shocked by the ways my life hasn’t followed the good dreams and plans that I’ve made as a Christian woman who loves God with all her heart. I’ve tried to follow God and sow good seeds that will grow to an abundance of good in later life.

  • When seven babies died, five adoptions fell through, and I waited seventeen years to fill our family with three children, I doubted God’s love for me.
  • When chronic illness struck, I doubted my worth to the world.
  • When my children, those desperately-prayed-for blessings, made choices that went against biblical morals, I doubted my identity as a good mother.

The funny thing is that even through all of this I’ve never doubted God’s reality. I was introduced to Jesus early in life, and God made such logical sense to me. I could see His fingerprints in the world around me. I could see Him working in my family’s lives. I couldn’t imagine life without God. I know this is different than some people, maybe I was given the gift of faith.

Deb Gruelle Doubt

What I began to doubt was God’s love for me. It happened insidiously over time as huge tsunami waves crashed on my life again and again. As devastating circumstances continued, I kept reading verses that said I’d reap what I sowed. I believed if I sowed righteousness I’d surely be rewarded. (Proverbs 11:18; 14:14; Galatians 6:7)

I grew up in a strong Christian family where I saw God reward good choices. When that didn’t happen to me, did that mean the reverse was true also? How could bad things keep happening in my life when I was also trying to follow God wholeheartedly?  When longings of my heart went unanswered year after year, I began to believe God must be angry at me. For many years, I felt confusion over these verses. I believed lies about my worth that separated me from feeling God’s love.

It took me many years to understand how Jesus balanced the truth of those verses with His parable about the sower in Luke 8. In this parable, He tells about a farmer sowing seeds. Then He talks about how the seeds fell on different types of soil. Depending on the soil each seed landed on, some grew and even flourished, but some didn’t grow at all or didn’t grow well. He said the Word of God is the seed that is sewn into hearts.

If we could count on this principle always holding true—that what each person sows always directly relates to what they’ll reap, surely the seeds of the Word of God would always flourish. But this parable says that isn’t true. There are many more things that act on our choices in life that play into the results. And in this story, God wasn’t angry at the farmer because he chose the wrong seeds or sowed them wrong. Sure, we can sow wisely to ensure that our seeds have the best chance at flourishing, but some failure is expected. No fault is laid on the sower for this.

I finally understood that when bad things happen in my life it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not pleasing God. What if Jesus thought He wasn’t pleasing God because He had to face the cross? I had to trust in God’s bigger, love-infused, long-term viewpoint.

I have no idea what the future holds in so many areas of my life. If I depend on future blessings to validate my worth, my understanding of God’s love for me will be short-sighted and wobbly. Instead, if I understand that my job is to snuggle up close to God, to first let His love flow into me, then out to others through me, that’s all I need to do to please Him and live in victory. If I keep my focus on His love for me, that gives me the strength to not grow weary in sowing seeds of good. The results aren’t my business—the results are God’s responsibility.

Doubt Deb Gruelle

I love to garden now. I’m still sad when I see a bud form that never flowers. But even in gardening, experiencing loss makes the vibrant blooms that much more precious. Either way, I’m going to continue gardening—sowing good seeds and watering them. That’s my focus in partnering with God to plant beauty, that and living in the truth that I’m loved by my Creator. I’ll be thankful when God brings blossoms, but I won’t let them determine whether God loves me.


_Best Headshot CLOSEUP SMALL FILE SIZE 11_16 Copyright Patti Mustain SeekingHisLight.comDeb Gruelle, best-selling author of Ten Little Night Stars (2018) and Aching for a Child (2019), serves as chaplain for Inspire Christian Writers, as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and a Stephen Minister. Featured on radio broadcasts including Family Life Today and speaking across the country, she invites listeners to embrace both courage and rest for wholehearted living. 
 Web: http://www.debgruelle.com/ Find more from Deb on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

 

Check out her latest book:

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Mending Broken Vases

Author: Rebecca L. Mitchell

After my marriage failed, I fell into a dark season of doubt.

Many of my doubts revolved around myself. No longer wanted by my husband, I felt unlovable, ugly, a failure as a woman. I also questioned my ability to be a loving mother to my daughters, as I seemed to fail them, at least in my mind, in some way every day. Could I ever be whole again as a woman and a mother?

In such a daze of pain, I couldn’t imagine a bright, hopeful future or even a dull, decent one. I figured I would be able to function enough to stumble through life, but I thought oppressive grief, wounded anger, and aching loneliness would be my constant companions. I doubted I could regain emotional balance or normalcy.

If doubt is feeling uncertain about something, especially about the possibility of something good, I had it in spades. I couldn’t see good ahead. My biggest dream was just not to feel pain; I had no expectations of joy, no hope. For me, the opposite of doubt was not belief, but hope.

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I wish I could say that this is when I found Jesus, asked Him into my life, and never encountered my ugly companions of grief, anger, and loneliness again. The truth is, I already knew Jesus and had known Him for years. I didn’t doubt God’s presence in my life or His love for me—although I’m sure He could have handled it if I had. My faith in God was strong, growing, in fact, as I was clinging to Him in desperate survival mode. But I still struggled to have hope.

This doubt or loss of hope is common in the midst of deep pain and brokenness whether it’s from the loss of a loved one, financial hardship, or the shame of our own sin. Even if we aren’t struggling through ground-shaking chaos, we still get stuck. We doubt life can get better, or that we can change our bad habits. Our negative internal dialogue is on repeat, our smiles forced for public consumption.

Eventually, my genuine smile returned. Slowly, over time, God restored my hope: “Yes, my soul, find rest in God, my hope comes from Him” (Psalm 62:5). I learned He is not only able to restore me, He is willing. Scripture abounds with His ability and willingness to provide hope and restoration. Hannah was blessed with a child after years of infertility and Joseph became second in charge after slavery and imprisonment. Often, the psalmist, who begins with a cry of despair, ends with praise, adoration, and hope, even if the circumstances haven’t changed.

Doubt Rebecca L. Mitchell

The art of Kintsugi is a beautiful illustration of this hope of a restored life. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with resin combined with gold dust. The veins of gold along the broken lines enhance instead of diminish the beauty of the piece. God is a patient Kintsugi artist, melding our broken pieces into masterpieces.

My transformation from doubtful to hopeful has been frustratingly slow at times, but it has been genuine and true. Awareness of God’s deep, reckless love for me has moved from head knowledge to heart conviction. Amazingly, I now understand His desire to heal my brokenness surpasses my desire to be healed. I know that I know that I know, God’s plan for me is a life restored, full of joy and hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).


Rebecca L. Mitchell Blog post submission about doubt for OctoberRebecca writes with a passion to see women come alongside each other in their healing journeys. She is celebrating the release of her first book, From Broken Vows to Healed Hearts: Seeking God After Divorce Through Community, Scripture, and Journaling. Her day job is teaching English composition at UC Davis.
Find more from Rebecca at her blog http://rebeccamitchellauthor.com, Facebook, and Twitter.