Finding Hope When Christmas is Hard

Guest post by Katie Donahue

I am in the camp of people that usually loves Christmas. I love the twinkly lights and the Advent carols and the delicious cookies. I love the friendliness in the air and the warm drinks and all the fun family holiday experiences. I love the nativity scenes and gift wrapping and school concerts. The truth is, it’s very easy to love all the Christmas things if they outweigh the struggles in my life. And some years, that’s been real. Christmas fun trumped the personal challenges.

But then there were the Christmases where it felt as if everyone around me was bouncing around in Christmas leggings, drinking endless amounts of peppermint mochas that had to be laced with something because they were just too dang happy… and I felt like – that is so not my life this year. Can you relate? Is that true for you this year? And in those seasons, I found myself wondering: how do I harness the true hope of the season when things are hard?

I have had some hard Christmases. Now, I know everyone’s struggles are relative, so I don’t pretend to know what your hardest Christmas has entailed. But let me be clear that I’m not talking about forgetting to buy someone a gift, or starting to assemble a toy too late into the night on Christmas Eve. No, one difficult Christmas that comes to mind for me is the year a close relative checked into rehab on December 23rd. Another is the year I miscarried on Christmas Eve. And, perhaps worst of all, the Christmas season that almost broke me is the one in which the evil one implanted himself into the cracks of my marriage—threatening to ruin peppermint mochas and anything Christmas-related for me forever.

Anyone with me? Maybe you lost a child, and every Christmas season is excruciating. Maybe you or your spouse lost a job, or went through incredibly hard financial times as Christmas was approaching. Maybe your parents divorced, or you divorced, and those holidays that followed were just so painful. Regardless of the reason behind your hard Christmas, the struggle to find peace and joy in the holiday season is real when pain overrides the lights and carols.

Our Struggle is Not Against Flesh and Blood

The old Katie would’ve blamed a bad Christmas on a person or a situation—something worldly and tangible that I could put my finger on. But I’ve learned that there is a spiritual battle being waged in our midst, and that has changed the way I process these painful experiences. As Priscilla Shirer reminds us in The Armor of God Bible study, “The enemy may be invisible, but he is not fictional.” Instead of blaming a person or situation, I’m looking straight at the evil one. He’s the one who caused my Christmas seasons to go upside down during each of those years, and he’s the one I’m up against. He knows that he cannot take away our eternal life, but he will fight like heck to ruin our days on earth.

Here is some hope in the midst of a hard season: God has given us spiritual armor to fight against the schemes of the enemy! When I faced the worst Christmas of my life, I put on my armor and fought back. Advent took on a whole new meaning as I fiercely anticipated the birth of the baby who came to save us. The birth of the baby who defeated sin and offered hope for eternal life—and hope for a life lived to the fullest on earth.

If the evil one has come to steal from you this season, you have the power to fight back. Here are some of the strategies I’ve used to combat the darkness and find hope even during the darkest holiday seasons.

How to Find Hope in the Midst of Darkness

  1. Take captive every thought. God gave us the Helmet of Salvation to protect our minds. If a soldier goes to battle and suffers a blow to his head, he cannot continue to fight. Arming our minds with God’s truth is critical for fighting these spiritual battles. “We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5. I’m a visual person, so this word picture helped me take each thought captive. Remember those View-Master binocular toys, where you inserted a card into the toy and looked into the binoculars, clicking through the photos to see the story? When my mind starts racing with thoughts, such as “I am unloved,” “I am incapable,” “I can never heal from this,” I mentally take out my View-Master. I take captive whatever that painful thought was, and I start going through my card.

    “I am tenderly loved by God” Jeremiah 31:3. Click.
    “My needs are met by God” Philippians 4:19. Click.
    “For God has not given me a spirit of fear” 2 Timothy 1:7. Click
    “Cast all my anxieties on Him because He cares for me” 1 Peter 5:7. Click.

    I’m progressing my card of scripture that I’ve hidden in my mind, so that I can take each of those ugly thoughts, fears, worries, resentments and anxieties captive, and turn my eyes to Christ. I do not let Satan get through my Helmet of Salvation and infiltrate my mind. I look through my binoculars of God’s truth and welcome hope back into my thinking.
  2. Affirm my identity in Christ. I don’t have to be the queen of Christmas. My stockings don’t have to match. My Christmas cookies don’t need to bePinterest-perfect. I don’t even need to make Christmas cookies. Holiday Oreos will suffice. My identity is not defined by whether I am doing all of the Christmasy things like a real-life Betty Lou Who. I am a daughter of the King, and so are you. Our identity is in Christ. We are wholly and dearly loved. Wherever we are, whatever we have going on this season, we are seen by Him. We are known by Him. We are loved by Him. Stay grounded in these truths, so you aren’t sucked into the trap of placing your identity in your perfect Hallmark Christmas that is bound to disappoint. That’s not real—but God’s word is, and so is His truth about who’s you are. You are His.
  3. Be vigilant and prayerful. The enemy wants nothing more than for you to spend this Advent season in mourning, fear, anxiety, sin, anger and jealousy. Do not give him an inch. Be in prayer constantly, and be in community with your fellow believers. Reach out to each other, and hold each other accountable. Be excited to start this new year hungry to learn more about this baby that came to save the world. And how his life gave us not only eternal life, but also so much more for our life on earth.

If you are struggling this season, just know this: you CAN place your hope fiercely in the baby who came to save. Despite all that may be swirling around you—with your armor in place, your thoughts set on Jesus, and your identity secure in who He has created you to be—you can reclaim your Christmas from the enemy and celebrate in peace. We know this for sure: Jesus was born to win the battle for us, and that truth is much sweeter than the best peppermint mocha.

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