Have you ever had a holiday season where you just hated all the Christmas songs? All the well wishes? All the plastered on smiles? All the happiness?
I have. It was two years ago. I hated Christmas and all the surrounding holidays that year.
I was fresh off of orientation at my first nursing job and stressed beyond all belief. I was constantly tired. I was working both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. My family didn’t understand my work schedule. My dear sister was giving me an especially hard time for missing Christmas and her birthday. The long distance part of my long distance relationship was starting to wear on me. My work schedule from late December until at least February was all night shifts. It was ridiculously cold outside, and my car took forever to heat up.
Despite anything I said or did to indicate the contrary, I was miserable.
In general, I make it a point not to complain. On the rare occasion that I cannot stand it anymore, I let my grievances known. As I listed my gripes about working the holidays early December, I remember one of my friends extolling the benefits of working the holidays with a joyful attitude.
I promptly felt guilty for complaining. I then tried as best as I could to adopt a fake happy attitude that December, and I was still miserable.
Now, I felt guilty about being fake.
And just when I had a glimmer of hope that things were going to get better when I got called off for 4 hours at work on New Year’s Eve with a good chance I’d get the other 8 hours off, I had to go to work.
It was New Year’s Eve. Nothing in the holiday season had gone the way I wanted. I couldn’t spend the night with my friends or boyfriend. I couldn’t spend Christmas with my family. And here I was, called into work, just so another nurse could float to another unit so that unit’s nurse could have the night off.
I was miserable all the more. My drunken idiot of a patient who set off his bed alarm every half hour wasn’t making me more joyful either. Then I got my admission, a patient who was bleeding internally and had chosen to die. Here I was, a 22-year-old newly graduated nurse, trying to explain to a family how their loved one was actively dying and what things they would observe in the next couple hours.
I wish I could say everything in my life paled in comparison (which it did), and suddenly, I was so humbled that I instantly took on a joyful attitude, but that would be a lie.
I was still miserable, but now I felt even more guilty for feeling miserable when someone was clearly more miserable than I was.
That’s the thing about the holidays. As much as we celebrate and it’s special and it’s the most wonderful time of the year, it’s another day in the year. People have to work. People are alone and forgotten. People are sick. People are dying. People are miserable.
And the worst part about Christmas and the holidays is that it’s the time of the year that people give you a hard time for being miserable. All of a sudden, if you’re not happy, you’re blaspheming Christmas.
I call B.S. It’s perfectly fine to be miserable on Christmas.
Mary and Joseph were having a miserable Christmas.
Mary was pregnant, very pregnant, and riding on a donkey (or so I imagine). Can you imagine having a baby bouncing on your bladder and then you’re bouncing on a donkey? I can’t! I’d be peeing every 5 minutes and maybe leaking on the poor animal! If I were Mary, I’d being saying a few choice words about the Roman Empire declaring a census just as I’m really pregnant with the Son of God.
Joseph, poor dude, couldn’t catch a break either. Every room is booked, and innkeepers are turning you away left and right. They probably were giving him condescending looks as he was from the country bumpkin town of Nazareth and likely had a hillbilly accent. After hours of searching, the best place he could get his pregnant wife is a stable.
Of course, the baby decides to come right as you’re settling into the hay and stench of animal feces. All of a sudden, Joseph’s a makeshift OB/GYN birthing a baby. Mary’s pushing out a baby without any sort of available pain relief. Heck, in all likelihood, Mary probably had to suffer the embarrassment of pooping during Jesus’ birth.
There’s a fact to take the magical edge off of Christmas right there. A solid number of women poop during birth. As one mother describe it to me, birth is like the worst constipation in the world. While you’re pushing one thing out, the other might slip out too. That’s the really brief scientific explanation for you.
I’m saying all this not to desecrate our Lord, Mother Mary, or St. Joseph. Jesus is Lord. Mary and Joseph are models or holiness. But by all realistic, human means and measures, Mary and Joseph were having a miserable Christmas, and Jesus could have been born next to his mother’s stool.
Yet, in their misery, they were joyful. I can imagine Joseph sweetly asking Mary if she was doing well, Mary shyly admitting she needed to pee again, and Joseph lovingly chortling as Mary runs off to pee in the bushes yet again. I can imagine Mary comforting Joseph as he’s denied from another inn, Joseph taking the next rejection in faithful stride, and them giggling to each other as yet another innkeeper turns them down. I can imagine Mary and Joseph laughing hysterically as her water breaks in the stable and they realize she’s about to have a baby in front of a bunch of animals, in a stable, at likely the worst possible time they could plan.
I can imagine them smiling and laughing joyfully in all these scenarios because their faith and trust in the Lord was so great that even though nothing was going their way or as they could have planned it, they knew this misery was for a greater good.
A greater good indeed. Jesus Christ was born in ultimate humility and would one day die in ultimate humility. A king born in a stable. A king dying a criminal’s death on the cross. It’s hilarious how ridiculous that is, but that’s our God. Our Lord is so ridiculously in love with us that He forgives us as many times as we ask, wills our good at all times, and today (or so we celebrate) was born in a stable, surrounded by the stench of animal poop.
That’s Christmas. Christmas is humble. Christmas is a glimpse of hope amidst misery. And miraculously, Christmas is joyful.
Joy is a hard fought battle. Joy is an attitude that looks at the misery of the world and takes it all in. Joy chooses to hope, love, and have faith in our Lord, no matter what is going wrong, unexpected, or poorly. As they say, “Ignorance is bliss,” and happiness largely operates on ignorance. Happiness ignores suffering because suffering impedes happiness. Joy, however, embraces suffering.
Joy is the message of Christmas, not happiness.
If you’re miserable today, that’s great! It is. Really. It means you’re on the precipice of true joy, but the first step to joy is admitting you’re miserable.
Two years ago, I was in denial I was miserable. I kept comparing my misery to others, and of course, next to a dying person, my misery was nothing.
But my misery was something.
If to no earthly person, my misery was something to the Lord. It took me over a year to fully admit my miserable state to Him, and in my misery, I realized I needed a savior. What better savior than one born in humility, grew up in obscurity, suffered greatly in His lifetime, died horribly, and is continually rejected today, even by me? Surely, He knows misery and knows my misery better than anyone else.
That’s the thing. To our Lord, our misery is always something. That stubbed toe. That lousy work shift. That annoying family member. That disgusting food you’re forced to eat. That elephant in the room no one’s talking about. That embarrassing moment that everyone in the room won’t stop talking about. That horrible line to return bad Christmas presents. Anything and everything! He cares about it all!
The Lord never promised we wouldn’t be miserable. He never promised we wouldn’t suffer. He never promised things would go perfectly, as planned, or as expected.
However, He did promise this: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus promised we would have moments of pain, of suffering, of misery, of disappointment, of sadness, of troubles of whatever kind. But He also promised He would help us conquer all of it through and with Him.
But the first step to allowing the Lord to conquer your troubles is to admit you have troubles. He cannot be a light in your darkness if you insist there’s no darkness needing light. Sure, it may not be that dark out, or that bad, or that miserable, but no matter what, we can always use more light, more joy, more peace.
Give yourself a gift this Christmas: admit your misery to the Lord.
Really ask yourself and Him why you’re unhappy and what the two of you can conceivably do to change it. Are you harboring bitterness? Unforgiveness? Scared of something? Holding onto something too tight? Seeking a pleasure that isn’t Him? Seeking a happiness that isn’t from or of Him?
Nothing in this world can bring you complete happiness. Happiness fades. Joy, however, is eternal.
Seek Joy. Seek Our Lord Jesus Christ this holiday season. He will teach you joy in life’s every miserable circumstance. The journey is difficult, yes, but it is one that you will never walk alone.