How to Have Joy When The Holidays Don’t Feel Joyful

The most joyous season of the year doesn’t always bring joy. For many it can be a painful reminder of what is missing. Whether it is the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, financial hardships, material loss, or serious health issues, the holiday season can feel daunting.

The older I get, the more I am aware of the widespread pain and suffering that people experience. I have observed the different ways in which people deal with these experiences. Some navigate through them relatively easily and move on quickly. Others wallow in self-pity and sink into a pit of despair and bitterness. Most fall somewhere in between. However, one thing is certain, we all must walk through the valleys. There is no way around them. And sometimes that means a difficult holiday experience.

My Story

The first truly difficult Christmas I remember was right before my dad died. There was a shadow over the season knowing what was to come. Then there was the year that we buried my grandpa on Christmas Eve. I remember the weight of sadness over our gathering and the overwhelming feeling of having someone missing. After that, I experienced one Christmas after another missing family members.

Then there was the December that kicked off what we used to affectionately call the worst year of our lives. A strained ministry situation ended with our leaving the church the same week our brother-in-law passed away. We went from his funeral in Kentucky to our home in Illinois, gathered our Christmas gifts and headed north to spend Christmas with the family. That following Spring, we found out our uncle had the same cancer our brother-in-law died from. We attended Uncle Dave’s funeral just days before my grandma passed away in September. That led us into another Christmas missing loved ones.

However, nothing compares to our Christmas 2 years ago. About 3 weeks before Christmas our lives were turned completely upside down. We felt like we had been picked up, tossed around, shaken, thrown to the ground, trampled and left to try to pick up the pieces. We all walked in a fog with a heavy cloud of sadness and disbelief hanging over us. How could we have a joyful holiday season with all that we were going through?

How Do You Get Through It?

How do you survive the holidays when your health is frail and you can’t do the things that make you happy? What do you do when you have broken or strained relationships? Where do you find the strength to go on when you are missing loved ones?

The bright lights, festive decorations, happy music, and fun parties all seem to mock your pain. You remember happy times with your loved ones, years when you had money to give, days when you were healthy and pain-free with the ability to make everyone else’s holiday bright.

You wish life were different. But you cannot change it. You must go on and live the reality that God has ordained for you. Here are some practical ways to navigate the holiday season and find joy when life is hard.

Steps to Finding Joy

  1. Give yourself permission to grieve. Understand that your feelings are normal. Allow yourself to be sad, to have a good cry, and to mourn what used to be. It is okay to avoid situations that are overwhelming. But don’t allow yourself to stay in this state.
  2. Focus on the positive. Remember the good times. Be thankful for how God is providing and leading you. Thank him for what you still have. Be intentional about looking for the blessings.
  3. Allow others to help you. If cooking, cleaning, decorating, or simply going to the store feel overwhelming, accept help. Graciously accept the gift cards, checks, food, or presents. This is a sign that others love and care about you, that in itself should bring you joy!
  4. Reach out to others. When you are in the midst of a trial, it can seem like you are the only one suffering. However, you will not have to look far to find someone else who is struggling. Comfort them with the same comfort you were comforted with. Send a card with a verse that has helped you. Use a gift card or money to help bless them, or share some of your food when you have extra. Offer a hug and a prayer. Acknowledge that you are both going through a hard time and that you would like to support each other, even if your situations are completely different. This is what Christian love is all about.
  5. Keep some old traditions. Keeping old traditions alive is a great way to keep things as normal as possible for yourself and your family. Share the traditions with a friend or neighbor.
  6. Start new traditions. Some old traditions might be impossible or too painful to keep. Start some new ones.
  7. Give yourself permission to laugh. It might seem inappropriate to laugh and have fun when you are grieving, yet laughter can bring some much-needed stress relief. Remember, the book of Proverbs says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Laughter can bring healing.
  8. Focus on Christ. Remember who the season is really about. Take time to worship Him. Even when it is too hard to read your Bible or pray just be still and let Him comfort you.

Bible Verses of Comfort and Joy

Take time to meditate on these traditional Christmas passages. Because these verses have become so familiar to us, we tend miss their true meaning to our everyday lives. Consider who Jesus is and what his purpose was for coming to earth. Join in worship as you read the words of Mary when she learned she would give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. Rejoice along with the angels and shepherds. Rest in the hope and joy that His coming brings.

  1. Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
  2. Matthew 1:21 “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins:”
  3. Matthew 1:23 “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
  4. Luke 1:46 “And Mary said, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.”
  5. Luke 2:11 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord:”
  6. Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
  7. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
  8. 2 Corinthians 9:15 “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”

Whether this Christmas season finds you happy, healthy, and ready to celebrate;, or whether it finds you struggling with your situation in life, may God bring you peace, comfort, and joy as you worship Him.

Wife, mom, grandma, and country girl. I am living by faith and encouraging others to do the same. I integrate faith, family and country living.

One Comment

  • Diane VanRaden

    It seems many of our Christmases have been a mixture of joy and sorrow. This one will be a hard one for me, but trust in God’s love to get me through it. Thank you for what you wrote. I needed to hear it this morning. God bless you.

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