As I go Christmas shopping and to all the gatherings and parties, and just in general interact with more people than I usually do, this year I am going to try to be more sensitive with my "Merry Christmas!"es. I would encourage you to do the same; think and pray carefully before writing the same greeting in each Christmas card.
I also think there is some validity in what I heard somewhere recently: it's more painful to have your painful situation ignored than acknowledged. So maybe instead of writing "May you and your family have a happy Christmas!", write "This Christmas must be tough for you. You're in my thoughts & prayers." (I haven't lost any loved ones very close to me, so if you have other thoughts on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment.)
There are such a wide variety of painful or confusing situations that people may be going through this Christmas, including but not limited to: (Please forgive me if in anyway I have not worded these sensitively.)
- having lost a loved one, including miscarriage or stillbirth
- divorce, separation, marriage difficulties
- loved one working/living far away and can't come home for Christmas
- empty arms while waiting to adopt
- loved one hospitalized, or you yourself hospitalized
- you or loved one has cancer or other disease
- family tensions and unforgiveness
- financial problems
- spiritual struggles; trying to figure out what you believe
- trying to find your birth family or have recently reconnected with them
- job issues
It's been interesting this Christmas season for me as this topic has been on my mind and heart. The other day I was in a grocery store and I saw a lady busily shopping whose husband had passed away a year or two ago. Another lady who knew her and her situation came up to her, put a hand on her shoulder, and kindly said "Merry Christmas. Have a good one." The first lady turned to continue her shopping and I saw that her face now looked bewildered. I was left wondering how she felt -- hurt that she was told to have a good Christmas even though her husband was gone? -- or blessed that the lady didn't cheerfully smile a "Merry Christmas!!" as if everything was fine? I don't know. Maybe she didn't even know herself.
For me personally, I find that I appreciate acknowledgement of the pain we feel, in not being parents yet. Don't get me wrong, no one wants to be felt sorry for! But thought (like not giving us the card that says "from our family to yours!"), kindness, and acknowledgment is always nice. Keep your words genuine, gentle - and brief. No one wants to cry at a gathering after all, lol!
At the same grocery store, same day, we were stopped by a lady we know and asked how things were progressing with our adoption. I always appreciate it when people ask because it shows they care. But I was rather surprised at how down I felt afterward. And it is because of the Christmas season. It is another Christmas without our baby. Christmas is a time of family. And lots of people feel their families are incomplete -- they are still single, or a family member has passed away, or their womb is empty, or their arms are empty, or they are separated from their spouse, or they don't live near their family, or fights have separated them from their parents, or a parent has lost their memory, or they have placed their child for adoption, etc -- and at Christmastime this incomplete feeling is often very much amplified.
I don't have much of a conclusion. Perhaps, I hope you come away from reading this with a new awareness of what others might be going through, and a new sensitivity towards others when you interact with them this holiday season. I also hope you feel your personal pain has been acknowledged. Christmas is tough. And I honestly think that's okay sometimes. Not that it's okay to feel sorry for yourself, but neither do you need to be tough and ignore the pain and put on a false cheeriness. If someone is kind enough to say to you "This Christmas must be tough for you" there is nothing wrong with simply saying "Thank-you, yes it is. I appreciate your thinking of me."
I also hope that whether we are the comforter or the one in pain, or most likely both, that we deliberately take the time to be thankful for -- to use a cliche -- the Reason for the season. Have you ever stopped to think about it that Jesus' earthly father was not His birth father? And that when Jesus was crucified, His Father rejected Him? (He rejected Him because all our sin was on Him. The wages of sin is death and Jesus paid for our sin so we would not have to.) Jesus understands pain.
He is also our comforter. When nobody else understands how I feel, He does. And that is already a big comfort to me just by itself.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4