Friday, December 16, 2016

Burnt Out at Christmas

for those I love who are struggling this Christmas ...

It was only in mid-life that I discovered I adored brussel sprouts. We were having a holiday dinner at my Uncle Jim's house in the backwoods of Tennessee. His mother-in-law, Raymonda, had cooked the little knobby-looking veggies until they were burnt and caramelized.

Overdone, I thought. But, I decided to brave a taste anyway. Suddenly, a vegetable I knew only as mini, soggy cabbage was transformed. Now these . . . these were magical brussel sprouts, cooked with olive oil and a bit of butter until they were a dark roasted blackish-brown. The charred bits were the most delicious.

But while brussel sprouts become the best version of themselves when you burn the crap out them, I'm not so sure about people. And, this year, I've felt burnt to the crisp. As December rolls to a close, I feel like I must have charred bits showing from the wear and tear of 2016.

And I'm not alone. A friend of mine posted on FB that she didn't want any gifts for Christmas. She had lost her parent just weeks before - and it had just been too difficult of a year. Maybe give me a hug when you see me, she wrote.

I understand. This has been a tough one for me as well. I feel emotionally spent. What a helluva fall it has been.

I've gone through an empty nest phase, seeing my one and only leave for college. Just a few weeks later, I lost a dear friend to a horrible accident, leaving his wife, daughters, and the rest of us gasping with disbelief. I lived through a pretty intense hurricane - an actual one - that aimed directly at the beach house we bought just two years prior. I watched as my neighbor lost his battle to cancer, one loved one struggled with depression and chronic illness, and then I received news that my mom has a recurrence of breast cancer. Sigh... I am Burnt Out. Depleted. Exhausted. Worn. Tired. Spent.

And now Christmas is upon us. How do you jingle all the way when you feel "bleh" inside? How do you spread Christmas cheer when your own light has been dimmed? 

A writer friend commented that there is nothing in Scripture about needing to have the Christmas Spirit. And she is right. There are no easy answers, no quick fixes to snap out of our somber mood, but I would argue that perhaps you don't need fixing. It is perfectly fine to walk through this season of discontent without putting up a tree or hanging a single ornament.

We can be contemplative and sad. We can look back with longing. We can cling to hope. We can grieve for what is lost. We can be deeply thankful for those we hold dear. We can let quiet hymns soothe our soul. We can hold onto hot mugs of eggnog or mulled wine and let tears flow unhindered when needed.

So back to those brussel sprouts. Why is it that they are most intensely flavorful when burnt? And is it possible that these difficult times of my own life are actually precious and important? I can't cover them up - I have to walk through these dark days just as I have my happy, light hearted ones. Both the good and the bad have shaped who I am today.

In my own life, many Christmases have come and gone. They were not all perfect, nor were they easy. So if you too are reeling from the blows life can bring... If you are tired. If you feel depleted of cheer, know that it is okay to sit in its midst and rest.

Matthew 1:27 says, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him 'Immanuel' (which means 'God with us')." This is Christmas in its essence: God is with us - and He is not present only in the happy. He is with us in the sad and difficult and exhausted as well.

Jesus, God's Son, became present for us in the itchy hay, in the dirty manger, in the crowded spaces of our lives. He came for the weary. He came to take our burden. He came to be our light in the pitch darkness, our help in times of trouble, our peace in the midst of our despair.

And for that I am thankful . . . a bit burnt, a bit crispy at the edges, but profoundly thankful. Rest in His peace this Christmas friends, and may God, Immanuel, be with you through it all.

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