Pastoral Care at Christmas
CHRISTMAS IS A JOYFUL TIME, BUT IT'S ALSO A VERY DIFFICULT AND LONELY TIME FOR MANY.
-The weather brings isolation, as does the dark.
-It is a time when family is emphasised, with those family members who have died inevitably remembered.
-Support networks are especially lacking as friends are often away from Christmas to New Year’s.
-The feelings around the Nativity, of a couple’s love and the specialness of new birth, can expose some of the pain surrounding childlessness or relational difficulties.
-It is a season that brings together families where there may be unresolved conflicts, with the feeling that one needs to stay pleasant lest they ‘ruin Christmas’.
-People are often sick, ill or dying at Christmas (There are more deaths in the winter months of Dec-Feb than the rest of the year).
-There are more divorces filed in January than any other month, after Christmas has been endured or ’kept special for the kids’.
-Almost 1/3 of Britons go into some form of debt to fund Christmas costs.
This list isn’t meant to stamp a big ‘bah-humbug’ overtop of Christmas, but it helps to know that those we love and care for will be feeling a variety of emotions around the Christmas season. Christmas is often perceived as an idealised season where ‘bad’ or ‘sad’ feelings are not permitted; there is a pressure that Christmas can only be associated with happiness, joy, ‘visions of sugar plums’ and the like. If someone expresses misery amidst the season they may be considered a scrooge. On television these people are the subject of a Christmas special where the ‘joy of Christmas’ magically transforms them.
The traditional image is of happy healthy children, parents and grandparents all around a well-decorated tree. A lot of money has been spent on an abundance of food and thoughtfully chosen presents that are always ‘just right’. This perfect Christmas scene is rarely experienced and the pressure to have the ideal Christmas can lead to further feelings of isolation and of ‘missing out’.
For many Christians, Christmas is a mixed experience with sadness and/or pain alongside the joy and wonder natural to the season.
HERE ARE A FEW SUGGESTIONS FOR OFFERING PASTORAL CARE AT CHRISTMAS.
-If you suspect someone may be struggling, ask them about their plans for Christmas and their memories of the season. Give them permission to say what has been hard about Christmas and what they are looking forward to. This breaks down the idealisation and makes the expectations of Christmas more realistic and manageable. The joy of Christmas can co-exist with the sadness the season can bring.
-Allow the person to voice their pain. Give them space to say how hard they are finding Christmas and encourage them to speak about the natural difficulties of the season despite the pressure to act otherwise.
-If appropriate, speak into the idealisation. Some will feel regret that they missed the perfect scene in childhood (which very few will have known), some will feel that they are missing out currently. This may be true in part, but perhaps not as true as they think!
-If Christmas is hard for you personally, say so. This will help others to be honest with their feelings around the season.
-Make time for community events, remembering especially those who may feel isolated or lonely. Be mindful of those who need extra help or support, giving them your care and attention.
A FEW PASTORALLY-MINDED THOUGHTS FROM THE CHRISTMAS STORY:
-Jesus came to bring light and life to a dark world. He understands isolation and sorrow—that is the reason for his coming.
-Jesus knew awkwardness and humility at Christmas, being born to a wider family that (likely) didn’t understand the situation. Mary had the first ever ‘difficult Christmas with all the in-laws'!
-Those who first met Jesus were shepherds on the fringes of society, God comes to those on the outskirts during the lonely night.
-The first Christmas is marked by scarcity and hassle, not abundance or stability. Mary and Joseph are likely poor, forced to journey away from home, and lack the basics of adequate shelter upon Jesus birth.
-The whole event of Jesus coming into the world was fragile and precarious as well as joyful and celebratory (Here we think of the census, Herod’s killing of infants, and the flight into Egypt).
-Christmas can be a time to look back with joy and hope, cherishing the goodness and faithfulness of God both then and now (as in Isaiah 9).
For the Christian, the wonder of Christmas is not in what is materially provided, or in temporary joys that are created on the day. The message is of eternal hope, lasting joy, grace and peace. This hope and joy can co-exist with the natural sadness that may come with the season, and can help to bring strength and support to those suffering at Christmas.
-Ron Bushyager- http://www.fftherapy.co.uk/