Pain in the Background

Behind all the joyful smiles, for some the holiday season is a deeply painful season. Perhaps it is because of loneliness, painful family memories, or loss. If you are suffering during this season of celebration, you are not alone!

A few years ago my friend, author Holley Gerth, stopped by to talk about what it means to celebrate even when life is difficult or painful. I hope this excerpt from our 2011 interview provides you with hope.

* * * * *

(From December 2011)

Holley-pic-NEW-2You may have heard of Holley Gerth — she’s got a hugely popular blog called “Heart to Heart with Holley.” She’s the author of Rain on Me, God’s Heart for You, and You’re Already Amazing. She’s also created thousands of greeting cards and gifts for DaySpring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark and is the cofounder of their web site for women, (in)courage. Holley shares her heart and home with Mark and a crazy dog.

I’m sure you’ll be encouraged and inspired by her honest words.  Keep reading . . . 

Holley, tell my readers about yourself!

I love chocolate, coffee, my husband, and Jesus (not in that order). I’m not a morning person—I once put chocolate on the alarm clock to bribe myself to get up. I ate it and went back to bed. Yes, ma’am. But I married an early bird so I’m learning to change my ways. I’m named after my Grandpa Hollie. He and my Grandma had a  Christian bookstore so I grew up dreaming of being a writer. Being able to share God’s heart with women through words is my passion and I feel so grateful to be able to do so every day. It’s the next best thing to having coffee with all of my readers—which I would do if I could!

This month we’re looking at the twin spiritual disciplines of worship and celebration. In a very basic sense, I define them as praising and thanking God for who he is (worship); and praising and thanking God for what he does (celebration). Why do you think these disciplines are important?

Our church service last night was actually about worship and how it transforms us. The pastor talked about how closely the word “worship” is related to “service” in Greek and Hebrew.Over time I’ve come to see worship not as what we do at church but as a lifestyle of serving Jesus. To me, worship means bowing our hearts to God and saying, “I’m your servant. Use me as little or as much as you want.” That’s actually the prayer I say each morning as I get ready to write. I’ve also started writing what I’m thankful for in a journal each day. I use an unlined journal and draw all kinds of crazy pictures and things. But it works for me.

I recently read that our brains have a natural “negativity bias.” In other words, we tend to focus on and remember what’s negative better. That is a gift from God to help us survive (for example, focusing more on the bear charging out of the woods than the lovely flower behind it). But on a day-to-day basis, it means that we have to be intentional about refocusing our hearts and attention. We don’t need to feel guilty about our tendency to be negative but we do need to recognize it and change it through worship and gratitude. What’s amazing is that our brains literally rewire themselves as we think new thoughts. We actually create new neural pathways and are “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Wow — Yes! Celebration can take many forms — gratitude, joy, prayer, praise, feasting, and more. When has celebration made a difference in your life?

I feel like this has been a year of learning to embrace joy in my life. I love the verse in Psalm that says, “The Lord delights in the well-being of His servant.” God wants us to thrive. He wants us to be full of joy. He wants to give us His best. Yes, we experience hard seasons but that doesn’t mean we’re intended to live that way forever. Embracing celebration and joy has shown me a different side of God and His love for me. The more I see of who He is and how good He wants to be to us, the more my heart wants to respond by bringing Him joy in return. And that’s what life is really all about in the end. It’s even better motivation to get out of bed than chocolate on your alarm clock.

December strikes me as such a natural season for worship and celebration as we focus on Advent and Christmas. What do you love most about this season? What makes it spiritually meaningful to you? 

Confession: The holidays are hard for me. I lost a loved one close to Christmas and that, along with some other reasons, mean that I usually struggle through the last couple of months a year. After having a very bad attitude about this {picture lots of whining and complaining here} I decided it was time to have a little talk with Jesus about how I could approach Christmas differently this time around. For example, this year instead of gifts I’m asking for people to meet a need in someone else’s life and then give me a card on Christmas telling me what they did. I know some people really feel loved and show love through actual presents but for me stories and words warm my heart so that’s what I wanted this year.

I also realized that I’m an introvert and if I don’t plan for times to refuel in this super-social season then I wind up exhausted—even though being with friends and family are what I love most about this time of year. So I’ve tried to plan a less hectic schedule than usual. We celebrate the holidays like we’re all the same but our personalities and needs are very different so I think it’s important to figure out what works best for us so we can really love others well and truly celebrate Jesus.

As you’ve just alluded to, there are times in life when celebration is the farthest thing from our minds — when life is very difficult or painful. What encouragement would you offer someone who’s in a difficult season? How can she “celebrate”? What might that mean for her?

Like I mentioned above, the holidays are often difficult for me so I can definitely relate. I would say first not to feel guilty or be hard on yourself. God understands your grief and what you’re facing. You don’t have to put on a happy face for this season. Find safe people who will share your hurt and talk through what you’re experiencing with them. Take good care of yourself — physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. This is a time for extra TLC.

It can feel like the whole world is having a good ‘ole time but research shows that the holidays are tough for a lot of people. So remember you’re loved, you’re not alone, and you will make it through this time. Make new traditions for you and your family if needed. Most of what we do at the holidays is more cultural than anything we’re actually told to do biblically so feel free to change up what “normal” means as much as you want.

And if you need those around you to understand what you’re going through, consider writing a letter explaining so you don’t have to repeat your story or needs over and over. People truly do want to help but often they don’t know how and can even make our hurt deeper without intending to do so. Let others know what they can give your heart this Christmas season.

Thank you, Holley! Readers, you can connect with Holley at


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