December is for many a difficult month, and I am certainly one of those.
I want to be merry, truly I do. It is with a kind of shame that I am more often than not moving through a month of melancholy instead of merry-making. That is particularly true this year. The days are not filled with delightful shopping trips, beautifully arranged decorations in my perfectly clean house, social gatherings in festive clothes and sparkling stemware. I do not have gifts thoughtfully planned since July and wrapped since the weekend of Thanksgiving, nor did my husband and I dress in charming “work-outside-flannel-Christmas attire” and go out to hang a spectacular set of Christmas lights on our house in preparation for this beloved season. I do not have my Christmas cards carefully written and mailed with season matching stamps. Truth be told, I haven’t even designed and ordered them yet. Yes – it is Dec 11. This year I give all the credit to my merry-making daughter Regina for anything that looks like happy holiday gatherings and plans. And I am okay with that.
My lack of merriment does not stem from a weariness of Christmas, far from it! I reverence Christmas and cherish every beautiful element of it. I always have. But I am as human as everyone I know and the life I live is as full of trials as it is wonder. Long work hours, far flung family and friends, changing circumstances and responsibilities at hand, living in a very mortal body, darkening news in the wide world, and my own family history all contribute to an underlying sense of sorrow during this season. The mockery of Christmas and holiday advertising telling me my life is not perfect only adds to the mental weariness.
In this place of weariness and sadness, a place I have spent much of my life – not simply at Christmas – I find a deep, perpetual comfort in coming into the quiet place of God and being still with Him.
He knows me. He knows all the sorrows of my history and my heart. He knows His plans for me and He knows what He has redeemed me from. He knows where I ache, all the words I cannot find to tell what weighs in me or the beauties that I see but cannot fully show. He knows my sin, my inclination to wandering, my besetting frailties. He also knows my strengths – such as they are. In the midst of His presence, God – the Holy One of Israel – remakes my understanding of reality. He takes the weariness and lets me rest.
He takes the sorrows of a thousand losses and opens my eyes again to ten thousand gifts.
He reminds me again of the blessings bound in hopeful and faithful waiting and He gives me Himself, my great treasure and my North Star. Utterly apart from all physical expression of Christmas celebrating – before I light a candle, hang a single ornament on the tree, send a card of remembrance and affection, or wrap a gift I must find His ancient and age-enduring presence with me. My Emmanuel. Before I am able to bear any witness of celebration on the outside that celebration must awaken first inside of me. It only awakens inside of me when I am in His presence and He helps me remember this. He is my Christmas.
Now what does all that have to do with managing melancholy in December? And what is the connection to the featured image that opens this post? Simply this:
All authentic well-being begins by remembering and living in truth.
Where I choose to place my focus is what I am going to “see”. The practice that is outlined in Philippians 4.6-8 has been my mainstay for decades as the beginning point in managing depression and melancholy. Here is the long version that I first learned as a Christian in the Amplified Version. I share it with you here because I have found every word illuminating and helpful. While I do not often recommend memorizing Scripture in the Amplified version, meditating on it has been life-changing for me and still is. This website, The Cultivating Project, and my general daily practice as a believer are founded on this passage of Scripture. This is my starting and anchoring point for managing melancholy, anxiety, and difficulty.
“6 Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. 7 And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].
8 Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].“
At the request of several readers and friends, over the course of the next few weeks, from now through Epiphany, I am going to offer a series of posts related to managing melancholy and grief through the Christmas season and beyond. For today allow me please to simply offer this:
Pain is manageable in one minute increments.
Being in the present moment is the only way I know to truly “manage” depression, difficulty, or grief.
To the degree that I stay present in the moment itself, aware of my pain but also aware of God as my anchor, I am able to move through the pain without making destructive choices to self-medicate, disconnect, or give in to despair. This is a battle that is won truly one moment at a time. I believe it is a winnable battle even the fullness of that victory will be seen only after we leave earth. To see small victories, to have daily moments of knowing that Goodness prevails over evil and that the Light is not overcome by darkness, to see fruit in our lives coming out of the accumulation of good choices made again and again – this makes living in this present moment a place also of experiencing eternity even now.
The images in this post are © of the author – Lancia E. Smith.
The beautiful white rose is a David Austin creation – The Generous Gardner.
This is one of the roses we grow in the gardens at our home in Colorado.
The image of the Bridge of Sighs was made in Oxford.
The quote by C.S. Lewis is one of three that have carried me through many years
of coming to peace with life circumstances that seemed greater than I could bear.
Blessings to you and yours!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner based in Colorado. She is editor-in-chief of the online quarterly magazine Cultivating the Good, True, & Beautiful, and is founder of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the spiritual formation and discipling creative believers. She and her husband Peter run a thriving environmental and engineering firm and try to keep up with their rambling house and gardens called House on the Way. Lancia loves nearly every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis; drinks strong black coffee with whipped coconut oil and cinnamon; and sincerely hopes in her lifetime to reach zero in her inbox!