How cool it would be to have a button that placed grief, depression, and anxiety on hold for the holiday season. The trouble with that thinking is that it assumes the original Christmas story was all good news and great joy, and that we are somehow supposed to experience two weeks of consistent happiness as a measure of mental success. Good news and joy were aspects of the first Christmas but not the overall normative mood. Given the circumstances, I don’t think a stable mood state (pardon the pun) would have been possible.
The Christmas account found in the biblical book of Luke tells us that an angel of God appeared to the virgin Mary who was engaged to be married to Joseph. Engagement probably equaled joy. In a flash however, the angel comes, and joy becomes subordinate to fear.
Luke tells us that Mary was afraid and immediately began thinking. He doesn’t say what she was thinking, but if God sent me his top angelic emissary I would be thinking, What have I done wrong? God must have heard that thought, that dream, those words. Every cognitive distortion in the book would become a part of my mental checklist. My life is over. I didn’t pray yesterday so God is here to punish me. I bet Joseph is up to no good. I’ll never get married. Enter anxiety, and the roller coaster of moods require us to buckle the seat belt and hold on. Prepare to be jostled in spirit and mind.
Mary is then told she would be pregnant. Baby equals joy, correct? Baby in days still calculated in terms of B.C. without a husband equals terror, loss of reputation, and most likely loss of groom. How in the world can I care for a baby? What will everyone think? I’m doomed. Aww, a baby. How sweet, I’m going to be a Mama. Oh my stars, I’m going to be a Mama! Can you hear the swirl of obsessive thinking?
But it’s Christmas, right? Things begin to work out. Joseph gets on board when an angel helps him understand his role in the drama, and joy creeps into this story of good news. All is well in heart and soul.
Then a government decree is issued, and everyone must return to their home of origin to be taxed. Good news and great joy? Hardly. The mood crashes again. Now add frustration over travel plans, anger over the oppression of taxes, and the shame of poverty. The family must find a donkey and gather supplies for a several day trip that includes a very pregnant young lady.
The ups and downs continue even until now. As I experience a gamut of emotions this Christmas, I can smile as each change in mood reflects an aspect of the truest telling of the Christmas story. When the world tries to force the season into tinsel and mistletoe. . . . RELAX!
The real experience of Christmas, both then and now, include:
- face time with God,
- connection with others regardless of the mood state, and
- faith that this long expected Jesus will one day say, “Peace, be still,” and our emotional pain, mood swings, grief, and over-reactions will respond without question.
So, Merry Christmas! And may you know that the Babe Who came into a swirl of mental turmoil will one day return to create a stable place of peace, both external and internal.