10 Ways to Overcome a Sense of Christmas Loss

Christmas tree gifts

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. As the song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”. But, for some people, Christmas can be a miserable time. Many have lost a loved one, suffered the end of a significant relationship, or even had a severe personal loss of income or health and Christmas is a just another reminder of what they no longer have. If we aren’t careful, the joy of Christmas is covered over with the emotions of loss, and rather than appreciating what we have or looking forward to what’s to come, we find ourselves in Christmas misery.

In a recent Christmas message, I shared some suggestions for dealing with the emotions of Christmas loss. I consulted with two professional Christian counselors in our church Jennifer Degler and Elizabeth Ellis. With their advice and some of my own, I’m offering some practical ways to overcome that sense of Christmas loss.

Ideally, Christ is the answer (and in the message I make that clear). Apart from Christ there is no Christmas and there is no peace. These are not designed to take the place of that truth, but rather to give some practical things to help you deal with loss at Christmas.

Here are 10 ways to overcome a sense of Christmas loss:

List your losses – Death, divorce, injury, finances…children moved out this year…whatever they are…write them down. I’ve personally found journaling to be helpful. Admit the pain…write them down.

Share them – Certainly with God, but with a close friend, or with people who have experienced your loss. Don’t be ashamed to see a professional counselor. Find support in a Bible study group or prayer group. We were designed for community, especially for times like this.

Grieve the loss – Every loss must be grieved. The intensity of the grief may be determined by the intensity of the loss. Some form of depression is a normal response to grief. We’ve almost created a culture where we think suffering is abnormal. Don’t be afraid to grieve…even publicly at times. It’s okay to be human.

Resist falling into despair – That’s where you live in a false reality that all hope is gone. It’s not. By the way, you don’t do that by ignoring them.

Take care of your physical body- Eat well, exercise, and get adequate rest. It’s more important during a sense of loss.

Be aware of negative thinking – Catch the negative thoughts and replace them with thoughts that are positive and true. See Philippians 4:8.

Do something for someone else – There are many opportunities during the holidays to help people. Helping other people reminds us that loss is universal and that other people are struggling with you.

Force yourself to participate in social activities – You won’t feel like it, but social support is critical in recovering from loss. No one benefits by becoming a recluse. In fact, you actually increase the likelihood you will become clinically depressed.

Avoid the comparison game – Don’t compare your losses to other people’s losses. Significant loss naturally makes us focus inward, but that never works. And, it’s dangerous.

Honor you losses with new traditions – Begin some new family rituals that will help you reflect on the good things you experienced with the person you have lost or will help you remember happier days to come.

I shared one more suggestion, one I believe is the most powerful of all, in the Christmas message. It’s this: We have to learn to worship in tears. Obviously, Christ is the peace of Christmas, and He can fill your brokenness. You can trust Him. This Christmas, let the Christ of Christmas fill the void and loss you have in your heart and life.

You can find all my messages on my Vimeo page at vimeo.com/ronedmondson. This message is titled Obstacles to Christmas Joy: Loss.

6 Tips for Happier, Healthier Relationships

family prayer

It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving. Then Christmas. Family and friends. Good food and good times.

Mostly.

Truthfully, this time of year is especially stressful for some. I am not referring, in this post, to the ones who have lost loved ones this year. That’s especially difficult. My prayers go out for you. I’m talking about those who have living “loved ones”…positionally speaking at least.

The holidays expose many people to broken relationships, hurt feelings, grudges from the past. Many will have to be around people, by default, that they wouldn’t choose to be around unless those people were blood relatives…or in-laws…or friends who aren’t your friends, but come with the package of celebration. They will be there…and the reality of that causes you to be less enthusiastic about celebrating this year.

That’s true, isn’t it? And, the truth hurts sometimes…doesn’t it?

(Raise your hand if that’s your story.).

What should you do? How should you respond to the one who has hurt you the most…or who always seems to say the wrong thing…or who is…honestly…even mean at times? How do you respond to the most difficult relationships in your life?

I want to encourage the Biblical approach.

Here are six tips:

Bite your tongue – When you are tempted to snap back…don’t. Sure, it will be difficult…even seemingly unfair at times, but see it as spiritual discipline training. (James 1:26)

Extend grace – Forgive. Let go of a grudge. Even though it may not be received well and nothing may change in the relationship, it will change you. (1 Peter 4:10, Colossians 3:13)

Put on another’s shoes – Anyone who hurts you…has a story. Usually they were hurt too…by someone. Remember…hurt people…hurt people. Think about where the other person is coming from before (or as) you encounter them. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Practice patience – Be honest, some relationships require more patience than you thought you had, don’t they? But, isn’t that what we are called to do as believers? It is a “fruit of the spirit”. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Exercise humility – When we humble ourselves, we may get taken advantage of at times, but God always rewards humility. Who knows? It may be the break point in the relationship. (James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6)

Pray for them – The last one is sometimes the most difficult…but oh how Biblical! Prayer releases the burden to the burden bearer…the One whose yoke is easy…the One who paid for your sins. Prayer can even change the dynamics of a relationship. Pray for the awkward, difficult, shattered and broken relationships in your life…and the people who caused them. In the most tense moments this holiday season, slip away and pray. (Matthew 5:44)

Apply liberally, as needed.

You’ll have healthier, happier relationships this Thanksgiving and Christmas season…and even into the New Year.

Do you have a difficult relationship facing you? What tips do you have?

5 Tips for Amateur Prayers Like Me

prayer

Lord, teach us to pray…

(Luke 11:1)

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the disciples. I am still learning to pray. The fact is I have more knowledge of prayer than I have substance and practice of prayer.

Just being honest.

Here are 5 suggestions for amateur prayers…like me:

Be respectful – You’re talking to the Creator God. He is worthy of all our praise. He’s the Holy Father. He puts stars in the sky. At the same time, He paints the belly of a Lady Bug. Never take for granted the privilege of prayer.

Be yourself – Along with being respectful, it is important to be who you are. Don’t attempt to make your words pretty as much as you attempt to make your heart pure. Just as you want your children to be respectful, yet still be themselves, I am convinced God wants that for His children. We are told to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). He wants us to fall in the comfy chair of home in His presence.

Be honest – God knows already, yet He loves to hear His children talk. Just like we do as parents. He wants to know what’s on our mind. We can tell Him if we are angry and still be respectful. Speak truthful when talking to God.

Be open to His voice – Spend intentional time listening, with your Bible open. God most often speaks through the already written Word. But He also speaks through the still small voice like the gentle breeze. Over time…and with lots of practice…you’ll begin to know and hear His voice.

Be consistent – Pray as much as you want and need God’s involvement in your life. How much is that? For me, that’s fairly constant. I pray far less than the need I have for Him. Have a daily routine. Start a prayer list. Do it daily. But mostly, do it as a part of lifestyle more than a part of routine. It’s a relationship. And He’s always with you, so take advantage of the closeness you can have through Christ. If you’re sitting at a stop light…pray. If you think of a friend…pray. If you begin to worry…pray. It can be a paragraph, sentence or a couple words. (I’ve prayed “Help me God!” many times.) Don’t overcomplicate it. Just pray. Talk to God. What a privilege that I can encourage you in this way. (Hebrews 4:16)

Of course, all this begins with a simple belief in Christ as your Savior. That is what makes you His child. If you’ve never believed in the One whom lived, died and rose again three days later…begin there.

What tips do you have for us amateur prayers?

7 Vital Components of Church Revitalization

Word cloud in puzzle shape with self development terms.

As you may know, I recently entered into a season of church revitalization. I’ve done something similar previously in ministry. My first church was similar.

Then I assisted in the planting of two churches (as a senior leader of both) and fell in love with the energy I saw in starting something new. At the same time, I continued to be concerned for churches like the one in which I was raised. The church that has seen better days. I became more convinced that we need new energy in both.

So here I am again. And, this experience is giving me the opportunity, fueled by this platform, to speak not only to church planters (who I still love by the way), but also those who are attempting church revitalization. In the process. I’m learning some things. There appear to be some vital elements for a healthy revitalization to occur.

Granted, the Holy Spirit must show up and God must be glorified. That can admittedly happen with a room of donkeys, but in general terms, working with normal church people (whatever that means :) ) there are components which need to be in place to see a church revitalize.

Here are 7 vital components in church revitalization:

Admitting you need to revitalize – That’s hard isn’t it? Recently a senior member of our church visited another church that has undergone revitalization. She saw the excitement and came back with a new understanding. Her comment to one of our staff members was, “We have to change some things, don’t we? We don’t have a choice!” The church as a whole must come to that level of understanding.

Letting go of right to control - This is what makes or breaks revitalization in many churches. If the “No Change Allowed” sign is hung…or even the “but not that change”…on issues that aren’t even Biblical, then revitalizing the church will be very difficult.

A vision of something better – What’s next for this church? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? There must be a compelling vision, such as loving a community for Christ and clear avenues for people to be involved in reaching that vision.

A history worth revitalizing – This will be the toughest part of this post. There are some toxic churches that seem to have never been healthy. They’ve run off every pastor they’ve called. Many of these churches wouldn’t follow Jesus well either. They are stuck in systems and personal agendas and aren’t going to budge. (I realize that’s a cruel statement, but it’s a sad reality.)

Leadership willing to lead change – This is more than the pastor. In many cases, the pastor is only the figure head of vision and change. Change is hard. It requires trusted leaders within the church willing to step up and lead along side the pastor. I wrote recently the difference in trust and popularity as a leader. Read that post HERE and understand the difference. It’s what makes collective leadership that much more important, especially in the early days of revitalization.

The tenacity to weather storms – It won’t be easy. It’s far easier to start something than to try to grow again after a period of decline. Some pastors, leaders and churches have the patience. Some don’t.

A few committed people – You need some people already established in the church who love the church more than their personal agenda. These might be leaders or might not. Many times newer people attracted during times of change don’t have the roots or credibility to do this. As great as they are…and even with them as a primary focus…the church needs longer term people to embrace a new future. These people have to support the pastor, speak up for the changes and create an atmosphere conducive for growth again.

Well, those are my candid observations. They aren’t based solely on opinion, but they certainly aren’t a product of extensive research either. They are derived from hundreds of conversations with other pastors and personal experience.

What do you think?

The Elasticity of the Heart

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

I’ve learned through hard lessons that a stretched heart never returns exactly the same.

The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart.” I think part of the reason is that once the heart stretches, it’s changed. Forever.

Let’s say you had a dream. You pursued it with passion. It didn’t work out. You failed. But, in the process you stretched your heart for something new. You’ll have to find yet another dream to fill the void you created by stretching.

You thought you had the job. You were beginning to get excited about it. You even looked at houses in the area. You didn’t get the job. Your heart stretched. You will have to refuel your passion where you are now or you’ll be miserable. Your heart was stretched.

You felt a call to ministry at some point in your life, but you ignored it. Or something happened. You’re not serving right now and your heart is empty. Your stretched heart has never been the same.

And, it works in other ways too. You looked at things online you shouldn’t have seen. Now you want more. And more. You can’t seem to find satisfaction. You stretched your heart.

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

My advice is to find something to fill the new space you have created. You can’t just “get over it”.

You have to fill the void left behind because of the stretching. That may require prayer, discipline, accountability, practice or even counseling. Maybe all of them.

But your stretched heart is too important to ignore.

Above all else…guard your heart“. (Proverbs 4:23)