Room for a Blue Christmas

Now that we are deep into the holiday season, you have no doubt heard Elvis Presley crooning about a Blue Christmas more times than you can count. The song has become standard Christmas music fare, and Starbucks has been playing it for over a month now. It’s catchy and sexy, and it is also very real sentiment for many people during the holidays.

It’s kind of funny how everyone knows that the Christmas season can be “blue” for so many people, and yet we hardly ever acknowledge or make space for it. We are supposed to laugh and shop and dream and connect—but we’re never really given permission to grieve.

I know this might sound terribly pessimistic or depressing, but I wonder if our holiday traditions should include some moments for sorrow. I wonder if it would be healthier for our souls to not just soak in the cultural Christmas spirit but to also sit with someone in their sadness.

Remember, deep sorrow was a part of the original Christmas story. Alongside the hope from the birth of a Savior in Bethlehem, there was also great tragedy in Bethlehem. King Herod (a vicious ruler who murdered numerous members of his own household) commissioned a massacre of the baby boys in Bethlehem to eliminate any potential threat to his throne over the Jews. Not only does the Christmas story contain words like, “Peace on Earth” and “Good news of great joy” but it also says things like, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation” (Matthew 2:18).

I don’t think we should rebel against the wonder and joy that Christmas is supposed to bring; I’m not suggesting that we turn our celebrations into mourning. I just think we need to make a little space to remember and process the pain in our world. Perhaps if we did this fewer people would feel alone, and more of us would actually touch the hope of Christmas.


William’s 400-meter failure

EUGENE, OR - JUNE 23: Bryan Clay reacts after getting disqualified in the men's decathlon 110 meter hurdles during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)During the past few months I have been volunteering as the assistant track and field coach at my daughter’s high school. I’ve loved it, and it has been the fulfillment of a dream I’ve carried ever since I first met Pat Stahl, the track and field coach who profoundly shaped my life in high school.

Part of why I love track so much is that its lessons speak so profoundly to our spiritual journey. To spend a day on the track is to witness lessons about perseverance, work ethic, mental preparation, and hitting the wall. It is a sport about running with comrades and also running alone. It’s a tremendous sport that is jam-packed with spiritual truths and metaphors.

I experienced one of those lessons last week when William failed in the 400 meters.

He didn’t actually fail; he just thought he did. Leading up to our last track meet, William (not his real name) was about one second shy of qualifying for league finals in the 400-meter dash, and I was convinced that with some extra training and inspiration he would be able to qualify.

He worked incredibly hard all week, he ran the best race of his life in the meet, but he still failed to qualify. I was proud of him, I commended him for setting a personal record, and then I watched him slump under weighty feelings of personal failure and shame.

I am a competitor and I hate to lose so I understand the post-failing emotions that accompany a moment like William’s. However, after he apologized to me for the 10th time for failing to qualify I realized that something was wrong. He didn’t just feel failure; he felt a sense of shame.

As I spent the next thirty minutes trying to reinforce truth and liberate him from shame I realized that we do the exact same thing. Sometimes we work hard, do our best, fall short of our personal expectations, and then get taken out by shame.

I’m sure my words to William would echo God’s words to you: “I’ve seen your effort…I’m proud of you…you’re doing better than you realize…you’ll do even better next season…you are not a failure…now kick this shame to the curb because WE’VE GOT ANOTHER RACE TO RUN.”

The Gift Nobody Wants

painSeveral years ago a doctor wrote a small book entitled Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants. Understandably, the publishing company balked at the title, asserting that no one would purchase a book that hailed pain as a gift. Consequently, after a brief run, the word “pain” was dropped and the book was simply published as The Gift Nobody Wants.

The doctor, Paul Brand, had worked extensively with leprosy patients and was among the first to realize that leprosy did not specifically cause the sufferer’s extremities to rot away, but rather the disease caused the sufferer to lose the ability to sense pain.

This inability to discern pain caused men and women with leprosy to live boundary-less lives, wherein they routinely hurt themselves and didn’t even realize it. The essence of Dr. Brand’s message (along with his co-author Philip Yancey) was that pain is actually a gift that protects us.

Rather than an unpleasant sensation to despise at all costs, pain is a gift that lets us know when we’ve crossed certain boundaries. It allows us to discern when we’re at the end of our limits, and when we need to retract or regroup.

I hate pain. I wish that I and my loved ones would never have to touch another moment of it as long as we live, but I also know that it is indeed a gift. It’s a boundary former and a protector that forces us to live within healthier limits than we might otherwise choose.

If you’re hurting I pray that you would heal. But I also pray that the pain would draw you ever closer to God’s ultimate good will for your life, and reposition you for a lifetime of greater fruitfulness.

Heart Punch

heart punchHave you ever been punched in the heart? Not your literal, physical heart, but your more vulnerable internal one? You’ll know if you have, simply by gauging your emotional reaction to the term.

Heart punch.

It’s that blow that thuds into your emotions leaving you feeling sad, sickened, and despairing all at once.

It’s a blow that is thrown by friends or close acquaintances–strangers can’t usually punch our internal heart (they don’t have access to our more vulnerable sides). And it almost always happens in the context of relationships.

Hurts, misunderstandings, and unfair accusations can lead to poorly thought out words and phrases that slam into our hearts like sledgehammers. The blows leave us feeling bewildered and angry, confused and obsessed, and virtually unable to concentrate on extraneous things. We need help in moments like those, because heart punches affect our perspective and confidence, and their effects can be very difficult to shake off.

However it can be done. Healing can occur. Either the relationship will heal and grow stronger, or YOU will heal and grow stronger besides. That’s the fist step–simply acknowledging that the heart punch isn’t the end of the story.

Poorly placed words can be retracted and repented of. Confusion can be clarified. Hurts can be expressed, owned, renounced, and repaired. Misunderstandings can give way to clarity, and the agony of the heart punch can eventually fade away.

It will help if you don’t immediately punch back. Our nature when hurt is to either withdraw or lash out. If you are a withdraw-er, you risk nursing your wounds and dying of infection, and if you’re a lash out-er, you risk inflicting damage that might not need to occur.

Although it isn’t easy to uncoil the complexities that sometimes lead to heart punches, we need to commit to trying. Remember, the ministry to which we have been called is one of reconciliation. Reconciliation is never easy, but it is always worth the efforts it requires.

Suffering, in YOUR context

sufferingChristian suffering is not limited to the extreme cases that we hear about in the media. Certainly, the horrific persecutions of Christians (and other religious adherents) by groups like ISIS, and the unjust imprisonment of ministers like Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran can make the sufferings of our context seem negligible at best. However, regardless of the relative ease or discomfort of one’s position in life, Christianity contains suffering in its essence.

First and foremost, there is the unseen, internal suffering of the cross, as God inexorably calls us to ever-increasing levels of Christ-likeness. Although God loves and accepts us exactly as we are, He is committed to transforming us into His untarnished image and plan for our life. Like a battling chrysalis prior to its release from the cocoon, it is with struggle and striving that we wage solitary battles with our vulnerabilities and temptations. For some, these internal battles are only won after enduring protracted seasons of pain.

Beyond the unseen, internal sufferings of the life of Christian discipleship, we Christians are also prone to the general, universal grief and woes of humanity. Although God is our source of protection, comfort, and strength, it is our lot as humans to experience some of the sufferings of our race. If it rains on planet earth, Christians get wet too.

Finally, there are numerous cultural persecutions that accompany faith in Jesus Christ, from mild ridicule to outright hostility.

  • Jesus said these persecutions are cause for rejoicing!
  • His disciples said they were honored to suffer in His name.
  • The Apostle Paul said that persecutions are pathways to greater levels of glory.

Regardless of the form it takes or its degree of intensity, there is a measure of persecution that accompanies our followership of Jesus Christ. It has always been this way and it always will be, and for those whose hearts have been truly captivated by Him, suffering for His cause is an honor.

We don’t need to seek it out. Indeed, we are told to live as peaceably in our world as possible (Romans 12:18), but when suffering finds us—internally or externally—let’s embrace it as true devotees of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24)

Words like blows to the head

pain quoteIn Veronica Roth’s runaway hit novel Allegiant she writes: “It’s strange how a word, a phrase, a sentence, can feel like a blow to the head.”

She sure is right isn’t she? Painful words can hit us like sledgehammers, leaving us dazed, broken, and confused. We want to cry, defend, and lash out all at once, and when there is a seeming indifference in the offender, it’s even worse.  A spoken word can make us feel physically ill.

In those–and other–times of great pain and misunderstanding it is helpful to remember that pain can be an engraver’s tool that carves our life message a little more deeply into our soul.

When I feel mistreated, I vow to treat others well.

When I’m forced to carry the sting of rejection, I commit to never inflicting that sting.

As long as we don’t carry this too far and begin living our whole lives out of reactionary postures, this reflective vowing can serve us well. It can help us identify the kind of person we do and don’t want to be. It can remind us of the way we want others to feel in our presence, and it can bring our personal core values into a little sharper focus.

Mistreatment shines a spotlight on appropriate treatment, and it creates an opportunity for us to run toward that light.

Pain is inevitable, so let’s bear it cleanly, without letting it stain and soil our soul. Let’s take it to the cross of Jesus Christ and “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that (we) will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)

Struggling is good (Guest Post by Barry Bishop)


Me: Did you see that Facebook post that had the quote…”strength is the product of struggle.” ?

Bro: hmmm… maybe. Not sure

Me: Well, I couldn’t get it outta my mind…then God began to reveal some heavy stuff.

I always feel a negative connotation to saying “I’m struggling this week” or whatever…like when we say we’re “being accountable”.

God said the reason I feel that way is because I’m not truly struggling….I’m just sinning-no bones about it”

Bro: Hmmm… Dang, powerful.

So what do you do with that info?

Me: If I were truly “struggling” I would be stronger, building up strength that sharpens my ability to recognize the temptation, progressing over the sin and stronger in resisting and overcoming the sin.

Bro: Right on. I get it.

Me: If I am not stronger, I am not struggling…I’m just sinning (giving into sin)

Bro‬ And that is SO easy… I know that

Me: It’s a lie for me to say I’m “struggling” if I’ve already given into, or fallen, to the sin. Struggling is a positive thing…when I truly do it.

strug·gle  /ˈstrəgəl/


Make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.


A forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or resist attack.


verb. fight – wrestle – strive – combat – contend – battle

noun. fight – battle – combat – conflict – contest – wrestle

Bro: Wow… never looked that up. Makes so much sense what was spoken to you. This is awesome… God spoke to you and you listened. Proud of you!

Me: I am struggling

Bro: You’re putting up a fight though?

Me: It’s a fight today, but I AM STRUGGLING! Not sinning!

1 Timothy 4:10

This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.