The holiday season can be a lonely, hard time for those of us who have particularly hard circumstances. Perhaps you have lost a loved one with whom you used to spend the holidays. Or maybe, like me, you live with chronic pain, and each day is hard beyond belief. Or perhaps your little ones are grown and the house is now empty on Christmas day. All of the these things can make the holiday season particularly hard to bear.
Holidays were hard for Sara Frankl, too. Sara had ankylosing spondolytis, an autoimmune disorder that resulted in degeneration of her spine, and it was accompanied by daily, intense pain. The medications required to manage the pain caused other numerous health issues. She began to develop life-threatening allergies, and in the last few years of her life, Sara was confined to her home. She couldn’t even open a window without experiencing allergic reactions and difficulty breathing. Because of that, she spent every holiday alone. After almost 2 decades of living with this condition, Sara passed away in 2009.
Sara’s beautiful philosophies of life and illness were preserved and her story retold by her friend, Mary Carver, in the book, Choose Joy. Her decision to choose gratitude and faith in God despite constant intense pain, breathing difficulties, and complete confinement to her home enabled her to have peace and joy in spite of it all. Sara firmly believed that God was using her illness for His glory, even if she couldn’t see it at the time. She said,
“I know that if God didn’t have a purpose for my illness, He would have taken it away from me by now….I’m okay with not knowing why this is happening to me because I know He knows why. It’s not about me; it’s about what He can do with me. My job is simply to pay attention [in the rainstorms] and enjoy the rainbows.” –Sara Frankl, Choose Joy
Sara found this inner strength and joy as she chose to focus on the promises of God and the blessings in her life. Pain tries to convince us that we have no blessings, but that is simply not true. It is up to us to recognize that the blessings are there and then to focus on them instead of focusing on the difficulties we live with. Sara knew this was true, and each day she made a purposeful choice to live with gratitude.
“I choose the joy. When something is going badly and I’m dwelling on it, I think instead of something for which I am grateful…. It’s just as simple as that. You just have to decide today, and again tomorrow. And before you know it, you’ll have an attitude of joy.” -Sara Frankl, Choose Joy
If the holiday season finds you alone and without joy, try just one (or all, if you like) of the following suggestions to lift your spirits:
1. Each day think of 3-5 reasons for gratitude in your life. Write each reason on green and red strips of paper and make a chain to decorate your home with. Pretty soon your walls will be filled with tangible reasons for joy in your life.
2. Read through an advent devotional that will help you begin to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Allow God to fill your heart with the things that He wants you to see in this hard season. Write these things down in a journal so you can remind yourself of what God is teaching you. Use the same journal next year, and the year after that. In the future, you will be able to go back to this journal to remember the way God has taught and sustained you over the years.
3. Make Christmas cards for the residents of a nearby retirement home. As you reach out to others in your loneliness, you will be blessed by helping to cheer others who are alone during the holidays.
4. Keep up your holiday traditions. Put up a Christmas tree, even if it is only 2 feet tall! Go to the craft fair, drive around to see the holiday light displays, and don’t forget to go see the Christmas parade! There’s no reason you can’t still enjoy doing these things, even if you are alone. If these activities cause some tears and memories of years gone by, let the tears bring with them emotional release so that you can still relish the good times.
5. Volunteer at a local food pantry, hospice house, or homeless shelter. There is nothing that will help you realize your blessings more than seeing first-hand those who have even less. Helping others brings with it incredible blessings.
6. Find encouragement and support by joining an online group like God-Living Girls (an encouragement group for women with chronic illness at http://www.facebook.com/groups/godlivinggirls). The wonderful thing about social media is that you can find friends and make connections with others right from your favorite chair in your own living room.
7. Invite someone who is alone to spend Christmas with you. Even if you only eat ham sandwiches with cranberry sauce on the side, you will both be able to experience the joy of friendship. Share your favorite Christmas memories or watch favorite holiday movies. Turn it into a day of celebration instead of sorrow.
Disclaimer: The author and God-Living with Chronic Illness do not receive any compensation for references to specific people, books or websites. The ideas posted are not intended as medical advice and should not be taken as such in place of your physician’s recommendations. You are welcome to share this post to those you know that may benefit from reading it, but please respect the copyright privileges of the author.
Laurie Miller is a wife, mom, nurse, and patient who lives with chronic illness and pain. She blogs at God-Living with Chronic Illness, a website dedicated to providing spiritual encouragement and resources for those living with chronic pain or illness. She is also a chronic illness coach who provides chronic illness education and guidance to help people learn to manage their chronic illnesses and find a level of health they haven’t been able to achieve on their own. For more information about coaching opportunities, contact Laurie at Godlivinggirl1@gmail.com.