Holiday/Seasonal Suffering

Whether it’s illness (depression, anxiety, pain, etc.), the common triggers of departed loved ones departed and family separated from us by distance or even various unexpected changes in life, the holidays are, for many, a time full of suffering. I know this year I’m just feeling worn out in general and although I’m not having a bad Advent it’s not the one I had hoped to have. So much for more time for reflection on the meaning of the life Christ came into this world to bring us. It’s not over just yet but it seems there’s only been little bits and pieces of that woven through our Advent wreath prayers and O, Antiphons and my eclectic Advent/winter music mix (and those Christmas hymns that I think of as good year-round).

Then there are circumstances that make gift giving more challenging this year and, as always it seems with me, right down to the line, so there’s the additional pressures of meeting deadlines when one is suffering and thereby slowed down. I’m feeling overwhelmed by the material things of the world and frustrated that I can’t be more focused on the spiritual things of life. But then I serendipitously came across these words of one of my personal heroes, Vincent van Gogh, during a time when he was working as a teacher and feeling pretty overwhelmed himself it seems. His letters from that period are “packed with long quotes from the Bible, poems, and hymns about struggles, sorrows, lost dreams, and his faith in God.”

Must man not struggle here on earth? You must have felt so when you were ill. No victory without a battle, no battle without suffering…No, being ill and being supported by God’s arm and acquiring new ideas and resolutions, which couldn’t occur to us when we weren’t ill, and acquiring clearer faith and firmer trust during those days, no that’s not a bad thing.

Letter 95, Isleworth, October 1876, Van Gogh’s Inner Struggle: Life, Work, & Mental Illness; Secrets of Van Gogh, Vol. 2, Liesbeth Heenk, p. 9.

And you know what? He’s absolutely right! My struggles this Advent have been helping me acquire a clearer faith and firmer trust in God, even though my feelings don’t always match my head’s assessment. So to all of you who are struggling–and I’m sure the majority of you have struggles that make mine seem trite, just as there are those below me on the ladder of suffering who feel the same way regarding mine–let’s remember what Scripture instructs us:

“If one member suffers, all suffer together.” 1 Cor 12:26a RSV-CE

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katie
    Dec 23, 2014 @ 09:36:01

    Thank you for writing this. You are right, when one member suffers we all suffer. I have a hard time not comparing my insides with other people’s outsides this time of year, which is always a mistake for me.

    Thanks for your pointer towards the “O” Antiphons. Music provides a heartline into the spiritual for me – even when I feel too rushed to connect to sporadic personal scripture. We sang LSB 386 last Sunday: “Now Sing We, Now Rejoice”, to the tune “In Dulci Jubileo”. Verse two helped me a lot.

    “Come from on high to me; I cannot rise to Thee.
    Cheer my wearied spirit, O pure and holy Child;
    Through Thy grace and merit, Blest Jesus, Lord most mild,
    Draw me unto Thee! Draw me unto Thee!”

    Love to you and a most merry Christmas.

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    • readytobewriting
      Dec 23, 2014 @ 09:42:16

      Thank you for sharing your perspective of “I have a hard time not comparing my insides with other people’s outsides this time of year, which is always a mistake for me.” This is a great gift for me to carry around when I’m struggling with my limits.
      Love and a very blessed Christmas to you and yours!

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  2. Beckie Peterson
    Jan 07, 2015 @ 02:38:54

    I too struggled with a lot about the Christmas season this year, due to my headaches and other problems. But I realized that it was the material side of Christmas that I was struggling most with so I decided to let that part go. I put up no tree or decorations, Bought very few gifts and didnt even wrap those. I did very little baking other than for gift fruit and treat baskets our church gave out. But I did go caroling with my church, watched the Christmas program, went to the Christmas eve service and other church activities that surrounded the TRUE meaning of the holiday. The worldly parts just didnt appeal to me this year. Maybe that was the lesson I needed to learn. Christmas came without ribbons and bows, or a huge dinner. It came in my soul, where the love of God has grown much stronger these past few months.

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    • readytobewriting
      Jan 07, 2015 @ 07:53:39

      Thanks for taking the time to share! I love the last line of your comment:
      “[Christmas] came in my soul, where the love of God has grown much stronger these past few months.”
      I pray it will continue to do so for you and all of us in 2015.

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