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“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
This famous line from a Dr. Seuss book is the stuff of countless memes and inspirational posters. At the risk of sounding like his infamous Grinch, it makes me gag on my turkey.
Aren't we allowed to feel opposite emotions at the same time without beating ourselves up because we’re not feeling as 100% grateful as we think we should?
Whole cranberry sauce is my favorite holiday side dish, which is weird because I don’t even like those tart little berries. But when you add sugar and orange juice and cook the ruby-red mix until it thickens, a mysterious alchemy takes place. What was sour is now so satisfying sweet.
Odd how that works.
After our kids and their friends left last week, I wandered around the house feeling bluer than the Carolina sky. I had reveled in decorating the house with our pilgrim family on the hutch and autumnal gourds scattered in the bread bowl. I enjoyed ironing the linens, peeling potatoes, and dressing the turkey.
I loved every minute of hosting loved ones around our table, aware how blessed we were to have both family and food when many do not.
And yet when the special day was over and everyone had left, I was ashamed of myself for feeling sad.
Thanksgiving 2022 is in the books, and you’re probably in full warp-speed preparing for Christmas celebrations less than a month away. You had a fabulous feast last week with family and friends, and you’ve no reason to suspect that Christmas will be anything less than stellar.
Instead, you may have been alone last Thursday or grieving the loss of loved ones who used to gather around your table. Family dynamics have changed, and there is estrangement rather than connection. And though you don’t want to admit it, you’re dreading Christmas a bit because of those who won’t be there.
I get it, having lost my own parents during the holidays – one just before Thanksgiving, the other at Christmas. If you’re a Christ follower, you feel guilty to be melancholic because the celebration of the Incarnation is about Him, not us.
So what do we do with the shame and the self-blame when we don’t feel as grateful as we know we should be?
Here’s how I’m planning to recalibrate my heart for the upcoming holidays.
First, remember that we human beings are wonderfully complex. We’re fully capable of holding contrary emotions in our heads and hearts. Theologian J.I. Packer taught that the ability to live with tension is a mark of spiritual maturity.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Rom.12:15
Secondly, when blame and shame (let’s call them BS for short), present themselves as side dishes, take a pass. They taste nasty and you know whose kitchen they come from.
“He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.” 1 Corinthians 1:8
Finally, when it comes time to set your festal table this December, you’ll need a place for two important guests, invited or not.
Sorrow may well make an appearance, sitting with mournful eyes. She carries your pain.
Acknowledge Sorrow’s presence. She has a right to be there. Because you loved that one so well, Sorrow etches their memory-stone on your heart, ensuring you never forget.
But Gratitude will come to your table as well. She too will bring the gift of remembrance – the full-throated laughter and incredulous wonder that you should ever have known such joy in one brief life.
Bid both guests welcome, but offer sustenance only to the second. Feed Gratitude, and she’ll recompense you by becoming a regular guest in your home. Offer her the hospitality of your heart.
So yes, you can cry because it’s over. And smile because it happened in the first place.
You’ve got permission.
It’s like cranberry sauce with whipped cream on top.
- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2022
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