Handling disappointment at Christmas

Are you ever disappointed at Christmas? I don’t mean by what you unwrap (you can return just about anything). I mean are you ever disappointed with the Christmas experience?

Have you hoped to connect emotionally with someone in your family, only to feel rejected? Have you planned an elaborate event, only to have it go unappreciated? Have longed for family approval, only to feel criticized?

If you’re like me, you’ve got a bit of Hallmark pervading your Christmas wishes. Everyone laughs and plays games and talks for hours about meaningful things. And no one argues about religion or politics, and no one is sick or stressed out or lonely or just plain irritating. (At least in your plans.)

So how should you handle your disappointments around a real holiday?

I honestly don’t know for sure. My immediate thoughts go to silver linings and lemonade and Tiny Tim, but those answers ring hollow and trite. Christmas is more difficult than those for real people with real heartaches.

I re-read the Christmas story this morning, and it caused me to contemplate Mary, the mother of Jesus. I expect her first Christmas wasn’t what she expected either. She made a long trip, 9 months pregnant, to arrive in an unfamiliar city with no where to spend the night. I expect she had contractions along the way. Maybe she was already in hard labor when Joseph carried her into a barn because all the inns in Bethlehem were full. Perhaps the innkeeper’s wife left her guests to be midwife to Mary; maybe Joseph and Mary struggled alone, figuring out how to bring a little life into the world.

Not just any life, either. The Savior of the world. That’s a pretty big expectation.

If they don’t paralyze us first, I would guess that disappointments and fears always birth the greatest revelations known to mankind. Perhaps recognizing a disappointment is the first step toward wonder. Maybe I can stave off holiday disappointment this year if I–

  • re-adjust my expectations
  • re-prioritize my values
  • re-examine the message of Christmas

I think God can use some ordinary, even disappointing experience I have this year to do something remarkable, if I let him–if I stand in wonder and lean into the experience. I think that’s what the angels were telling the shepherds on the Galilean hillside. Glory and wonder comes to those with expectations detached from their own pleasure and their own ambition. Awe comes to those doing ordinary life, who have a tender anticipation for the holy.

image by Linnaea Mallette