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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Turning Around the Holiday Blues

I love this time of year! I love giving presents and I love cooking and celebrating with family. BUT, this is also the time of year when returning home to family sometimes includes a heaping pile of sadness or loneliness – even in a room full of people. If allowed to fester, loneliness and sadness can lead to shame and guilt that doesn’t just end in a bad aftertaste – but an overwhelming sense of regret or season of depression.

Would it help if I introduced you to a Biblically Jewish way to approach a family reunion that could set you on a clear path to a better New Year?

A Biblical Example

I am so grateful that following the Jewish reading cycle ALWAYS has us studying the life of Joseph during the Christmas season! Why? Because the ‘miracle-in-motion’ of Joseph’s life being saved by God’s master plan – in spite of his own brother’s stupid decision to sell him into slavery – restored Joseph to his father and his family tree after all. And, whether you have ever read the story for yourself or not, that is the story God has kept alive for 3500 years to remind us that there is NOTHING that God cannot redeem when we forgive one another and recognize God really does have a master plan for each of us that is for our good after all – because momentary sin does not have to destroy your whole life – forgiveness is a gift that multiplies. Light always overcomes darkness – not the other way around. But here’s a new way to look at things: Guilt can be overcome with shame. What?

I know, who wants to talk about shame around the holidays? Please hear the heart of the matter from someone who knows. When you learn to recognize shame in the moment – in the PRESENT – then guilt becomes powerless because shame can’t hide behind it anymore. Let me use myself as an example, and maybe this can help you think through what I am trying to convey:

A Personal Example

I am ashamed of the way I behaved at our last family reunion. I was sad, I hadn’t seen my mother’s family since her funeral. It was a shame we never got together for a happy reason and now,since we all know we should care – we planned a reunion. But, I barely know these people. They look like me. I want to love them, but I miss my mom and they are mad that they did not get to see her. She was ashamed she had cancer. I was her caretaker and I was trying to honor her request to be left alone. But, did I do the right thing? Should I have ignored mom’s grief and let them say good bye?

Looking back, I wished I had. I regret not letting them comfort one another, because even sadness heals past hurts. I regret not letting them in, because now I don’t have any memories of them comforting me either. So, at the family reunion, I did what our family does, I hid my pain and had a glass of wine to forget. Looking back, I can see my mistake.

Common Family Regrets

Think about what people say to one another – after a family get together:

“Boy, mom looks good for her age, it’s such a shame Dad doesn’t take her out on the town once in a while. I’m going to get them tickets to a show for her birthday this year. That’ll give them both an excuse to get out for some fun on the town next month.”

Guilt is feeling bad for years afterward when Dad unexpectedly isn’t there next year.

“Wow, what a shame Tony’s boy didn’t come to dinner again this Thanksgiving. I caught Mom crying over him after Tony left to have dessert at his ex-wife’s place – hopefully with his son. Hmm, I wonder if Nick is even going to community college anymore? I should check up on that kid, he’s family.”

Guilt is feeling bad for years afterward finding out that Tony wasn’t even welcome at his ex-wife’s, and his boy never showed up for dessert in the first place or even called during the holiday season.

Guilt is the weight of feeling bad once the “fullness of time” has turned good intentions into vain imagination. Depression can creep in when we get pulled under by regret. Regret is an emotion that drains, and amplifies sadness.

So, be especially careful to remember that TIME always moves forward. That makes looking back a REVERSE mechanism. I teach my children that reverse mechanism is a function of TIME AND SPACE. Guilt and depression are weighty because they FILL things, like your mind and heart and thoughts. But, shame is a state of being, and shame can only occupy the space you are in AT THE TIME.

Generally, I am a happy person – intense but happy. When I get sad about the past, I have to make a conscious effort to organize my thoughts and strain out the regret of the past so guilt and depression can’t take root in my thinking. And, since HOPE is always forward thinking, the tried and true momentum function of love that God fuels, let’s give this a try:

I can look back at the way I behaved at the family reunion and apologize to God for not praying first and walking in unprepared for the raw emotions people would have seeing me after my mom had died. I could have had compassion for how sad THEY must have felt missing her and not being able to say goodbye. I can rest knowing their issues are not mine, but I lost out, too. I wish I could find comfort in who they were to my mom,and maybe I could be a reminder of all the reasons they did love her. Hey! I bet they know stories about her I have never even heard. Is that something to consider? Maybe I will pray about that, too, and maybe I will try to do better. Meanwhile, I can teach my own children how to be better friends and to trust each other – in good times and bad. Bad memories are just that – memories. But now, life is real and if I am in a situation that is painful – it is okay to hurt as long as I am PRESENT and willing to bring light into the darkness that can heal.

The Take Away

Dulling pain with self-medicating, or internalizing anger or avoiding awkward social situations entirely, are all human answers to relational issues. The Bible is FILLED with precious intel about restoring your family tree – and I love that Joseph’s story is the Jewish style of family focused ministry. Make no mistake – the word forgiveness STARTS in his story – and HIS Story. THE REASON FOR THE SEASON is that we all need forgiveness to keep being family – generation after generation after generation.

The Babe Yeshua came to pay for the sin of rebellion that caused the SHAME of Adam and Eve in the garden. Evil causes shame – God created shame to save us from living a life of endless guilt and eternal regret– so START NOW! Let’s relook at the guilt scenarios above and reframe them with hope in God’s faithfulness.

“Boy, mom looks good for her age, it’s such a shame Dad doesn’t take her out on the town once in a while. I’m going to get them tickets to a show for her birthday this year. That’ll give them both an excuse to get out for some fun on the town next month.”

INSTEAD of feeling guilt for years and years, apologize to your mom! Tell her that you’re ashamed of not acting on what you had wanted to do and let her feel your heart of love towards her. Then take her out for a night on the town and laugh all night about all the good times you had with Dad! Take new pictures and thank God for new beginnings!

“Wow, what a shame Tony’s boy didn’t come to dinner again this Thanksgiving. I caught Mom crying over him after Tony left to have dessert at his ex-wife’s place – hopefully with his son. Hmm, I wonder if Nick is even going to community college anymore? I should check up on that kid, he’s family.”

INSTEAD of feeling that pang of guilt every time you think about your brother, call him! Let him know you are ashamed and sorry that you didn’t reach out earlier, but you are reaching out now. And, even if the external family drama is not something you can fix or change, you can personally invite them to the next family gathering! And, giving mom a hug and helping her shrug off her own feelings of past regrets can help a lot.

People can live with guilt for years and years. And hiding behind that guilt is usually fear and shame, anger and disappointment. Let shame bring all those negative things to light and then watch as they leave once you ask for forgiveness!

The Light of the World is growing brighter and brighter! The LIGHT of the Hanukkah season overcame any darkness that defiled us from within – like hopelessness or unforgiveness or rebellion. Now, awash from within, as Children of Light, the Ruach Elohim (the Holy Spirit) can be seen by people all around us as we join the hustle and bustle of the upcoming worldwide celebration of Messiah’s Birth. As believers in Messiah Yeshua, Jesus Christ, don’t let your light be dimmed with the age-old worry and guilt that this time of year can bring as family reunion plans get finalized. Just work through tearing down the things that are trying to hide that light – slowly, gently, but persistently.

Your time is ONLY a true gift to others when you are present in the moment. You are God’s gift wherever you bear good fruit. Bring your presents with His Presence as your armor bearer. Together, presents and Presence are a sure soul winning gift. Thank God for your relatives and enjoy the holiday. Just remember… Looking into the rear view mirror works best by taking your foot off the brake – just don’t put it on the accelerator!

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