Sometimes circumstances in our lives can be so difficult we find it hard to celebrate holidays with joy. With Thanksgiving approaching this week, my mind drifted to one of those periods for me twelve years ago. We were going through a very difficult time with one of our daughters, and she suddenly moved out of our house the day before Thanksgiving, taking our eight-month-old granddaughter with her. The word, devastated, isn’t strong enough to describe my heart that day. I cried myself to sleep and woke up crying Thanksgiving morning.
Being happy and thankful seemed impossible even though I knew I had much to be grateful for. Ever been there?
As Christians, all we have to do is look to God’s Word to find a multitude of reasons to be joyful.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ephesians 1:3
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
If Jesus never did one more thing for us besides die on the cross for our sins, that’s enough to praise Him the rest of our lives.
But our human side kicks in a lot of times, and depression can take hold like a vice squeezing us, rendering us incapable of climbing out of the pit of despair. I understand what that’s like. And I know I’m not alone in the struggle to find joy when you’re broken hearted.
Although the idea that suicide rates increase during the holidays is a myth, depression can certainly be magnified when you sit at your holiday table, or around the tree on Christmas, and a loved one is missing. Whether that be because of death, broken relationships, or just distance that prevents the family from being together, sadness can take over.
Sadness is a normal reaction to pain, but depression goes deeper. It’s more than sadness.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities.
If these symptoms persist for a period of at least two weeks, it is considered a depressive episode.
Uncertain if you’re depressed? You can take a 3-minute quiz here.
There is no one cause for depression, as it depends on a unique combination of an individual’s genetic makeup and environmental conditions. There are many factors to take into account:
The brain’s physical structure or chemistry
History of depression in the family
History of other disorders (anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder)
Stressful traumatic events (abuse, financial issues, death of a loved one)
Hormone changes (menstrual cycles, pregnancy)
Certain medications (sleeping aids, blood pressure medication)
Just as there are different causes for depression, there are different types. Although different, many have similar symptoms.
Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or emptiness
Irritability, frustration, or restlessness
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that used to be enjoyable
Difficulty sleeping, sleep disturbances or sleeping too much
Fatigue and lack of energy
Difficulty thinking clearly, remembering, concentrating, or making decisions
Appetite or weight changes
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or back pain
Do you, or someone you love, exhibit any of the above signs? Get help. There’s no shame in reaching out to a therapist who can help you work through the pain in your life.
Sometimes depression is caused by a specific event and is temporary. Other times, it’s due to a chemical imbalance in your brain and you will need medication.
Don’t let pride keep you from seeking the help you need to live your best life.
Reach out to a family member or friend who can walk with you toward healing. I’ve sought professional help several times over the years. Just having a neutral party to talk to can work wonders.
Maybe you don’t contend with depression. But is someone you love struggling and even having suicidal thoughts?
Take action with these five steps outlined by the National Institute on Mental Health:
- Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
- Keep Them Safe: Asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
- Be There: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research shows that acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce suicidal thoughts.
- Help Them Connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number in your phone – 1-800-273-8255. Help the person connect with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
- Stay Connected: Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
Please be assured there is hope to smile again—to have joy in the journey.
As hard as that Thanksgiving was twelve years ago, it’s now a distant memory, and my relationship with my daughter is better than ever.
God has filled my life with a multitude of blessings and, no doubt, He has filled your life, too. It may be difficult to see those blessings at the moment but take heart. This season will pass.
I have no pat answers or a magic prayer that can pull you out of depression and fill you with joy. But I have a God in Heaven who has the answers and can provide all the joy you need to take each step through your sadness. Reach out to Him today. Let His love overwhelm you and carry you through the pain.
Join the conversation. Can you share a verse to encourage someone experiencing a lack of joy this holiday season? How did you find hope in the midst of pain or depression?