I love lists. I really do. As a matter of fact, I’m itching to make a grocery list right now. Then I want to make another to-do list, because the one I wrote two days ago is missing several things — some I’ve already done, but writing them down just to cross them off makes sense to me.
So when the end of the year rolls around and every media outlet in the world begins compiling year-end and best-of lists, I am in my nerdy, happy place. When I first began blogging, I took the opportunity of this trend to share some of my own best-of lists, sharing the best blog posts I’d read that year, the best blog posts I’d written (in my humble opinion, of course) that year, my favorite recipes from the year, and [of course] my favorite TV shows and movies from the year.
It was fun and I assumed I’d make it an annual practice. But some years don’t have much in the “best of” category.
Instead, in some years I’ve felt called to share my thoughts about how, sometimes, the holidays aren’t the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve talked about giving up on holiday bucket lists, how to cope when the holidays make you sad, and the cure for feeling like this year just doesn’t feel like Christmas.
These thoughts have been heavy on my mind and heart recently not just because this year was rough. Even though I [temporarily] felt like running away, was fairly certain I was drowning — literally at times, and faced more than one decision where the right choice didn’t feel good, all of those challenges were temporary and ended in so much gratitude and growth that I can’t possibly complain.
I could probably manage to come up with a few “best of” lists for this year — and I might still do that.
But a few years ago? Well, one year in particular was hard in ways I never could have imagined and do not ever want to relive. As I crawled to the finish line that December, the only thing I was truly thankful for was the end of that season. I couldn’t look back, I didn’t feel like reflecting, and even if pressed I might not have come up with a single “best” for the entire previous 12 months.
In one year my brother-in-law had died in a motorcycle accident, my husband and I had spent months in counseling fighting for our marriage, and my daughter had exhibited horrible behavior issues that we simply didn’t know how to deal with. Looking at that little list in black and white, a year removed, it doesn’t seem all that bad. BUT, OH, IT WAS.
So what do we do when our year’s best-of list comes up empty?
1. Start by keeping it in perspective. This season won’t last forever. The calendar — and the cycle of life’s ups and downs — will turn over eventually. His mercies truly ARE fresh every morning, every New Year’s Day, every time we turn to Him.
2. Count your blessings — small as they may be. Keeping a gratitude journal or listing your 1000 gifts may seem insincere or even impossible during difficult times. But I truly believe God takes our tiny offerings of gratitude and increases them until our hearts are softened and our perspectives are changed in a way we simply can’t do with closed hands.
3. Give yourself permission to grieve. Some things are really, really hard to live through. Some challenges seem never-ending or unfair or just too much. It’s okay to feel that sadness. God is close to the brokenhearted — which means He knows full and well that we will have times of grief where this life is too much to bear. Lean into it for a time, and lean into Him. It’s okay to be sad for a while; He can take it better than we can when we try to hold it in and carry it alone.
4. Cling to hope and look forward to next year. Even if you can’t celebrate the holidays with the spirit you normally do . . . even if Christmas carols and trees full of ornaments and the perfect gift beautifully wrapped simply remind you of what you’re missing this year . . . even if your only resolution for next year is to have a better year because this one stunk . . . remember Hope. The world was dark when Jesus came that first Christmas — just like it may be dark this Christmas. He came to offer hope, because He IS Hope. So even when the holidays are hard, remember you have Hope.
Those are the things I wish I’d known to do the first time my “best of” list came up empty. Because sure enough, the next calendar year did bring a fresh outlook and a renewed heart. I know difficult years will happen again, but most seasons are full of blessings both small and large. And recognizing that after seasons full of so much pain makes a year’s best-of list even sweeter. This year, once again, I’m thankful to remember that when hard times come, they won’t last forever.
If nothing else, THAT is something to put on a best-of list!
What would you put on a “Best Of” list?Leave a Comment
Thank you Mary, I loved what you shared, especially on how to put things into perspective when things come against us How to have Hope and even a joyful heart during the seasons of our lives..!
One of my favorite verses is to pray, meditate on and sing is “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, and Great is His faithfulness! Lamentations 3:22,23
Heart felt thankfulness you’s for sharing your heart! ❤ Merry Christmas!
Love and warmth,
Mary, this was wonderful. Thank you! Six years ago was the year for me: my dad passed away a few weeks before Christmas and everything else seemed in turmoil. Looking back, it was the most desperate season, and I only survived because of clinging to God’s grace. All that you wrote was true: The tough times gave way to blessings and healing. I’m forever grateful to God that I know him to be enough in all circumstances.
Theresa Boedeker says
Good year, bad years. Full years, empty years. Light years, dark years Life seems to go in cycles. We never seem to stay in one forever. But without that hope, and perspective, and knowledge of God, like you talked about, it sure is harder to get through those hard and lean years. Thanks for the reminder that hard times never last forever. Those hard years also make the good years seem sweeter.
Kelli McKnight says
Such a tender perspective to share this week, encouraging and real words. Thanks for articulating truth in a way that blesses us all. Merry Christmas!
Michele Morin says
2015 was that way for me. In fact, at a NY Eve party, when asked to write down a word that capsulized the year, my husband and I both (independently) chose the same word: disappointing.
2016 has been lots better, but that’s not to say that we’re done with disappointment on this fallen planet. Thanks for this reminder that the years bring change, but our God is eternally the God of hope — regardless of my external circumstances!
Susan Shipe says
Mary, I really like this because it is filled with TRUTH. As long as we have breath, we have HOPE, and as I always say, #hopechangeseverything
Have a blessed Christmas. xo
Beth Williams says
God says we will have trials and tribulations on this planet. There are seasons when it is hard to live through them. My aging dad had sever dementia and it escalated to him being hospitalized this January (2016). I had to quit a good full-time job to be more available for him. It was tough getting those late night calls and not knowing what to do. One thing that helps me is making a Thankful Journal. I will write out all things I’m thankful for from God, Home in Heaven, Jesus dying for my sins, to simple things like sunshine, rain, flowers, sunsets. It help me put life into perspective and realize ALL that God has bless me with.
Pray always about the situations. I did that with my dad and God allowed me to witness a miracle. He brought him back to “normal”. He can go for walks, short car rides. God is awesome!
Have a blessed Christmas everyone! 🙂
Hope — sometimes the gift we forget we’ve already received. In the chaos that is December, (and the crazy-fast 11 months prior) it can be so easy to look at hope as if it’s distant—when in reality, it’s with us, always. And, so thankful that it’s one gift we can always re-gift. Thank you for these re-gifted words of hope today, Mary. Merry Christmas! 🙂
Rebecca L Jones says
I would have to say that a best list would be exactly the opposite of the bad. I have experienced my share of that as a Christian, but I know all good gifts are from Him, and Jesus is the best gift of all.
I really need to read this today!! Thank you for your refreshing words. My husband and I have had a rough couple of years dealing with family drama, job loss, and every aspect of our lives are challenging. We are looking forward to celebrating the true meaning of christmas this year and drawing closer to our Heavenly Father. We look forward to somewhere in the future receiving a bit of a break from these hard times, but the wonderful Lord does not let us give up, and so every day we keep going. I don’t know how but we just do.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I’ve been out of town….and trying to catch up. No matter how good, bad, or ugly my years have been….no matter whether I would have to tell complete lies to present a positive Christmas card letter….no matter whether my heart was merry and bright or hurting and grieving…the #1 on my “Best of List” will always be Jesus. He is the one constant in my/our always shifting and changing world. The One who has never failed nor forsaken me will always be #1 on my Best of List, no matter whether I’m praising Him with tears of joy or tears of pain.
Advent blessings to you Mary…thanks for being real!! You’re a breath of fresh air 🙂
Lisa Appelo says
I honestly love this, Mary. Some years, the BEST we can do is put one foot in front of the other. I had a friend this year who died from a long battle with cancer. Her brother found her gratitude journals — she’d made it to 15,000 and the very last two entries the day they called in hospice: Strength. Peace. <3 Oh for a heart that sees good even in the hardest of hard. <3
“Count your blessings-as small as they seem.” Yes, this is what I cling to when things are tough. This has been a year of counting the small blessings. No, it hasn’t all been bad, but it also sure hasn’t all been good. All I know is, that in the midst of losing a loved one very suddenly, God has been more real than I could ever have imagined. In the midst of questions, of whys, he has been enough.
Paula Jennings says
I am so glad I finally read this post. It so described the year of pain, depression, anxiety and health issues and grief it was filled with. But being reminded that Jesus is our light and our hope was just what I needed.