Do you put pressure on yourself to be joyful all the time during the holiday season? Here’s what I learned from walking through a season of grief and healing…
I find myself scrolling through a Bible app on a sunny Sunday morning, my heart heavy as a stone dropped into a lake. I’m trying to fix this, to find the lightness and buoyancy I think is required of me. I read verses about happiness. Others about contentment. Even more about joy. Yet all of these feel impossible for me to achieve right now.
Instead, I’m wrestling with a deep weariness, a soul-sadness I just can’t shake. I feel guilty about this. My life is good. I am loved. I should be joyful. I hang my head, disappointed in myself, and pray, “God, please help me to be supernaturally joyful.”
What my heart hears in a silent whisper surprises me: Grief is a sacred emotion too.
I think of an email I recently read by counselor Mazi Robinson about gaslighting, a term often used to describe how women are treated in toxic relationships. She says in her experience as a counselor, women sometimes also gaslight themselves.
What is gaslighting? Gaslighting is a term we hear more and more these days. Gaslighting is a manipulative tool in which someone denies or minimizes your experience, assessment, or memory which results in you questioning how you feel or your reality. Gaslighting can be incredibly damaging to our sense of self, self-confidence, and trust in our own gut. Gaslighting destroys emotional safety in relationships.
We gaslight ourselves when we use perspective to invalidate or minimize our feelings or our reality.
– I shouldn’t be so upset. There are so many people who have it much worse than I do
– My situation isn’t that bad compared to what other people are walking through.
– At least I don’t have an illness, and I have clothes on my back and food in my house — what’s wrong with me that I’m depressed?
We gaslight ourselves when we invalidate our emotional experience instead of affirming it. We often do this because we’ve been told things like, “You always need to be joyful!” Then when we aren’t, we feel guilty and as if we’re failing. But is this even possible or God’s expectation for us?
Yes, Paul says, “Always be joyful” (1 Thessalonians 5:16 NLT) but he also says, “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief” (Romans 9:2 NLT). Jesus is described as being full of joy and as being a man of sorrows. Proverbs 14:13 NASB tells us, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.”
When we look at Scripture as a whole, we are not told to exclusively feel positive emotions like joy, happiness, and contentment. We are shown that it is healthy and holy for joy and grief to coexist. During my season of loss, I remember telling my counselor I was worried about myself. Maybe I was depressed (I’d experienced depression in the past).
“Holley,” she said, “you need to let yourself grieve.”
If we cannot let ourselves grieve because we gaslight ourselves into feeling only positive emotions then we will not heal from the hurt we’ve experienced.
It is essential, not sinful, for us to feel sad sometimes.
It is necessary, not a lack of faith, for us to mourn what or who we’ve lost.
It is healthy, not harmful, for us to shed tears as we figure out a new normal we never wanted.
Just because the sun goes behind a cloud doesn’t mean it isn’t still there. Just because our joy can’t be felt for a while, doesn’t mean it isn’t still there. We are not in trouble with God for not being able to force ourselves to be happy all the time. We are human and we are healing — this is hard and holy work.
When we feel grief, we don’t need to be pushed; we need to be embraced. We don’t need to be forced to move past it; we need to compassionately learn to sit with ourselves in it. It is okay if we can’t make ourselves feel the way we want to today.
Grief is a sacred emotion too.
If you or someone you love needs a little extra encouragement this holiday season, Holley created a free Hope for the Holidays mini e-book with twenty-one devotions. Click here to receive it via email for free.