By Kevin Burke, LSW and Theresa Burke, Ph.D.
As the lockdowns and riots transformed our nation, and the election season unfolded, many struggled with anger, depression, and anxiety. Our elderly neighbors, especially those quarantined in care facilities, suffered the emotional and physical ravages of social isolation.
As this year comes to a close, families struggle to make ends meet. Working parents are stressed trying to manage workloads while their children are kept out of school. Small businesses face ongoing threats to their survival.
So what do sparking lights, angels, and quaint manger scenes have to with any of that?
As the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus unfolds, before the choir of angels sang to the shepherds in the fields, we see in the Gospel accounts the first reaction of Mary and Joseph upon learning of their unique vocation and calling from God – fear and anxiety.
As the Angel Gabriel encounters Mary and Joseph, he responds to the anxiety that rose up in their minds and hearts. It is a message all those facing the loss of a loved one, physical and emotional illness, job loss and other stress and suffering need to hear:
“Do not be afraid Mary…do not be afraid Joseph…”
Mary and Joseph are overwhelmed with the mysterious, massive changes being unleashed in their lives, and they are naturally afraid. This touches upon a mystery in the lives of the Holy Family, and in our own stories.
Alongside the joy of the incarnation, and the birth of the Christ with angelic choirs proclaiming the Good News, the Holy Family faced looming threats; murderous political persecution, exile from family and friends, and in time, the rejection, brutal torture and execution of the Christ Child in the manger.
…the Cross above the Manger is more than a mere decoration…The birth and death of Jesus Christ, the Manger and the Cross, belong together indissolubly. God became man in order to die for us as man. God was born in Bethlehem in order to be able to lay down his life on Golgotha out of love for men…Both the Manger and the Cross are for us the revelation of God’s love.
The temptation to despair, give up home, or numb ourselves in various ways is a natural response to feeling overwhelmed, alone, afraid. How do we regain a sense of perspective, hope and peace amidst the crosses we encounter in our lives?
Some Coping Strategies for the Holidays
- Lower your expectations and the expectations of others. Our commercialized culture puts great pressure on families this time of year. Avoid those things that take you away from focusing on the deeper meaning of this great feast.
- At Holiday gatherings, avoid those conversation topics and encounters that will feed into conflict and stress you out. Engage with loved ones and friends, even those you find annoying, in a spirit of peace and love. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to avoid getting pulled into any of those familiar toxic dynamics and exchanges, and let the peace of the Christ Child reign in your heart.
- If you have a friend or relative who is going through a tough time or had a rough year, try and make some time to be with them, or call / zoom connect. Above all give the gift of listening with love and acknowledge their losses. Embrace them with love and assure them of your continued support.
- If you are doing ok financially, buy your gifts/gift cards from local small businesses that have been hit so hard by the Coronavirus.
- If you know a friend or loved one who was impacted by an abortion loss and they have shared this with you in the past, check in with them to see how they are doing. Share a pamphlet or the website information on Rachel’s Vineyard. It really is the best Christmas gift you could offer them.
- Exercise daily as your health allows. It’s very challenging to take that first step when you are grieving or struggling with depression. Start with something simple and build on the positive results. A daily walk and simple stretching exercises have been proven to be very effective medicine for anxiety and depression. Many townships are offering exercise programs online during Covid. If you need additional support ask a friend, family physician, or your pastor for a counselor referral. Avoid the over-use of alcohol, drugs or behaviors to avoid your feelings and find relief of your pain and grief.
- Spend time each day in quiet prayer with God. Ask the Lord to help you avoid both isolation, but also over-business, as ways of coping with your pain. Open your heart to the Spirit and ask for consolation, strength and the peace to accept the will of God in your life. Unite your suffering with that of the Holy Family and pray that the grace from your simple sacrifice may touch someone you love who is in need of God’s mercy.
- Make a resolution to get involved in services and activities at your local church once things open up. Pray for discernment to see if God is calling you to reach out with the love of Christ to the homebound elderly, prisoners, the homeless, children in the womb, and other children in need.
On This Silent Night
Finally I want to share a music video of a Christmas song I wrote with Henry Gennaria, a professional musician, and producer. The lyrics of our song, “On this Silent Night,” communicate two themes.
The surface story is that of a young man estranged from his beloved, and his longing for reconciliation and coming home; this is a strong emotional theme for many at the Holidays.
But on a deeper level, it about the relationship of each person’s heart and soul with their Heavenly Father. This relationship can be injured by sin, and by the challenges faced in life. But like the woman in the song, God is waiting to welcome you back, to forgive your sins, bind up your wounds, and have you enter into His presence. The Lord is saying, “Come be transformed by the fire of my Divine Mercy and Eternal Love.”
May that fire burn brightly for you, On this Silent Night.