Mention Christmas and immediately my mind goes to scented candles, twinkle lights, festivities, and making memories with my family. Even the Christmas story conjures up comfort as I think of the Star of Bethlehem, Jesus warm in the hay, and the cattle lowing in the night.
I certainly do not think of the mess, the sin, and the ugliness of our hearts that required Jesus to come here in the first place.
But if I let myself ponder the full reality of the situation of His birth–the smell of the barn animals, the frustration of being turned away at the inn, the lack of clean swaddling cloths–I find comfort in the imperfection. Jesus’ first experience in this world was a messy environment. From the beginning, He was acquainted with dirt. Fitting, because in the end, He took all the world’s dirt on His shoulders to the cross.
As much as I’d like it to be, no Advent or Christmas season is ever perfect, just as our families are never devoid of dirt. But Jesus’ willingness to enter this world in less-than-pristine conditions means He can enter my world–one that contains my sin, my shame, my pride, and my husband’s porn addiction. He’s not afraid of the dirt. Not only that, but He’s willing and able to make the dirty clean.
Knowing that we don’t have to hide our mess—our addictions, our vices, our sins—and “clean up” for Christmas is a sweet relief, isn’t it? It’s not a season to gloss over the imperfections, but instead, to allow Christ to shine His light on them.
So often we shudder at the thought of our sins exposed, but it is only when we bring them into the light that we see hope. Why? Because despair thrives in the dark. In a season that is filled with light, it is a comforting reminder of just how much we need Jesus.
Related: When Holidays Aren’t Happy
It can be so incredibly hard to truly experience a “merry” Christmas when your lives are overshadowed by addiction. So how can you press into the joy of the season? Here are five ideas:
1. Let go of other people’s expectations.
I will be completely honest—this one is so hard for me. I don’t want to disappoint people. But the truth is, when I’m trying to measure up to the standards of everyone else, I neglect the most important things—my relationship with God and my family. It’s so hard to maintain self-control and extend grace when I’m spun out, overtired, and overwhelmed.
This season, zero in on what’s most important and do only what you feel God calling you to do. Remember that relational strain and strife in your marriage takes a lot of energy to navigate. It’s okay if you can’t/don’t feel up to the normal Christmas stuff.
2. Take time for silence and self-care.
There’s a lot of noise during the Christmas season, despite the familiar carol, “Silent Night.” But this is the good news—you can tune it out. You can turn off the television, the radio, and the podcasts. I know that the hardest thing to quiet is your mind, which might be racing with fear and anger. But Jesus promises to meet us no matter what emotions or feelings we may be experiencing.
When invited, He comes in with His comfort and cares for us with tenderness. Even as a baby, He created space for Mary to tune it all out and ponder in her heart all that had happened.
3. Look for the good.
It may seem cliché, but gratitude is powerful. Did you know that the medial prefrontal cortex is activated by gratitude? And this is the part of your brain that’s associated with socializing, pleasure, empathy, and feelings of relief.
The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University found that, “gratitude is connected to systems of the brain that regulate emotions and support stress relief, such as heart rate, arousal levels, and pain. When activated, these areas of the brain can boost positive emotions and protect against feelings of anxiety and stress, leading to an overall calmer mood.”
It can be easy to let your mind become overwhelmed with all that’s not right in your marriage and in your life. And finding the good doesn’t lessen the validation that things are hard and not right. But it does help you find joy amidst the hard.
4. Live in community.
When we’re in pain, sometimes the temptation is to assume that no one will understand. And so, we withdraw into isolation. But this is where things can get scary. We weren’t designed to live life alone. In Galatians 6:2, Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Addiction will break our backs if we try to shoulder it alone and in our own strength. God works through the empathy, compassion, and accountability that others can offer us.
Related: Navigating the Holidays Alone
5. Experience what God has for you this season.
When our worldly lives seem filled with chaos, the unknown, and pain, it can be hard to even entertain the idea that God wants so much to give us His peace. Sometimes, I fall into the trap that peace is something earned, something to strive for, when actually, it’s simply a gift of the Holy Spirit, along with all those other fruits like love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These things are a natural outpouring of Jesus within us. They come from him. They’re not manufactured by us.
Mary’s life was completely turned upside down in a matter of moments. But we see her take hold of the truth the angel speaks over her to help her overcome her initial fears. The Passion Translation of Luke 1:30 says, “Do not yield to your fear, Mary, for the LORD has found delight in you and has chosen to surprise you with a wonderful gift.” She knew that God is trustworthy and faithful, that He had a good plan for her, even if it was one that was a radical departure from the one she imagined.
She knew that God is bigger than her fears and all the “what if’s.” Knowing God is critical to being able to rest in His peace because it’s hard to be at peace with someone you don’t trust. It’s being able to get to the end of all my racing thoughts and say, “I don’t understand. I didn’t plan it to be this way. But, I know You have a way and there will be good that comes from it.”
I know it can be unfathomable to think of anything good can come from this situation you’re in. But being on the other side of porn addiction in my own marriage, I know there is. There is healing. There is growth. There is a restoration of intimacy.
My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you would rest knowing that God is familiar with messy environments and the stink of life. He sent His Son, Jesus, directly into it so we would know and remember that He’s no stranger to dirt. But He’s also in the business of making things brand new, too. This includes you.