A man clutches a string of tangled Christmas lights.

Do any of these words describe you? Hurried. Scattered. Stuffed. Forgetful. Busy. Behind. Broke.

If they do, you aren’t alone. Christmas is our annual reminder of why Santa takes the sleigh rather than the interstate and how the mall got its name. Strange how a season of peace so often becomes a season of panic.

For some, however, this time of year brings more than hassle…for some it brings heartache. Many use sadder words to capture their Christmas feelings. Words like: alone, discouraged, depressed, angry, hurt.

  • The sight of happy children is a reminder of a vacant crib.
  • The busy social schedule of some only highlights the empty calendar of others.
  • Images of families together reinforces the pain of families apart.

If this season is hard for you, if you’re looking forward to December 26th more than December 25th, then I’ve got a story for you to consider. I’d like you to contrast your plight with that of a young girl.

Here she is away from home, miles from family and her own bed. She’s spent the last five days on crowded roads enduring the winter chill.

As much as she tries to keep a good attitude, it’s not easy. This isn’t how she planned to celebrate the birth of Jesus. No matter how you cut it, this isn’t a good time of the year to be away from those you love. She’d envisioned a happy meal with family and friends and–now look at her–stranded in a city of strangers. Even if she could leave, she’d never make it home in time. Even if she had the time, she doesn’t have the strength. She needs some rest. She needs a bed. She needs some help.

The last few months have been about all she could handle. Ask her which is worse, the pain in her heart or the pain in her back, and she’ll be hard pressed to make a choice.

Her heart aches for her family. They’d gone through so much over the last year. Under normal circumstances, they’d have been thrilled to learn of her pregnancy. But pregnant before the wedding? With her conservative family and her bizarre explanation? And to have to tell the man you love you’re carrying a child who isn’t his? It’s a miracle he still married her. A miracle indeed. And a miracle is what she needs tonight.

Her back aches from her pregnancy. She’d envisioned giving birth at home, mom holding one hand, Joseph the other. Perhaps if they could all celebrate the birth of her firstborn together, then they, too, would believe. At least, that was Mary’s plan.

Of course I could be wrong about Mary’s plan. Perhaps the feed troughs and stables and midnight birth pains were her idea. But I don’t think so. I’ve yet to meet a mother-to-be who dreamed of using a cow stall for a delivery room and a manger for a bassinet and I doubt if Mary did either. So when Joseph returned from the inn and asked her if she was allergic to sheep, it’s a safe hunch to say she was surprised.

This isn’t how she planned to celebrate Christmas. Maybe this isn’t how you planned to spend yours either.

When you stop and think about it, Christmas hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. What brings us stress, brought her stress; but what brought her joy, can bring us joy as well, if we’ll allow it.

Do what Mary did:

– Trust God for a Christmas miracle. Things look bleak today, but they might change tomorrow. Don’t assume that your troubles will linger. Mary had faith to let God do a work inside her. Follow her example.

-Trust enough to obey. Mary did. She obeyed. She didn’t rebel, pout or demand a detailed explanation. She obeyed. We can do this much. Make it your aim to follow God as closely as you can.

-Sign up for servanthood. Mary told the angel: “I am the Lord’s servant.” (Lk. 1:38) Those who demand to be served are likely to be disappointed. Those who take the position of a servant are happiest because they have fewest expectations. Make it your aim to serve, not to be served, and the clouds will lift.

Let Mary be your model and, by the end of December you’ll be using these words to describe your spirit. “Joyful. Happy. Faithful.”

Merry Christmas,

Max

© Max Lucado, December 2016

13 comments on “When December is Difficult

  1. Thank you. We have had three deaths in two month’s. None of them expected. It has been hard and to know that we can’t take any pain away from the one’s closes to the one’s that have passed. And so all of the stories you described we are going through. Thanks for reminding me of what Mary went through.

  2. Oh Max, why did you have to be so accurate in how I was feeling? Who told you?! “Sign up for servanthood.” My profession is centered on servanthood. I’ve been doing it for 38 years. I’m tired. I keep doing it, and doing it, and think, Ah, maybe I’ve earned a little break now, but then one more request comes! Why should I be surprised? This world will never run out of people who need help, and God needs vessels to pour through. So I pick up my vessel once again, looking at how I’ve let areas tarnish, polish them off so that what pours through will be pure again and not tainted with my anger or exhaustion. Remembering again that it’s His polishing, His refilling, not mine. That’s why there should be an endless supply that fills the next empty broken vessel.
    Father, again You took something simple like an email to let me know that You hear me and are supplying what I need before I even know it myself. Forgive me for setting You aside yet again. Refill me and let it pour through to others, and let it heal me as it pours through. You took 33 years on earth to complete the work. Why do I think that it should all be done with one simple task? Open my eyes, open my heart, quiet my thoughts, and let me completely absorb You. Rid me of the debris so that I can take in the healing with a fresh surface, so that it will stick and thrive. As each new request comes, let it be bathed in what You are pouring through me. Let my first response be Your response and not my own selfish thoughts. Not my pre-thought out plans and expectations, but to be open to follow Your lead. Give me clarity and wisdom, peace of mind and heart, so that I see You, watch for You, and let You flow through me. Thank You for Mary’s selfless act and Your precious Son who had the most disadvantaged start in life but still completed the work with grace. Your child, Pam.

    Thanks Max — tears are flowing

  3. Thank you Max for that devotion! We are facing our 1st Christmas without our whole family being together, I have been feeling sorry for myself this put things in perspective!!

  4. Dear Max: The word that describes me best right now is heartbroken. My only daughter lost her life on 9/9/16, due to an infection in her heart that neither of us knew she had. She had a disease called addiction. For a week before she was brought into the hospital unresponsive, she was trying to detox herself alone, at the home of a friend. I had just spoken to her 24 hours before that. She left behind twin daughters (age 9), who already were missing her so badly.. Right now I am sitting here looking at our Christmas tree, decorated by her girls, with all of the ornaments she and I had chosen together, this year also decorated with notes from her children. ” Mommy…I love you.” or “Mommy, I miss you. xoxo” I had been praying for Jesus to save her. Reach her. Make a miracle, wich I truly believed with all my heart was possible. A few months ago, all I wanted for Christms was my daughter back and a t-shirt that just said “JESUS” on it. Now I don’t understand. I haven’t been able to read my bible, pray, or attend church regularly since. HEARTBROKEN.

  5. December is a very difficult time for me. My husband of 32 years died on the last day of December (New Year’s Eve), as did my only sister (who was 30 yrs. old). My father died on Christmas Day, and my mother a few days before Thanksgiving. I’ve also lost other family members, way too young. My firsborn son died when he was 2-1/2 yrs. old (from a fire), and I lost a younger brother earlier this year. I live alone, pretty much homebound due to health issues. The only family I have is one son, but they usually spend holidays with his wife’s family (and I can understand that, for she has a large family). If it wasn’t for Jesus I couldn’t face another day. He helps me focus on what I can do for others, rather than feel sorry for myself (most of the time). My strength & hope is in the Lord.

  6. Max:Christmas has become more traditional than what the real source of life is about….the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. His birth was mentioned in several of the gospels…His death and resurrection, many more times!!!

  7. And you made me cry once again. It’s amazing how God has put this in you to touch exactly where it hurts. But it’s not like when others get to a sensitive topic and people hide in their shells, it’s like applying a medicine on a wound – it hurts a little but feels good, feels like the wound is cleaned and recovering. I am sure God is so proud of you, you have indeed used your gift well, even if you feel like you haven’t done enough. Just had to say it

  8. Thanks for this wisdom. I am feeling the longing and pain right now. But your words just keep my feet on the ground. I’d been away for 5 years already and since then Christmas won’t be the same anymore. My sons and I stalled Christmas until when we can be together. Funny it is…it keeps coming, though. Thank you, Max.

  9. I’ve failed an exam more than ten times in the last six years, I’m expecting another result this month… I can’t imagine being heartbroken again.

    Addiction is wrecking me. I’m under pressure at home and at work. There are people around me but I think they care more about what I do for them and how I make them feel than they do about me. I just want to leave it all and go to school!

    Yet, when people tell me their problems and I discuss with them from the Bible, their problems get solved then I ask quietly, ‘what about me?’

    It doesn’t make sense!

    1. Jesus did it! I checked the result of the exam today and I had the subject I needed. The result isn’t perfect in the human sense but it is perfect in keeping me dependent on God. God ALONE is to be praised!

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