What is it about the holidays?
Whether you celebrate multiple holidays between Thanksgiving and the New Year — or none at all — there is something in the air.
It’s on the radio. It’s on the television. It’s in every shopping mall. It’s hanging from the street lights in your town.
There’s Black Friday and all the insanity that goes with it. Black Friday: the name alone clues you in to the fact that something isn’t right. And from there, things really ramp up; life is one sustained crescendo of feelings and activities that finally resolves — or crashes — at the dawn of a new year.
There’s something in the air alright. A good friend and fellow warrior tells me that the holiday season is a terrible time for his compulsive sexual behavior.
i get that. i used to be in the same boat. Without attentiveness to my heart, i would be back there again.
So what is it about the holidays?
It seems to me that he holidays are a perfect storm of sorts: a convergence of the good, the bad and the ugly. There are genuinely beautiful things such as celebrations with dear friends and loved ones; joyful memories of days-gone-by; and — for those who hold to the story of Jesus’ birth — real hope.
It’s a time when the words of the great Christmas carols are available to us as a way to reorient our hearts to the wonder and promise of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
That dose of life and hope is crucial, because in the meantime we all still struggle with painful relationships, unfulfilled desires, and the anxiety of living in a broken world.
Often, we surround ourselves with activities and celebrations and the stuff of the holidays to numb the pain of living far from Eden.
The convergence of the bad and the ugly looks like this: the pain i feel about my life not being all that i had hoped it would be, or that i think it should be, gets exacerbated by the TV programming, the mall, and the appearance that everyone in the world is joyously celebrating ideal family and friend relationships, and that leads to pressure and self loathing which then kickstart my shame cycle and my need for relief, which i feel emboldened to satisfy because it is an especially consumeristic time of year in a country that is increasingly given over to personal entitlement in the pursuit of pleasure, such that i believe i am totally justified in acting on my compulsive sexual impulses.
Then there are the family of origin issues that simply cannot be avoided at this time of year which have the potential to push every possible button.
That’s what it is about the holidays.
Surviving the holidays as a man who in the past gave in to every one of his compulsive sexual impulses requires acts of subtle defiance. They are subtle in that they are, most times, not obvious to others. They are defiant in that they are a refusal to be drawn into some of the prevailing themes of the season.
It is subtle and defiant to remember that if i pin my hope on this Christmas being the best ever, i will invariably be let down. It is subtle and defiant to consciously tell myself that more getting and consuming will not fill my life, it will only make more of a consumer. That, in turn, will make me more self-absorbed and selfish, and before long nothing will satisfy me.
The illusion that is heightened at this time of year is the false belief that i can find life in things, or i can find life in manipulating people to get what i want, or in pornography and sexual fantasy.
Life is what i most desperately want. It’s also what i most desperately need. i need to remember that more things or people to consume won’t bring me life.
The trouble with the holidays is that so many counterfeits to life are presented in a seemingly endless parade, dressed up in a way that sparkles a little more than at other times of the year.
Yes, those counterfeits are available all year long, but there’s no denying that at the holidays it is more socially acceptable to indulge ourselves.
The holidays can be full of cheer, however. It took me a long time to get there, but i have reached the place where i can enjoy them in a healthy way.
Not sappy sentimentality, but real celebration.
It comes back to being attentive to my heart as i go through the season. Guaranteed: during this season i will experience the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the midst of those things i have the option of bringing the deep desires of my heart before God and asking Him to meet me.
But i can only bring the deep desires of my heart to Him if i am aware of what those desires are.
In John 7:37-39 we read:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit,whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”
Jesus offers drinks to people who are thirsty, and at this time of year, many people are thirsty. i am chief among those who are thirsty. In fact, most years i am parched by the time Christmas rolls around.
But it’s more than just a drink He offers. Rivers of living water will flow out of those who turn to Him and believe in Him. Something deep and true and transformative happens at the heart level when we take our thirst to Him and draw closer.
Because of Christ, i can have a river of living water flowing from within me.
If Jesus is the source of living water and i can get that, my shame cycle doesn’t stand a chance.
This is not sappy sentimentality, it’s real celebration.