How to Make it Through a Hard Christmas

December 15, 2014 | 20 comments

She sat next to me in the wooden pew, with her head bowed, after everyone had filed out the glass doors. She told me how Christmas is the hardest time of all–

How her extended family can’t manage to sit down for one blessed meal without a conflict erupting over the table. How arguments break out, well before the plates are cleared. How the smell of ham always reminds her of a dozen Christmas gatherings gone wrong and cut off abruptly.

She’s wringing her hands on her lap. Sunday-morning sunlight filters through stained glass windows, a series of images depicting the life of Jesus. Sitting here, we’re surrounded by the face of Hope, but Hope feels so ethereal when some of us imagine the reality of our own Christmases. It’s ten days til Christmas, but we know who will be missing, who will be depressed, who will be angry, who will be glaring at who over the water goblets.

For some, hope feels entombed in the stained glass, unreachable in the Christmas pageant, untouchable in the Hallmark commercial. It can feel like real hope is incapable of jumping off the page of a hymnal and into a human heart.

This Christmas, countless widows will look down the long table at empty chairs. Somewhere in this world, parents have already wrapped presents for a child who didn’t survive to see another Christmas.

The world is a rancorous, tear-stained place, and you might think is looks a bit like Narnia, where it was “always winter, but never Christmas.”

But behold: Your real Christmas. Not the one at the candlelit table. Not the one you want to put on Instagram, but the one that actually offers you everything for your heart, not your stocking. Look at it: Christmas is a chaotic, messy, holy, no-room-for-you-in-inn, born-in-a-barn event. Imagine the pain of labor. The itch of hay. The stench of beast. This is God, incarnate, coming into your broken world, into your broken heart.

Christmas is Jesus, saying the unflinching YES for you:

Yes, I will leave the comfort of Heaven for a life filled with heartache and pain and my very own death on a cross.”

This is the passion of your Christ.

Christmas has been singing this song since the beginning of time:

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.


Jesus is stepping straight out of the history of forever, straight off the pages of Scripture, and straight into your broken Narnia winter.

He is the central figure in the only religion with a God who empathizes with you. This God not only loves you, but He likes you — and He crossed the cosmos to come for you.

Watch now. Watch how Jesus understands you. Listen, how He prays for you.

See how Jesus understands you in your bent-over grief this Christmas. Watch how Jesus shows up at the tomb of a friend. And He weeps.  Like you weep.

Watch how your Savior knows what it means to be misunderstood, to have your relatives think you’re “out of your mind.” 

Maybe you’ve been betrayed this year. Jesus understand the depth of our betrayal in ways that most of us could never comprehend.

And you, the one feeling pain and agony? Watch him in the garden.

Maybe you feel weak, unable to pray. See how Christ prays for you, and how His Spirit intercedes on your behalf.

This is actual Christmas — not Norman Rockwell Christmas, or Hallmark Channel Christmas, or Pinterest Christmas.

Are you broken this season? Is your marriage on the rocks? Your sanity on the brink? Your checkbook teetering on the last dollar? Kneel before Emmanuel, God with us. He gets you.

Jesus put skin on more than 2,000 years ago, and He gets pain. He’s saying to you, “I can help you through. My name is Emmanuel, and that name doesn’t mean “God on the outskirts.” It means “God, bending down to be with you.”

Your Christmas might be a holly-jolly Christmas, or it might be the bluest of blue Christmases, but no matter what kind you have, Jesus is the only part of it that will ever be unchanging and utterly life-saving. He has stepped off the page and into the heart of it, into the heart of you.

Emmanuel, God with us.

This is Jesus, humbling Himself by forfeiting heaven,
to put skin on,
to become a barn-born baby,
to feel your hurt,
to understand the betrayal,
to grieve your grief,
to collect your tears,
to walk up the hill,
so that when you behold your own Christmas tree, you know He willingly hung on His.

by | December 15, 2014 | 20 comments


  1. ro elliott

    Beautiful encouragement here… This time of year there is such sorrow and joy mingled together… I think part of my hacking Christmas traditions to death all those years ago…was in response to walking along side some people whose lives were in such turmoil… I had a friend with 3 small kids whose husband was in prison…I felt like my “joyful life” was almost cruel to her…she never said it…but In my youth I did not know how to live with joy and sorrow mingled together…how to enter into the not so joyful times without pushing my joy aside… But age and grace has taught me… How we can gently stand along side suffering… The deep sorrow that comes in technicolor this time of year… Right now… A dear friend’s first Christmas without her husband …my niece’s first Christmas with her 3 young boys as a divorced mom and wife…most of the walking beside is in a compassionate quiet…while carrying the truth you spoke here… We can carry these as treasures in our heart… And sometimes He asks us to speak His light into the darkest of places. Thank you Jennifer!!!

    • dukeslee

      Profoundly beautiful comment, Ro. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Megan Willome

    I actually think a hard Christmas is the norm. We just like to pretend otherwise because we wish it were so.

    I started writing my Surviving December series on my blog for one family member who lost her daughter two months ago and one friend who lost her father two weeks ago. But so many more people have come forward.

    • dukeslee

      Hard Christmas as the norm … I think you’re right.

  3. Nancy Kourmoulis

    Just the words of encouragement I needed this afternoon. Blessings to you and your family dear Jennifer!

    • dukeslee

      I am so glad, Nancy. It’s always a joy to connect with you in these online spaces. I’m grateful for your friendship, and I pray that you have a very Merry Christmas.

  4. marthaorlando

    Jennifer, I can’t begin to tell you how meaningful and healing your words here are to me today. The tears are still flowing . . . This will be the first Christmas without my father who passed away last March. To complicate things even further, his birthday falls on Christmas Day. I’ve tried to be strong for my mother, and know I haven’t properly grieved dad’s loss. Your reminding me how much Jesus suffered for me and how much He loves us all is exactly what I needed to hear as I work through this grief which I’ve held inside much too long.
    God bless you, my friend!

    • dukeslee

      Oh Martha … My heart aches for your heart. I am so sorry. Jesus knows exactly what you’re feeling, and He is uniquely able to walk with you THROUGH it. You’ve endured much this year, and I pray now that our Emmanuel breathes the fullness of Himself into your spirit. xo

  5. Candy

    Yes, Jennifer. This. Thank you.

    • dukeslee

      You are so welcome, Candy. Love to you, my Iowa friend.

  6. Leah Adams

    THIS was written for me this year. It has been ten years since I’ve had this tough a Christmas, but this one will take the prize. Thank you for the reminder to fix my eyes on Jesus, not circumstances. I only need that reminder about a zillion times each day. 😉

    • dukeslee

      Dear Father, I lift to you my dear friend, Leah. Enter straight into her pain, and comfort her beautiful heart. Make Your Presence known in deeply profound ways to Leah, on this day. In Jesus’ name … Amen.

      • Leah Adams

        Thank you, my friend. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  7. Betsy Cruz

    These are such encouraging words, a reminder of the real truth of Christmas: Emanuel. Sometimes I think life struggles are made more difficult at Christmas because of our unrealistic ideas of how bright and happy Christmas should be. This speaks hope to me! I live in the Middle East, and am wishing I could be near family since my father just lost his wife to cancer. God is with us, renewing hope daily.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you for sharing your heart with us, Betsy. Praying for Emmanuel to be the fullness of “God With Us” to you this day, and throughout the year.

  8. Adrie @ ALittleWife'sHappyLife

    Beautiful reminder. This Christmas will be hard for us- Christmas has such a focus on family, and for us, it reminds us of the family we haven’t yet been able to have. But Jesus knows- Jesus knows how we’re hurting in the quiet, and how our hearts long to be a part of His creation- because he came to us.

  9. Nancy Ruegg

    Beautiful, Jennifer. And such a powerful message–the power of Philippians 4:8-thinking applied to the Christmas season. Thank you for readjusting our perspective!

  10. Amber Kemp

    I keep coming back to this post. It’s beautiful and has brought me to tears, in a good way.

  11. Rie

    Thank you for such a beautiful post. My father passed away on Christmas Eve last year, my sister’s marriage is in trouble, and for a friend I fear the unspeakable is coming. I could go on and on. Your words are a reminder needed.

  12. Pauline Murray- Russell

    Thank you ..I truly enjoyed this post as I have chosen to heed the portion that touched me most last year this time I was preparing for my Dad’s Memorial Service. Thank God for Jesus!! Hallelujah…Amen!



  1. » How to Make it Through a Hard Christmas - […] She sat next to me in the wooden pew, with her head bowed, after everyone had filed out the…

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