When Trauma Comes Home for the Holidays

For those of us who are helping professionals and ministry leaders, the December calendar usually fills with an influx of people who are nervous (or perhaps terrified) about the upcoming holidays. Their stories range all across the spectrum, and many of their fears are justified. Some are planning to return to the home in which they were abused as children. Some know they’ll have to interact with family members who treated them horrifically. Still others are faced with the reality that they will spend this season without someone they dearly love, maybe for the first time. 

I’d like to offer some simple things to think about as we’re preparing to enter the holiday season. If you’re a helping professional or pastor, perhaps you can share these ideas with those you are serving. If you’re that person who dreads what’s coming in the next few weeks, my prayer is that you’ll be encouraged and strengthened for what’s ahead.

First, consider your humanity.

I talk about this all the time with my clients. You cannot expect yourself to be able to handle every difficulty that comes your way. You will get tired and frustrated in the face of relational and practical problems. If you’re in the process of healing, that means you still have wounds. There will be areas that are particularly sensitive. If you had a gash on your arm and someone came up and hugged you, you would wince in pain (even if the person meant no harm to you). Understand that your sensitivity doesn’t mean you are completely incapable and broken. You are just in process

So when you hear the voice in your head saying that you should be able to handle the stress, that you’re blowing things out of proportion, that something is wrong with you…slow down. Take a deep breath. You are only human. You’re going to need nourishment to strengthen you for the interactions you’ll have during this season. You cannot push yourself too hard. You need rest, and you need your Savior. He invites you to come to Him at your lowest and weariest moments, and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30). He also invites you to take a break, just as He did when His earthly ministry was exhausting. 

Second, you don’t have to say ‘yes.’

You may believe you would be automatically sinning if you said you couldn’t do what your family members want you to do during the holidays. We have learned from somewhere that it’s selfish to say ‘no.’ This is not always the case. Jesus said ‘no.’ People lined up to be healed by Him in every city he visited. Sometimes he healed people for hours. Sometimes he walked away and went to a different town. Why did He do that? Because He was listening to the Father’s voice, and He was leaning into His humanity (being in only one place at a time). 

Do you have to go to the home in which you were abused as a child? Do you have to visit that family member who coerced you into doing things you never wanted to do? The answer is ‘no.’ I’m not saying you absolutely shouldn’t. I’m saying you should pray and listen to the Holy Spirit, and listen to wise counselors and friends who desire to serve and love you well. Sometimes interacting with an abuser can set us back significantly in our healing journeys. Sometimes it helps us. Each situation is unique. 

Third, your eyes should be lifted.

It’s really easy to get tangled up in secondary matters during this season. There’s so much to do – presents to buy, plans to make, concerts and parties to attend. I have to work hard to remind myself what I’m supposed to be thinking about and anticipating. Jesus Christ – the second member of the Trinity – was carried around inside the belly of a teenage girl for nine months. Then He came into the world just like you and I did. His coming did the most extraordinary thing imaginable. 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). 

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5)

What we celebrate at Christmas is this LIGHT. The Light of the World. He is our hope. Because He came into this world, because He put skin on and suffered through every temptation we face, we can believe that He has every intention of healing our wounds. He intends to bring light into the dark places of our hearts, our relationships and our circumstances. We must fix our eyes on this light, or else we risk darkness overtaking us. I encourage and exhort you to look upward. Fix your eyes on Jesus, who is the beginning and the completion of your faith (Hebrews 12:2). He knows what you need, and He is eager to come near you and provide for you.

May this Christmas season bring you great joy and rest in your Savior.

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