As we find ourselves in the middle of this Advent season, Pastor Chris Armfield shares some hopeful reminders to Christians who are weary and find themselves struggling will loneliness, anxiety, and fear. Besides being a pastor of a fantastic church, Chris is my brother-in-law and a dear friend. I am grateful for his words. Merry Christmas and happy holidays! – Boz
It’s officially winter and the Christmas-holiday-season is in full effect. I can nearly feel the cut of the cold breeze outside as I sit inside, fingers cloaked around a hot and freshly brewed chai tea. Looking through an expansive window from a local coffee shop in Greenville, SC, I examine withered trees bearing the battle scars of surrendered leaves due to wrestling with an early Fall. The common busyness of people walking and people watching on sidewalks, benches, waterways and patches of manicured grass has lulled to a few brave souls executing their mandatory A to B commute. The city looks lonely.
It’s no secret that the presence of the holidays ushers in wanted and at times unwanted anticipation and change. For many, holiday anticipation can bring about loneliness and depression. According to Adam K. Anderson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, “the bombardment of media during the holidays showing images of smiling families and friends often causes people to start questioning the quality of their own relationships.” Studies reveal many people are experiencing what is called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as seasonal depression. This makes sense to me on several levels.
Sadly, I know many people who experienced the bulk of their abuse while family spent the holidays together. The festive decorations and songs combined with the gathering of uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins serves a consistent reminder of the worst days of their lives.
If your mind and heart were visible during this season, what would an onlooker, like me, uncover?
For some, maybe even you, a richly Christian word like Advent may conjure up fear or disappointment. Orthodox Christianity teaches that Advent is a season set apart for anticipating the coming of Christ. Yet for many, Advent means “I’ll be depressed ‘advent-ually.’” If this is you, you’re not alone in this struggle of the mind and spirit.
So often, we are tempted to turn our focus away from Christ in order to earnestly seek the American dream, self-protection, or whatever the online buzz of the day may be. The pressure to be more righteous or at least better than I was a year ago is also ever present, especially during this time of year. Though we may hear plenty of sermons about grace, we find ourselves still battling self-justification projects. The pull of commercial ideals and the pressure of spiritual maintenance or growth has cruelly shifted the season meant for celebratory anticipation into advent-ual anxiety and depression.
In 1922, Helen H. Lemmel wrote a hymn based on Hebrews 12:2, Turn your eyes upon Jesus. He is who Advent anticipates and celebrates. Television, shopping malls and online ads mention Christmas as the bait in order to switch your focus to what “you need” and “others want.” However, in “Advent’s coming,” we are reminded to set apart mental, relational and certainly spiritual time and space to fix their eyes on Jesus… and the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Jesus alone can and does offer what all humanity wants and needs. He is the “Prince of Peace” whose Kingdom is of peace.
Advent is about remembering the incarnational Christ who became one of us in order to live amongst us, love us, and redeem us. Advent is also about anticipating His glorious return when He will eliminate all distractions and devastations. Even death will die.
His return will defeat all anxiety and fear.
If Advent has become advent-ual depression or the loneliest time of the year for you, don’t lose hope. As Christians, we have read how the story ends. We are described as pilgrims, aliens, strangers and sojourners in this life. The Apostle James wrote that our stay in this life is like a mist. This life is so short that unless you are watching intently for those vapor particles, you’ll miss them.
Advent-ually your depression will die in the light of His glory and grace.
Advent-ually your fears will flee in the light of His glory and grace.
Advent-ually your losses will lose their grip in the light of His glory and grace.
Advent-ually your abusers will no longer hold the place in your life in the light of His glory and grace.
My friend, Advent-ually Christ will return and “make all things new”. Until that day, may God help each of us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to embrace these hope-filled words written by the Apostle Paul:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Chris Armfield is married to Jerushah and they have three children, Anabelle, Liam, and Alexandria. He is the Lead Pastor of CITYLIGHTS Church in Greenville, South Carolina. As a sexual abuse survivor himself, Chris has an uniquely tender heart for helping hurting people find healing.