When the Holidays are Hard

Susan Narjala   |   December 7, 2021 

Did you ever make a wish list for Santa when you were little?

Growing up in south India in the eighties and early nineties meant that I most definitely didn’t mail any letters to the North Pole.

In fact, gifts weren't really a big feature of our Christmas celebration.

And, no, that wasn’t because I was some saintly kid who cared only for the less fortunate. It was simply because Christmas meant other fun-to-me things. It meant dressing up in fancy new clothes for the midnight church service. It meant sharing plates of steaming hot mutton biriyani and spicy beef cutlets with a house full of cousins and uncles and aunts. It meant "carol rounds" where we got to ride around the city on a rickety bus past midnight and sing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” while bleary-eyed hosts served us plum cake and rose cookies.

Back before made-in-China Christmas trees overran our stores, our family was perfectly content with a weepy-looking branch of a Casuarina tree in a pot. Homemade streamers, cotton-wool “snow”, and silver tinsel that made an annoying mess on the floor worked well as decorations.

My sister and I would take empty boxes, gift wrap them, and put them under the tree. We had seen the Christmas trees choked with presents in Hollywood movies we’d watched on rented VHS tapes on our trusty VCR — and clearly, we thought those gifts were just props to make the room look festive. I don’t think we suspected that those gift-wrapped boxes could possibly be actual presents because who in the world would need that many things? (Well, fast forward some 30 years and it turns out my kids think they do. But that’s another story.).

Looking back, those empty gift-wrapped boxes are, perhaps, awkwardly funny — but they're also significant.

So often, our lives are too full of stuff, too choked with activity, too “satisfied” with the temporary, too preoccupied with the gifts, that we forget the most precious gift of a—Christ Himself.

It’s only when we offer up our empty boxes that He has a chance to fill them.

Those empty gift boxes remind me of the recently-widowed woman in 2 Kings 4 who came to the prophet Elisha anxious that she would have to send her sons to work as slaves for her husband’s creditor. She had nothing to her name. She was down to her last small jar of olive oil.

Elisha hears her out but doesn’t offer the woman trite platitudes. He doesn’t give her a, “You got this,” or “You have what it takes” pep talk. He doesn’t offer empty promises claiming that, “It will all work out.” Instead, he tells her to gather empty jars from the neighbours. And he adds, “Don’t just ask for a few.” (2 Kings 4: 3). As the woman and her sons gather empty jars, God fills them with oil. He pours into them till every last jar is full. Elisha then instructs the woman to sell the oil so she can pay off her debts and live on what is left.

Like the woman with nothing but fear and anxiety to her name, maybe you’ve come to the end of your rope, too. Maybe there’s a hollowness in you, too. Maybe this time of the year brings buried hurts to the surface. As we gather around feasts and festivities, maybe there's an empty seat at the table which leaves an aching void in your heart. Maybe there’s a loneliness that creeps into your life or a voice that tells you that you don’t belong.

But, friend, could it be that emptiness is a starting point for healing because it gives God the opportunity to pour into you? His Word reminds us that He is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit. He comforts those who mourn. He weeps with those who weep. When we don’t have words because the grief is too stifling, His Spirit groans for us.

Could it be that sometimes we’re called to embrace the emptiness? Could it be that acknowledging our ache is an invitation to knowing God as our Safe Space? Could it be that in the hollow places we discover the hallowed ground that God has prepared for us?

Today He reminds you that He always has a place for you at His banqueting table. He reminds you to bring that emptiness, that hollowness, to Him because only He can fill it. He reminds you that in your pain, He is your Prince of Peace. In your anxiety, He is your All-sufficient God. And in your emptiness, He is your Emmanuel.



Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog, www.susannarjala.com

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