By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
That baby boy would grow up to be Jesus Christ and He died on a cross 33 years later. His death and resurrection offers eternal life to all who confess their sins and profess belief in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
While nonbelievers don’t understand that promise and do not have that hope, even believers can allow circumstances to interfere with the hope they know they have in Christ.
Tony Rankin, a Nashville-based counselor and member of First Baptist Church, Nashville, has seen numerous people, both believers and non-believers, who battle depression during the Christmas season. Rankin is a former staff member of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board).
Rankin noted that numerous factors cause people to become depressed over the holidays including the death of a loved one, especially a spouse or child.
Other factors that create holiday stress, he said, are:
- Unrealistic expectations and excessive self-reflection.
- Poor boundaries related to money and time.
- Not being grateful for what you have instead of being miserable for what you don’t have.
- Ruminating about the past.
Rankin said there are things individuals who may feel stress can do to alleviate some of their anxiety.
“Look at the good things about Christmas,” he suggested. Remember some of your favorite Christmas experiences and share them with family and friends, he said. And, he added, be willing to listen to some of their stories as well.
Natural stressors associated with the holidays (such as finances, hectic schedules, work deadlines, and even relatives) can’t totally be avoided, Rankin acknowledged. He noted, however, they can be managed to some extent with effort and time.
Another way to alleviate stress is to take the initiative, Rankin said. “Send cards to persons who have helped you in the past or were an important part of your life. Thank them for what they have meant to you.”
Rankin said it is also important to avoid the “old places” or “routines” that you know will cause you pain. “Going to the same malls, stores, restaurants, parties, social and church events, and even talking about bad memories may result in “bad memories.”
The Nashville counselor said that while individuals must take the initiative to avoid personal stress, churches can help reduce external stress that accompanies the Christmas season.
He especially encouraged churches to offer grief seminars or groups beginning in January because holidays do elicit emotions of loss.
Rankin also encouraged churches to avoid emphasizing that church members should be at every event or activity offered during the holidays or that they need to change their schedules to accommodate holiday events. “Don’t make them feel they are a below average church member if they miss that extra activity,” he suggested.
Rankin suggested that churches offer opportunities to show compassion. “Provide ways that people can help others during the Christmas season,” he suggested. “When people are caring for others, it takes their minds off themselves.”
Church leaders also should find ways to emphasize that Christmas itself does not cause stress. “The stress occurs in what an individual is experiencing. Stress is not in the holiday itself,” Rankin said.
Finally, church leaders can just encourage members to “do less and enjoy more,” he added.
“The shepherds headed to the birthplace of Christ. They had faith, told their stories, worshiped in amazement, and returned to their home place with humility and honor. This is Christmas! Remember Bethlehem is better than where you are.”