I can’t seem to get Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” off my mind these days. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I had my share of “hard candy Christmases” as a child. Or maybe it’s because we see so many hurting people in our ministry, especially during this time of year.
In the song Dolly sings her heart out trying to convince herself that she’s going to be fine during the holidays. She contemplates possible ways to get through them—“maybe I’ll dye my hair, maybe I’ll move somewhere, maybe I’ll get a car and drive so far they’ll all lose track, maybe I’ll sleep real late or lose some weight, maybe I’ll have some fun, maybe I’ll meet someone and make him mine, maybe I’ll hit the bars or count the stars until dawn, etc.”
I have several friends who understand Dolly’s sentiment because they, too, find the holidays to be very painful. Many of them are grieving over the loss of a family member—a spouse, a child, a mom, a dad, a sibling—or a dear friend.
Right now my heart is tendered toward a wife and a father who recently lost loved ones in unexpected tragic ways. Their hearts have a hole in them that feels like the size of the Grand Canyon.
I pray almost daily for three men whose wives died within the last year. All of them are believers, but because grief is no respector of persons, they are hurting like anyone else. But there’s one big difference—they do not grieve without hope. The apostle Paul told the Christians at Thessalonica, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
But grief is not limited to the death of a significant person in our lives. There are other kinds of losses.
Perhaps you have lost your job this year, or your money just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to.
Perhaps you have relocated and are finding the adjustment to a new place very difficult. You feel a void because you haven’t made new friends.
Perhaps your health is failing, and the future looks grim. You long for the days when you were strong and could go about your normal activities.
Perhaps your spouse has left you for another man or woman. You may have seen it coming, or it may have caught you by surprise—either way the grief is real, and it is excruciating.
The holidays may loom larger than life, and you don’t know how you’ll get through them. Perhaps you are saying with Dolly—“Lord, it’s like a hard candy Christmas. I’m barely getting through tomorrow.”
But seemingly trying to reassure herself, Dolly sings, “Me, I’ll be just fine….me, I will go on…I won’t let sorrow bring me way down.”
While our attitude toward our circumstances does make a huge difference in how we weather the tough times in life, none of us—believers or unbelievers—can will ourselves to be fine without working through the process of grief. Unfortunately, none of us can fast forward past the pain.
However, Christians can be assured that in time we can be fine not because we will it but because we have a Heavenly Father we can run to when life gets overwhelming. He is [our] refuge and [our] fortress—[our] God, in whom [we] can trust (Psalm 91:2). He is Immanuel—“God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
If you are struggling during the holidays—if you are having a “hard candy Christmas”—take heart today because of what Christmas really means. It’s a time to remember when God intervened in the sorrow of humanity to bring peace and hope. Hundreds of years before Christ during a time of intense stress and suffering, God made a promise through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Judah. He said a child would be born and he would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6).
Fast forward 700 years to a humble couple in a humble setting in Judea, and God fulfilled His promise to bring peace and hope. “While they [Mary and Joseph] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).
On that same night, an angel appeared to lowly shepherds out on the hillside and announced the birth of the one who would bring peace and hope. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). Then a host of angels appeared and said, “’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13-14).
Heavenly Father, I pray especially today for those who are sad and grieving this Christmas. May they be reminded of Who You are—God with us—and how much You love them. Never let them forget that You are their refuge and fortress during tough times. Help us all to claim the peace and hope that only You can give because You are our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.