When Christmas is Hard


Last Saturday, Andy and I travelled into the evening hours towards a Christmas party. We passed candlelit windows that seemed to invite family and friends in for a warm welcome. Evergreen trees sparkled with twinkling lights. At the party, bursts of laughter bubbled above Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

The Christmas season is wrapped with a festive focus and glittery gatherings. People want to feel uplifted by the season—to find peace, hope, love and joy; I am no different.

Christmas, referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, isn’t always. For many, it can also be the most painful time of the year. It can highlight the broken things in our world—sickness, loss of loved ones, estranged relationships or divorce. It may be a reminder of past mistakes and regrets.

Sometimes holiday festivities can feel like salt scrubbed into a wound.

Emotional heartache resonates in people I know:

  • A friend estranged from her twins;
  • The young man who reaches out to his mother on a regular basis, rarely receiving a response;
  • The mother who has her five-year-old child only on weekends;
  • My mom with recurrent breast cancer;
  • My father-in-law with bladder cancer;
  • A girlfriend who has been separated from her husband for over a year;
  • The father whose children became estranged shortly after his remarriage;
  • The fifty-eight-year-old man who can’t feel his left side after suffering a stroke; and
  • The wife who unexpectedly lost her husband.

And me?

I long over the loss of my two estranged adult sons. For years, I thought it wasn’t Christmas until my relationship with my sons was rekindled. In Decembers past, I tried to hide estrangement’s ashes. I used to be ashamed to say that as Christmas trees and lights went up, my anxiety level climbed as bittersweet memories flooded in.

My heart weighs heavy with more—the cancer my father-in-law and mother fight.

Three weeks ago, my mother-in-law’s fears flashed in a text on my iPhone. “Do you think he has advanced cancer?” The pit of my stomach bottomed out like an elevator plummeting down a shaft.

The sense of helplessness hammers along.

Last week when talking with my mom, who recently learned of her breast cancer recurrence, I admitted, “I feel lame when I ask what I can do for you.”


I remember my year with no Christmas tree and no desire to buy or receive gifts. What I wanted for Christmas couldn’t be bought.

I wanted reconciliation with my sons, but that wasn’t happening. I desired peace and joy, but instead felt torn apart.

The brokenness in our world can threaten peace, hope, love and joy. Cancer invades peace. Estrangement strangles hope. Emotional hurts harm love. Death deadens joy.

But then several years ago, I learned the most amazing thing: I’ve always had the power to find blessings in the bitter trials. As I was able to tear away the layers of my emotional pain, I held my hurt before it seeped between my tear-doused fingers. In that exposed place, I unwrapped a gift that burned another, brighter life.

God uses torn places to reveal His glory. Click To Tweet

Jesus was ripped apart to reveal His gifts to us. He told His disciples He was leaving the gift of the Holy Spirit for us.

Once I dried my eyes, I could focus my vision on the gifts I already had.

“… the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness…” Galatians 5:22 (NLT).

He shows me in the giving is the receiving. Click To Tweet

Solomon tells us in Proverbs 11:25 “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”

To give water is to be watered. One evening my church’s small group visited an elderly woman in the nursing home, bringing her flowers and warm homemade raspberry muffins. As her joy spilled out, our hearts were quenched. Sharing coffee and encouragement to the woman of two estranged children nourished me. Sending a card with supportive words to a friend with depression uplifted me. When I offered an ear to a girlfriend who is separated from her husband, I gained inspiration from her perspective.

This Christmas may not be everything you or I want it to be this year, but we can receive glorious gifts if we look to Jesus and help others.

Last week, I came across a poem entitled “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.

And the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,

To make music in the heart.  

The efforts can be simple, yet make a tremendous difference. Invite the lonely person to coffee. Approach the neighbor who lost her husband. Make soup for the housebound elder. Encourage the person imprisoned by divorce.

Serving others restores the music in my heart, and makes available the gifts of peace, hope, love and joy.

Yes, Jesus comes in the deepest, darkest torn places. And that is why Christmas even matters to me. Without Him, I couldn’t find the gifts at Christmas, or any other time of the year.

Praying you find His gifts and a melody in your heart.







  • Lori Reynolds
    7 years ago

    Sharon, I must say this is one of my favorite writings of yours. This Christmas for me has also been “riddled with holes,” mourning the death of my Mother last year on Christmas day; my dear friend that has Stage 4 colon cancer that I will be in Boston with following her major surgery on January 5th; the many hurts and heartaches that the women share with me burden my heart as I share in their pain. But, there is always hope when we lay our burdens at the feet of our Savior. That same Savior that came as a baby many years ago to live with us; to die as one of us; and to point the way – the only way to live with God in the center of all we do.

    • Laurie
      7 years ago


    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Lori, It is hard to believe it has been a year since you lost your mom. I know you find comfort in your mom’s salvation. In that, is hope and joy. Yes, there are many hurting people in our midst. I believe if each person did the work of Christmas all year long, hurts would lessen and joy would grow.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Lori, It is hard to believe it has been a year since you lost your mom. I know you find comfort in your mom’s salvation. In that, is hope and joy. Yes, there are many hurting people in our midst. I believe if each person did the work of Christmas all year long, hurts would lessen and joy would grow.

  • Suzanne Rodrigue
    7 years ago

    Wonderful read Sharon!❤️

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Thanks, Suzanne.

  • Terry
    7 years ago

    Oh Sharon that was beautiful and heart warming. I know there are so many hurting people in our lives and yet we do have so much to be thankful for. The fact that we have a savior and hope. I pray for all of you and for me. I was so excited for the holidays and with Chuck being gone, and my girls not coming home for Christmas, the news I received 2 weeks ago and a text form my sister that was very, very hurtful! I know that I have a choice to let the enermy still my Joy and to focus on the hurts and pain. I choose to focus on my Father and the reason for the season. I love you girl and I pray that more come to know Him.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Terry, Praying that you unwrap the joy and not allow anyone, or anything, to steal it.

  • Susie Balas
    7 years ago

    Beautifully written, as always. Merry Christmas to you. Your friend always. xox

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Merry Christmas, Susie. Peace to you.

  • Cindy
    7 years ago

    This was beautiful Sharon, I wish you a very Merry Christmas <3

  • Melissa
    7 years ago

    Beautiful !! ♡♡♡. I know through all our pain and struggles that we’ve all had through this year.” But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. ”
    Our wilderness journey is tough. At times, I don’t know if I can hold on. I pray hard. God is my strength and refuge. He is holding me and even though he hasn’t revealed his plan for me . I know my future has hope, peace , love.
    Thanks for writing this piece.
    Merry Christmas !!
    Christ has risen. Halleulah !! ♡♡♡
    I hope we can together soon. I will be in touch !!
    Love you Sister,


    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Melissa, I am so happy that you read this! Hold on, Sister. You can do it with His help, and the support of others.

  • Betty Shorette
    7 years ago

    Sharon, very moving piece. I am so proud of you and thank god that you are my beautiful smart daughter. You are always with us. Love you so much.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Thanks, Mom. Love and Hugs.

  • Cathy Thompson, Madison, Maine, USA
    7 years ago

    So beautiful. And true.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago


  • Marie
    7 years ago

    Sharon, I love reading your stories, you give hope to us all!

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      7 years ago

      The more I write, the more hope I find. It’s in the discoveries and learning that bring meaning to life for me. I am pleased you enjoy them. Thanks for sharing in the conversation.

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