Earlier this year I had to take some time out of work to be with my family. It came completely unexpectedly. One minute I was doing my usual vicarly duties, like meetings and services then one of my lovely family got pretty ill and suddenly everything stopped. So, I decided to carry on doing some work whilst we supported them, but it didn’t really work out. It quickly became clear that I was dealing with more than just supporting a family member going through a tough time, I was struggling as well. In amongst worrying about their illness, I had started to withdraw and feel horribly down about everything. It also felt very selfish because of course, I love and wanted to care for them, but it had also triggered a whole heap of stuff in me which I couldn’t articulate. Prompted by my lovely wife and soul mate Rachel it led me to the doctors, a sick note and many counselling sessions. All this happened in the space of a couple of weeks!
Why am I telling you this? Especially at Christmas time?!
Well, firstly I think we do not talk about mental health issues enough. I am not the only person that presents a ‘façade’, a perfect image of what I want other people to see. Many of us want to be someone who has got it all together, who is perhaps a great parent and does all the right things by people. If I scroll through my Facebook timeline its full of people like me doing just that – telling the world they are sorted, successful and living the dream. The trouble is that the dream can be very far away, and then we begin to feel as if everybody else has it sorted when we don’t. It is worse when we begin to feel down or depressed … it just makes us feel even more isolated and lonely.
Why am I going on about this at Christmas time you are probably asking? After all, it’s a time of celebration! It’s a time when we are meant to be happy. It’s a time when the ‘I have it all sorted’ façade is bigger and bolder than ever. The truth is that many people find it the toughest time of year because they see all this around them and realise they don’t have it all sorted and then they retreat .. knowing that it’s not the ‘done thing’ to admit how low they are feeling.
The irony is that Christmas is a time of celebration but also a reminder that we are never alone. The Christmas story tells us that God chose to become one of us in amongst the dirt, and randomness of this world. He chose to live with us and feel what it means to be human and in doing so created a connection like never before. It was like one day he just showed up next to us and said; ‘Hey it’s me, God…. that person you used to think lived on a distant, fluffy cloud’ and made us realise just how utterly loved we are.
Christmas should be a time when we remind ourselves, more than ever, that God is .. and always will be … amongst us, with us and within us. Not just in the light, but in the grey and dark places of our lives. Even in the times when we feel we feel like ..
We don’t deserve it
We don’t want it
We don’t even care enough to think about it
God is there, sitting alongside you. Right now.
I still go to counselling, and have found it immensely helpful. I still get down at times and occasionally find things tough. But ... this year more than any other I have found comfort in a God that loves us so much, he is willing to go through this stuff with us. I also wanted to share it with you, just in case you were thinking you might be the only one.
So my friends,
May you enter into this amazing story this Christmas time.
May you always know that God loves you more than you can ask or imagine
May you be blessed however you are feeling in the coming weeks ahead
And may you know that you are never, ever alone.