Who doesn’t find joy in the eve of Thanksgiving? Christmas, too, for that matter? In fact, any “eve” of an extra-special day–when expectations are heightened and anticipation lingers?

But what happens when expectations aren’t met and the day passes? And what’s one to do as she faces an entire season–attempts to muster enthusiasm, conjure joy–only to discover the weight of sadness instead?

We’re living in tough times, not made any easier with the arrival of the holidays, with all the hype to “Be happy!” and pressure to “Be at peace!” Frankly, many just want to hide their heads under the pillow and wake up in 2021–hopeful that the coming year will be better.

A sister-in-Christ wrote to me recently, “I’m trying to hold everything together [but] I’m having trouble.”

I nodded with empathy as I read, and my heart hurt as I reflected on her deeper, unspoken need–

“I’m overwhelmed, lacking peace.”

Another friend texted me, “I just feel I’m doing something wrong.”

I understood her meaning–

“I’m not meeting expectations, and I’m struggling to feel satisfied.”

And an elderly, isolated friend called to express her sadness. “I’m just missing hugs and the closeness we all once felt.”

I translated her words, understood their intent–

“There’s no joy in loneliness.”

And these are only a recent three in a sea of sadnesses, regrets, perplexities, and problems that many others are experiencing, as well–made more difficult with the expectation that we’re to be over-the-moon merry with the arrival of Thanksgiving and the ensuing Christmas season.

Perhaps it’s true that knowing one’s not alone emotionally eases the burden, but many–especially this year–are physically spending Thanksgiving Day without others, or at least void of the traditional crowds they’re accustomed to. Like my aforementioned elderly friend, for example, who’s spending Thanksgiving just as she spends most days… alone.

It’s no wonder that the holidays are difficult, the most common time for feeling a tinge of sadness. As Dr. Judith J. Wurtman writes–

What seems to make people sad and slide some into an actual depression is the annual reminder of those who are no longer here, of happier times, and the acknowledgment that things may not change for the better, and may even [get] worse (“It Is Alright to be Sad During the Holidays,” Psychology Today–2015).

Adding 2020’s COVID-19 into the mix is a recipe for despair. Statistics tell us that more than a million in America alone have been “swept up in the tidal wave of grief” as a result of this pandemic (Jenesse Miller, USC News, July 13, 2020).

So what’s one to do?

As she pulls out the decorations, hoping the task will lift her spirits? As he hangs lights on the porch, knowing very few will stop by to see them? As each prepares for the coming days, what can one do to ward off worry, deflect depression, and, instead, generate thankfulness?

First, keep the Reason for the season always before you.

Just like Peter who stepped out of the boat to walk toward Jesus in the midst of a storm, we, too, can take intentional steps toward our Savior. The key to not flailing and falling in troubling times is to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Despite the sad circumstances that may surround her, irregardless of the worries that weigh him down, when we lock our gaze on the One who loves us most–focus on Him and Him alone–we can walk one step at a time toward His outstretched hand to discover just what Jesus offers.

Can you hear Him, my overwhelmed friend? There’s peace in His comfort–

Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid (Matthew 14:27)!

Second, take an intentional step toward Him by filling up daily on what alone will truly satisfy.

Avoid the temptation to use Facebook as a temporary joy-filler. Don’t look to Pinterest expecting peace. And don’t turn to Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok if what’s desired is lasting satisfaction. Truth is, each can become an idol, and false gods always lead you away, let you down!

Instead, settle each morning in to a few moments reading God’s Word. The Bible is our mighty weapon against worry and weariness, fear and feeling frazzled. It’s wielded when one proclaims its promises, and such is a certainty–helping us win the battle waged by the enemy of our souls. Satan seeks whom he may devour, and he’ll use any means possible to break us down. That’s why we need the Bible first thing–before social media–even if only a small portion.

Read it.

Pray about it, asking God to give wisdom.

Meditate on it.

Write it down.

Recite it.

The LORD is my Shepherd… (Ps. 23:1a)–these five power-packed words, for example, are a mighty weapon against anxiety, depression, and loneliness. (If you need some specific verses for these troubling times, click HERE.)

Can you hear Him, dissatisfied sister? There’s lasting contentment when we take in God’s Word, which is far better than any form of social media–words like:

When Your words came, I ate them; they were my [satisfaction] and my heart’s delight …” (Jer. 15:16a).

Finally, though it may feel like a sacrifice, take another international step toward Jesus with songs of praise.

Such has even been said to be our ladder out of despair. Why? Because Jesus inhabits–dwells and abides in–one’s praises.

So, if feeling down, forego Christmas tunes for a bit and turn on Pandora praise music instead, or pick your favorite Christian artist on Spotify. Lauren Daigle, Audrey Assad, Casting Crowns, or Andrew Peterson are just a few. (Click on each to hear lyrics that will lift you above your circumstances. I promise!)

Oh, lonely one–over time, the sacrifice of praise will envelope you with joy because Jesus, your Forever Friend, is present in your praise. He, too, sings over you His love song–

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid… for the LORD your God [is] with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6).

When heaviness weighs this holiday season, when thankfulness feels far away–

Focus on Jesus…

Fill up on His Word…

Find Him in praise.

Such will serve as guiding stars, directing us to the One who came to offer life–yes, abundant life!–even in the most troubling of times.

Oh God–thank you for Your many blessings. Help us remember to look to Your Son and to Your Word, and help us remember to praise. Fill us with Your peace, contentment and joy, in Jesus’ beautiful name. Amen.