I’m sure you’ve heard the tune: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” But, for many people, it’s not. Wintertime causes shorter, darker days, and this, can, for some people, cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a specific type of depression brought on by the changes of the seasons—most commonly related to Fall and winter.
Light is the Solution!
I find it interesting that the first and best treatment for this disorder, caused by the specific lack of sunlight, is sunlight! In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light box so that you’re exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Why am I sharing this and why is it important? I’ll get back to it, I promise.
Are You a “Herod”?
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’ King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this . . .” (Matthew 2:2, 3, NLT).
Did you notice Herod’s response to Christmas? It wasn’t just disturbed. No! He was “deeply disturbed.” If people tend to say this about you during this time of the year, it’s important for you to figure out why you feel the way you do. For many people, during this time of year, they tend to be more depressed, due to grief and loss and other mental health issues that are unresolved. They truly want to enjoy Christmas. But for others—a lot of people, really, they absolutely despise Christmas. And, honestly speaking, if you live your life away and apart from God, and simply are self-focused, with no interest in knowing God, then you’ll tend to be a Grinch at Christmas, too.
Are You a “Herder”?
Your attitude about Christmas, in contrast to that of Herod’s negativity, could, instead, (hopefully) be a positive response, like that of a herder:
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them (Luke 2:15-20, NLT).
It’s true that a long-standing depression can cause a general lack of hope and ultimately, despair. However, what I have found to be true is that it ultimately comes down to an issue of worldview. What is worldview you ask? Good question. Charles Colson, in his book, How Now Shall We Live? defines worldview as “the sum total of our beliefs about the world.” A worldview is something much deeper than your character, personality, or your likes, and dislikes. In fact, your worldview defines your beliefs about reality and your outlook on life.
In terms of worldview, when it comes to God, there’s really only two choices; Jesus said it most clearly: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24, NLT). The Apostle Paul put it like this: “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God” (Romans 8:5-8, NLT).
Why the Darkness is Bad
Remember what I shared with you earlier about the changing of the seasons and SAD? Well, I find it interesting to note that, in the Bible, darkness is equated with bad. Check out this description of a people living in the time, land, and culture of many, many years ago:
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:1-7, NLT).
This is probably the most clear and well-known prophecy about Jesus, in the entire Bible. Notice that Isaiah calls all the bad stuff “darkness”, “deep darkness” and all the good stuff, “light” and “great light”.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to people living in three time periods: before the Babylonian exile, during the Babylonian exile, and after the Babylonian exile. Isaiah is speaking to the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah) before the Babylonian exile. Historically, Israel and Syria are pressuring Judah to form a coalition against Assyria. Ahaz, the king of Judah, is afraid to go against Assyria, so he sends a king’s ransom (a ton of money) to Assyria asking for their help. Isaiah was talking about a situation where Judah felt powerless, and they were afraid of the rulers to their north. As their enemies only seemed to grow in strength and tighten their grasp, they didn’t know if God was for them or against them or if he had simply abandoned them.
And among Isaiah’s prophecies about their future defeat, exile, and return, he included two prophetic visions of a child (Jesus) who would represent God’s presence, embody his characteristics, and bear the responsibility of governing his people. I don’t know about you, but Isaiah could be writing about you and me—today!
Jesus = Light
The Apostle John, writing about Jesus, in his self-titled book, mentions the word “light”, “darkness” or describes it ten times in just fourteen verses (John 1:1-14); I think John wants us to understand that the only light we can ever have in our lives can come only from Jesus.
Jesus, Himself, makes this point crystal-clear, when He truth-bombs old Nic:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:16-21, NLT).
D3 or H3
So, if you find Christmas to be a difficult time of the year, it’s likely because it reminds you of your naturally inherited darkness of sin. But, if you live your life with God as central in your life, even though you are dealing with depression, some other mental health, or general difficulty in life, you can still have hope, regardless of what is happening in your life.
When I was in middle & high school—okay, college, too, Math was my worst subject, but I have discovered the equation that explains how to have success in life: S = D3 or J = H3 (Satan = Depression, Despair & Death, but Jesus = Help, Hope & Healing)
Service is the Solution!
For so many, Christmas is a time when we turn a laser-beam focus on ourselves in a culture that is already saturated with self. And this adds to our sense of sadness or depression. You’ll be surprised to learn that one of the easiest ways to remedy this is also one of the most effective: serving others. That’s right, it’s purposefully and consistently turning the spotlight away from ourselves, and towards others. One of the best ways to deal with depression is selflessness, service to others. Now this doesn’t mean that you become a monk or some hermit and remove yourself from all of humanity; it just means that you make an effort to regularly bless others and be a blessing to others, rather than just yourself. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do nice things for yourself—it just means that you shouldn’t do nice things just for yourself.
Again, you might think that the great philosopher, Dr. Suess, in his book, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, was making up these final, life-changing lines:
“‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’
‘Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light,
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he, he himself, The Grinch carved the roast beast!’ ”
But, he wasn’t, at all! He was sharing an effective solution to feeling badly at Christmas. I can promise you this. If you take the time to do anything—no matter how small or minor—to serve someone else, you’ll feel better.
Start Serving Today!
Today, decide to schedule a formal once a week date to serve someone else at a local food shelter or senior home, or some other form of community service. Or you could make it less formal and just be more intentional and stay alert and aware to situations that allow you to serve others. You might surprise yourself—and others, hopefully—by how creative you can become. I also know that when you decide to do this, it’s amazing just how many “coincidences” begin to happen in your life, affording you an opportunity to serve. You don’t need any special ability to serve others. In fact, the only ability you need is avail-ability.
Jesus put it best when he said: “ . . . ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive ’ ” (Acts 20:35, NLT). Let’s make Jesus our example. After all, He came on Christmas to give himself to the world—but he also received gifts as well; once again, showing us that Christmas needs to be about finding a balance between doing good by serving others and receiving gifts for ourselves.
Today, I challenge you to follow His example. If you do, you’ll be happier, healthier, more hopeful, and Christmas will no longer be something you dread, but, instead, becoming something you look forward to, with joy, excitement, and anticipation.