I love lists. I really do. As a matter of fact, I’m itching to make a grocery list right now. Then I want to make another to-do list, because the one I wrote two days ago is missing several things — some I’ve already done, but writing them down just to cross them off makes sense to me.
So when the end of the year rolls around and every media outlet in the world begins compiling year-end and best-of lists, I am in my nerdy, happy place. When I first began blogging, I took the opportunity of this trend to share some of my own best-of lists, sharing the best blog posts I’d read that year, the best blog posts I’d written (in my humble opinion, of course) that year, my favorite recipes from the year, and [of course] my favorite TV shows and movies from the year.
It was fun and I assumed I’d make it an annual practice. But some years don’t have much in the “best of” category.
Instead, in some years I’ve felt called to share my thoughts about how, sometimes, the holidays aren’t the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve talked about giving up on holiday bucket lists, how to cope when the holidays make you sad, and the cure for feeling like this year just doesn’t feel like Christmas.
These thoughts have been heavy on my mind and heart recently not just because this year was rough. Even though I [temporarily] felt like running away, was fairly certain I was drowning — literally at times, and faced more than one decision where the right choice didn’t feel good, all of those challenges were temporary and ended in so much gratitude and growth that I can’t possibly complain.
I could probably manage to come up with a few “best of” lists for this year — and I might still do that.
But a few years ago? Well, one year in particular was hard in ways I never could have imagined and do not ever want to relive. As I crawled to the finish line that December, the only thing I was truly thankful for was the end of that season. I couldn’t look back, I didn’t feel like reflecting, and even if pressed I might not have come up with a single “best” for the entire previous 12 months.
In one year my brother-in-law had died in a motorcycle accident, my husband and I had spent months in counseling fighting for our marriage, and my daughter had exhibited horrible behavior issues that we simply didn’t know how to deal with. Looking at that little list in black and white, a year removed, it doesn’t seem all that bad. BUT, OH, IT WAS.
So what do we do when our year’s best-of list comes up empty?
1. Start by keeping it in perspective. This season won’t last forever. The calendar — and the cycle of life’s ups and downs — will turn over eventually. His mercies truly ARE fresh every morning, every New Year’s Day, every time we turn to Him.
2. Count your blessings — small as they may be. Keeping a gratitude journal or listing your 1000 gifts may seem insincere or even impossible during difficult times. But I truly believe God takes our tiny offerings of gratitude and increases them until our hearts are softened and our perspectives are changed in a way we simply can’t do with closed hands.
3. Give yourself permission to grieve. Some things are really, really hard to live through. Some challenges seem never-ending or unfair or just too much. It’s okay to feel that sadness. God is close to the brokenhearted — which means He knows full and well that we will have times of grief where this life is too much to bear. Lean into it for a time, and lean into Him. It’s okay to be sad for a while; He can take it better than we can when we try to hold it in and carry it alone.
4. Cling to hope and look forward to next year. Even if you can’t celebrate the holidays with the spirit you normally do . . . even if Christmas carols and trees full of ornaments and the perfect gift beautifully wrapped simply remind you of what you’re missing this year . . . even if your only resolution for next year is to have a better year because this one stunk . . . remember Hope. The world was dark when Jesus came that first Christmas — just like it may be dark this Christmas. He came to offer hope, because He IS Hope. So even when the holidays are hard, remember you have Hope.
Those are the things I wish I’d known to do the first time my “best of” list came up empty. Because sure enough, the next calendar year did bring a fresh outlook and a renewed heart. I know difficult years will happen again, but most seasons are full of blessings both small and large. And recognizing that after seasons full of so much pain makes a year’s best-of list even sweeter. This year, once again, I’m thankful to remember that when hard times come, they won’t last forever.
If nothing else, THAT is something to put on a best-of list!
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