by Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coodinator, Mental Health Ministries
We are entering into a festive season. The winter holidays are meant to be times of joy, parties and gatherings with friends and families. But for many people this is a lonely stretch of the year marked by hard memories and unrealized dreams.
The commercialization of the holiday season bombards us with unrealistic expectations, especially in these difficult economic times. It is not unusual for people to experience a decrease in energy and motivation. But some people experience an exaggerated form of these symptoms. Their depression and lack of energy become debilitating. This condition, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), may affect over 10 million Americans. The milder, "winter blues" affects an even larger number of individuals.
But for those of us who live with serious mental illness all year long, the holidays can make us feel even more alone, isolated, and disconnected from friends, family, and from our God. Psalm 88 reflects that feeling from an emotional spiritual perspective. “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.” “Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your faith from me?”
The cold landscape and trees empty of their leaves reflects our inner winter. Having been in this place, I now understand that God is working in our silent darkness. As with nature, we can trust that new tender shoots will emerge from the dark, silent soil to bring unlimited possibilities of new life.
It is for this reason that I wrote a brochure, Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays. This brochure provides tips for persons living with a mental illness, tips for family and friends and tips for faith communities wanting to be supportive. Family, friends, and caring faith communities can remind us that we are loved and accepted by God even when we feel unworthy and alone.
Many churches realize the importance of acknowledging the grief, loneliness and depression associated with the holiday season by holding special services like “Blue Christmas.” Rituals often focus on light breaking through the darkness. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ who will become the “light of the world.” The eight day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights serves to remind their people of the miracle which re-kindled the Temple menorah light at a time of darkness and despair.
I now know that no matter what the circumstances, we are not alone in the darkness. God is working in our lives even when we are not aware of it to bring about healing and hope. This holiday season, may we be open to those moments of grace when flickers of light break in to penetrate our darkness.
Break into my confusion, Lord.
Help me to know who I am
and what I am meant to be.
Guide, uphold and strengthen me
as I leave behind the world
of limits and labels.
Guide, uphold and strengthen me
as together we create a world
of infinite possibility.
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